The UK government must step in to prevent single parent families “drowning in poverty” because their child maintenance payments have stopped in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been claimed.

Single parents told The Ferret some had seen payments made by absent ex-partners through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) drastically cut or disappear overnight. Yet the CMS has written to inform claimants that due to “a reduced resource capacity” the UK government agency is “currently not taking any missed payment actions”.

Politicians and poverty charities such as Poverty Alliance said the “heart-breaking” stories from single families were evidence of “gaping flaws” in the CMS.

The government must urgently step in to fill the shortfall and stop families falling through the gaps, they added. One Parent Families Scotland said a “root and branch review” of the child maintenance payment system was needed.

One mother, whose weekly £80 weekly payment stopped almost two months ago, said she had been forced to rely on charities and food banks. The stress is having a crippling effect on her and her almost 14-year-old daughter, she claimed.

Though she has been told to keep records of non-payment so that arrears can be sought after the restrictions are lifted, she says that is cold comfort when she is unable to afford to feed her family.

‘There is no safety net’: Fife’s child poverty epidemic

She left her partner due to longstanding domestic abuse and says she has since been advised by relocate for her own safety, so The Ferret agreed not to name her.

“The impact of the drop in income is immense,” she said. “I am juggling bills, putting in so much extra into the electricity meter, and with schools being closed and the extra food I am buying I find the food budget doesn’t last the week.

“We received a £50 donation from One Parent Families Scotland to help top up the electricity meter but it’s humiliating having to struggle financially.” Food banks and a school-loaned laptop help fill some other gaps.

Meanwhile the family are struggling to survive in a privately rented flat without a garden, and need to top-up housing benefit to cover the rent.  “There are no social houses available in the area and we have previously been made homeless due to housing benefit cuts and increasing rent,” she added.

“I am terrified we will be in this position again. My daughter is struggling with mental health issues, she knows her father doesn’t think she is worth it. Her self-esteem is on the floor.

“We have had choices removed from us – where and what type of home to live in and how much income we are allowed to have – while ex who was abusive can have these choices.”

‘Fundamental flaws’

Campaigners have repeated raised what they claim are fundamental flaws in the CMS. Figures suggest that enforcing child maintenance payments correctly could lift one in five children out of poverty.

In December 2018 new rules were put in place, giving the CMS fresh powers to disqualify parents from holding or obtaining a UK passport if they do not keep up with payments. However last September  it was revealed that they had been used just seven times.

Including debt transferred from the Child Support Agency, arrears now total over £1 billion. About 90 per cent of single parents are women.

Kerrie Friel, an activist and vice-chair of child poverty charity Fife Gingerbread, said she was concerned that families would  “drown” in the midst of the additional challenges now facing them.

Her ex-partner withheld child maintenance payments from her for seven years, and claims the then Child Support Agency failed her and her children. She now receives £45 a week towards their upkeep.

She claims that fundamental changes are needed, with the compulsory £20 application fee phased out entirely – not only for women who can prove they have been subjected to domestic abuse. The burden on parents with caring responsibilities to prove their ex-partner can afford to pay should also be overhauled, she added.

Mentally, emotionally and financially, exhausted parents with care responsibilities are drowning. Kerrie Friel, child poverty campaigner

“The flawed CMS is helping to increase child poverty, not prevent it,” she added. “Mentally, emotionally and financially exhausted parents with care responsibilities are drowning in despair. They are drowning in poverty.

“The CMS should be a lifeboat – it’s the only one we have – but it’s full of holes. And before they even let you on that boat to have to pay a £20 sign-up fee. The only way they will wave that is if you’ve been a victim of domestic violence.

“Some of the women I’ve worked with have said that but have been told to prove it. Not only do they not have enough evidence, but having to try and prove it sends them spiralling back into trauma. It feels like they have you over a barrel.”

Marion Fellows, SNP MP for for Motherwell and Wishaw, last year lodged parliamentary questions which revealed arrears run up by absent parents who refuse to pay for their children increased from £240 million in September 2018 to £315 million in September 2019.

She told The Ferret: “The stories from parents with caring responsibilities have been heart breaking. Families are going months without support they have a legal right to and being forced to foodbanks and choose between heating and eating.

“Where a parent-with-care is not receiving payments or where calculations have been reduced, the UK Government must step in and provide minimum maintenance payments to provide stability and a dignified standard of living.

“CMS’s gaping flaws have been exposed for years. Now, the UK Government has allowed CMS to simply collapse, abandoning single parents and their children forcing them to fend for themselves.”

Increasing poverty

Peter Kelly, director of Poverty Alliance, added: “More than half of the single parents living in Scotland were already living in poverty before this crisis but now many are seeing the income they receive in child maintenance dramatically reduced or cut entirely.

