The child maintenance system is in urgent need of reform according to new research conducted by the Poverty Alliance.
The Bairns Come First report, commissioned by charity Fife Gingerbread, found that the poorest and most vulnerable single-parent families are not benefiting from child maintenance.
Child maintenance is payable by the non resident for the care of children under 20 and in full time education not higher than A Level. When arrangements cannot be agreed informally, parents go through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).
The Child Maintenance Service currently charges a signup fee of £20 and then collection fees of 20% on top of child maintenance. Even the parent looking after the child is charged a 4% fee, deterring families from using the service. The complexity of the system and deficiency of advice for low-income, single-parent households are also seen as prohibitive.
Tam Baillie, the Scottish Commissioner for Children and Young People commented on the report’s findings:
" shows the injustice that many children and families are deprived of child maintenance, contributing to the risk of them living in poverty. This aspect of child poverty is avoidable if we had systems which have the best interests of children at their heart. At present, we have complex systems which make it difficult to ensure all families have access to the child maintenance they are entitled to expect. To improve the position, action is required by the UK Government, Scottish Government and local authorities. The sooner this issue is recognised and addressed the better for our children affected."
It emerged earlier this year that single parents in parts of the UK are owed millions of pounds in unpaid child maintenance. Fife Gingerbread claimed the Child Support Agency (CSA) was doing less to collect debts as it winds down, with its work being transferred to the new Child Maintenance Service.