In spite of the 2003 reforms, the Child Support Agency (CSA) continues to fail to meet its objectives, with nearly 4 billion pounds of unpaid child maintenance estimated to be outstanding.
In July 2008 the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) was established to take on the work of the CSA and removed the obligation for new claimants who are on benefits to use the CSA. In October 2008, the obligation for existing CSA clients claiming benefits to continue to use the agency was also removed. All parents can now choose the child maintenance arrangements that best suit their individual circumstances. This could be a private arrangement or a statutory maintenance arrangement. A new child maintenance option service (www.cmoptions.org) has been established to provide information and support to help parents reach a decision.
The benefit disregard level was also increased in 2008 and parents that are claiming benefits and who have primary responsibility for the day to day care of a child can now keep up to £20 per week of any child maintenance they receive, before their benefits are affected. The government’s stated intention was that from April 2010, child maintenance will be fully disregarded when calculating out-of-work-benefits.
In November 2008, the CMEC took over responsibility for the work of the CSA. During 2009/10 new enforcement powers were introduced under the CMOPA to ensure that parents meet their child maintenance responsibilities. It is intended that in 2011, a new “gross income” scheme will be established. This is intended to reduce the time taken to calculate child maintenance by basing the amount a parent pays on gross income taken from the latest available tax information held by HM Revenue & Customs. At this stage, parents still using the statutory system will be encouraged to either make their own arrangements or to move to the gross income scheme. It is hoped that by 2013/14 a single system of child maintenance will be in operation.