LONDON - Global law firm Reed Smith is providing pro bono support to Gingerbread, a charity supporting single parent families, in its involvement in the legal challenge to the persistent failure of the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to collect child maintenance payments from non-resident parents. As the leading charity in CMS policy in the UK, Gingerbread is working with Mumsnet and the Good Law Project on this legal challenge.

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Gingerbread will be supporting four women in their challenge and, if necessary, application for judicial review against the Department for Work and Pensions, which is responsible for the CMS. This will seek a ruling that (a) the persistent failure by the CMS to collect child maintenance violates the Child Support Act 1991, and (b) the CMS is obliged to use its enforcement powers to tackle this non-compliance and collect arrears, for any resident parents and their children not receiving their due maintenance.

Child maintenance is money owed to children. Lack of payment has a direct detrimental impact on the lives of children and leaves thousands of children across the UK in poverty. The arrears of payments due to parents with primary care is huge - well over £300 million - and increasing rapidly (the amounts owed more than doubled in the period 2015-2017). The failure to collect and enforce child maintenance payments disproportionately affects women, who account for more than 90% of resident parents receiving (or due to receive) child maintenance via the CMS , by increasing their burden as they care for their families. It also permits perpetrators of economic abuse to continue to hold control over their victims. The CMS is failing to use its significant enforcement powers (including passport and driving license removal, or imprisonment) on non-compliant parents. Around a third of CMS cases involve non-compliant parents. And this is likely the tip of the iceberg, given the low bar for compliance, which only requires that the payment parent has “paid something towards their maintenance arrangements in the last three months”. 

This issue is getting worse by the day. During the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS have been running a skeleton service, in which they are no longer chasing or enforcing non-payment and are allowing non-resident parents to reduce or withdraw payments by phone call. 

Only the CMS has the authority to enforce the child maintenance payments and to take non-paying parents to court, meaning that parents using the service cannot do this for themselves. Therefore, when the CMS fails to enforce payment, the resident parent is stuck in an arrangement that denies them and their children justice.

If this does not change, the courts need to intervene.