Demise of a system dogged by complexity

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IN COMMON with most MPs my postbag is rife with child maintenance cases involving constituents caught up in the byzantine toils of a system that satisfies nobody but constitutes an eye-watering squeeze on the public purse.

Consider if the following scenario makes any sense.

At present taxpayers are expected to fork out £440m every year - because it costs 40 pence to move £1 in maintenance from one parent to another.

That’s before you factor in the many cases that last from birth through childhood and cost typically £26,000.

But if enforcement is called for then the bill will be nearer £40,000.

And on top of this – as any reader who’s had the misfortune of being forced to use the CSA will know – the current system entrenches conflict, pitting parent against parent, yet still fails to get money from more than one parent in five.

No wonder that complaints run at over 20,000 every year.

It is proof, if any were needed, that some common sense reform is long overdue.

We need to free parents from what is in effect another example of embedded state dependency, but we want children to be supported.

Department of Work and Pensions research confirms that half of all parents using the current statutory system would prefer to make their own arrangements - if they had the right expert support.

Our reforms will be aimed at helping parents take responsibility for their children’s welfare.

For the first time families will have the choice whether they receive support to put their own agreements in place with no ongoing charge through Maintenance Direct, or use a revamped statutory service with a charge.

Those who opt to use the statutory system will pay a fee.

In return they will get a calculation of maintenance liability based for the first time on HMRC data.

Charges and fees will always fall more onto the non resident parent to act as an encouragement to work with the other parent who has care of the children.

Finally, maintenance assessments will be reviewed annually to make sure they stay correct and – welcome news I hope for individuals frustrated by the current system’s lack of clarity - an online system will let people see a history and schedule of payments.

There will also be the opportunity to make payments and view the progress of applications.

Let’s hope this heralds the demise of a system dogged by complexities since it began in the early 1990s.


MP for Horsham