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Divorce law blog

As the Government reports record payment of child maintenance, what can you do about maintenance arrears?

28/01/2015   By:

Good news for families

The Government reports (25 January 2015) that record levels of child maintenance are being paid by parents. The Child Maintenance Minister, Steve Webb, commented:

Contributions towards child maintenance in the CSA are now running at an all-time high of 86.5% and I am delighted to see the number of parents who are either not paying as much as they should or nothing at all continues to fall.”

which is great news for families.

A sting in the tail

Although more parents are facing their obligations to support their children, the CSA (it’s still the CSA for previous cases, although it’s now the Child Maintenance Service or CMS for new ones) still has uncollected maintenance arrears of £3.9bn of which £2.9bn is classified as “uncollectable”. The DWP has said that it is not writing off or ignoring old debt and claims that the amount of arrears that are truly “uncollectable” is closer to £244m. However, it has made it clear that priority for the collection of maintenance arrears will be those families where their children can still benefit, for example where there is still a child at school.

How to enforce child maintenance arrears

If your payments are made under “Direct Pay” (through the CSA) or “Maintenance Direct” (through the CMS) you will need to ask the CMS or CSA to take action. In all other cases the CSA or CMS will contact the paying parent if they miss a payment and it will start the collection process if the paying parent then fails to respond to arrange to pay what they owe.

Collection of arrears

Maintenance arrears can be collected in 3 different ways:

  1. Where the paying parent is in employment or receives State Pension or State Benefits the arrears can be deducted directly;

  2. CMS or CSA can take the arrears from the paying parent’s bank or building society account. It can do this either as a one-off lump sum or as regular payments;

  3. CMS or CSA can take court action against the paying parent to:-

  • Send the bailiffs to their home to take goods to cover the arrears;

  • Send the paying parent to prison;

  • Collect the arrears from money owed by someone else to the paying parent;

  • Force the sale of a property.

Parents who are taken to court also risk losing their driving licence for up to 2 years and from March 2015, the DWP will have power to disclose a paying parent’s non-compliance or refusal to pay to a credit reference agency. This may affect the credit rating of the paying parent, limiting their ability to borrow money through loans, mortgages and credit cards.

When a parent stops paying child maintenance without justification It can be incredibly frustrating and can cause real hardship to children. It is now easier to collect payments and to enforce arrears but given the amount of “old debt” some families may wait a long time or in some cases never get what’s due to them.

Kim Aucott

Family Law Associate


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