Director James Pirrie appeared before the Work and Pensions Committee at the House of Commons today as they launch an enquiry into the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) and its effectiveness. James appeared alongside Janet Allbeson, Senior Policy Adviser at Gingerbread, and Michael Lewkowicz of Families Need Fathers.

Background to today’s session: Since 2012, significant changes to the statutory system of child maintenance have been introduced. These include a new statutory body, the Child Maintenance Service, charges for using the new Service and a new means to calculate the maintenance liability of the paying parent. The overall aim has been to deter separated parents from using the Service and encourage them to make their own arrangements for child maintenance. The Child Maintenance Service replaced the Child Support Agency which was abolished following a series of controversies including accumulating £3.8 billion arrears in unpaid child support. Evidence received so far suggests that the bulk of this will never be collected.

Giving evidence in public to the Committee, James tackled the inequalities of the new CMS system, giving as an example one parent who had been receiving £3,500 per month in maintenance for her two children under the terms of a court order (Consent Order) only to find that her former husband subsequently made an application to the CMS after 12 months (as he is entitled to do so under the rules of the Scheme) resulting in the maintenance reducing to £11.35 per week per child. Never married parents with children in receipt of maintenance can find the position even more challenging. James expressed concerns about the definition of “income” for the purposes of the CMS calculation. Unlike the former CSA 2 system the CMS definition ignores lifestyle and focuses almost entirely on the income declared on the potential payer’s tax return. He described this as a crude figure on which to assess capacity to pay, a figure which can mask wealth available to the payer but held elsewhere. The Government should be encouraged to revisit the definition of income for the purposes of the CMS calculation, James argued. He also expressed concerns regarding the effectiveness of the enforcement powers used against non payers.

If you would like to view the video of today’s session please click here

James Pirrie is a specialist in child maintenance and has appeared previously before the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee to talk about the practical impact of the introduction of the Child Maintenance Scheme. He writes and lectures on conflict resolution, negotiation, child support, financial provision for children (Schedule 1 cases), enforcement, emergency procedures and financial remedies. James is accredited in finance and cohabitation cases by Resolution and sets the child financial accreditation paper. For further information about James’s experience, please view his website profile here.