“The CMS has granted many people big cuts in the amount they pay in child maintenance without doing anything to support the parent looking after the child. Some women have told us their payments have stopped entirely and the CMS has said they won’t chase any missing payments during the crisis.

“The UK Government should rectify this by chasing missing payments and providing interim support to stop families being pulled into poverty.”

We need a full root and branch review to ensure fairness for both parents because, ultimately, it is the children who are losing out. Satwat Rehman, One Parent Families Scotland

Satwat Rehman, chief executive of One Parent Families Scotland, claimed the CMS needed to be completely overhauled. She added: “The system for ensuring non-resident parents pay child maintenance is clearly not working. The coronavirus pandemic has brought this into sharp focus.

“We need a full root and branch review to ensure fairness for both parents because, ultimately, it is the children who are losing out.”

A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions, said: “In these unprecedented times, we have seen a significant increase in the number of new claims to Universal Credit. We’ve streamlined our operations to ensure people get the support they need, and will restore services scaled back to prioritise these claims as soon as possible.

“We continue to support those on low incomes and have injected a further £6.5bn into the welfare system to help those in most need, as well as rolling out income protection schemes, mortgage holidays and additional security for renters.”

Despite claims that the CMS has failed to enforce payments, he added: “Those found to be abusing the system at this difficult time will find themselves subject to the full extent of our enforcement powers – including prosecution through the courts.”

Image thanks to iStock.

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23comments

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David mcfarlane

I, as a paying father to 3 children find it unfair on the dad’s who have taken a sizeable hit in wages due to the current situation and are still expected to pay full allowance. 25% short fall in wages before its looked at is a joke on the hard working dad’s out there. Dad’s are now getting into debt because of the set up that the current child maintenance have put in place during the lock down. More effort should be made towards these dad’s and ensure they are treated right and stop imposing silly fee’s and look at how they are affected by the same situations that the mother’s are in with money. Some fathers have new families and also have to pay for the running of the household. Some mothers also have new partners that bring money into the household. Give these men the dues that they deserve…..

My partner has always paid maintenance for his daughter. Once his ex got with her present partner she wanted him to be Dad. We used to have her every other w/e and holidays. The ex stopped us seeing her and went through CMS, she was told if he didnt see her she would get more money, she stopped us seeing her, her words were im not giving up my money for anything. If he works regular overtime,maintenance goes up the following year. She left him with a lot of debt, that were struggling to pay. With £291 a month maintenance we are struggling, I find it very unfair.

Not a thought to the parent having to pay extortionate maintenance fees to the mothers who just use it for holidays (I’m a woman who doesn’t chase my kids father for money and when I get it it goes on the kids), everyone’s affected by this pandemic and while we are trying to pay bills and keep a roof over our heads, some mothers continue life as normal cos the have a whole second wage coming in for nothing.
Chase the non-payers not the ones who sacrifice most of their lifes to pay for kids who want nothing to do with them and due to those payments can’t afford a decent standard of life while the mother lives a life of luxury.
The whole system is a disgrace, who the hell need £100 a week to look after 2 kids, those 2 kids are no better than the kids who’s dad only pays £30 a week.
Sort the system out to make it fairer on everyone not just the mother

Why is the necessary to continually paint Dad’s so negatively.
The reality is that most paying parents are Dad’s and they are demonised and repeated portrayed negatively. I don’t feel it’s not an exaggeration to say in many instances Dads have become hate figures. The CMS is frequently used by ex wives as a way financially abusing former husbands.
Following an actident which left me in hospital for 6 weeks and unable to work for 6 months the CMS sent a series of letters threatening to fine me and take legal action against me. When I rang them from a hospital bed. finally after 40 minutes of waiting to speak to someone, I was told that they wouldn’t reduce any payments for at least the next 3 months. When I pointed out I was in hospital with a broken pelvis and as a result my income had plummeted the reply was I should either return to work quickly or borrow money from my family!! I nearly became homeless struggling to pay rent etc while the demands from the CSM exceeded my income
Has any one ever considered the impact of such behaviour on Dads? What effect does all this negative behaviour have on them? Why do so many Dads no matter how much they love their children never get to see them again?

Why doesn’t anyone consider the poverty the fathers are being put into? It’s a broken system I’m a single parent of 2 teenage boys in private rented accommodation and with housing benefit tax credits and part time work I manage comfortably without bleeding my ex dry. He has his own household to maintain when my boys go to visit and if I was to take his maintenance payments he’d be in poverty.

Hi

Id like to comment the father of my children owes £80,000 unpaid child Maintenance from the past 5 years. He took me to court last year under the Hague convention as he lives in Canada. The court here in the UK tried to turn the hearing into a Children 1989 Act as we live in the UK and therefore he is allowed his access. But no one wanted to know that he owes £1000.s unpaid. The court threatened me with paying half his flight costs if I dont agree to him collection the children at Heathrow airport for a turn around flight. So I agree something should be done my children are being left with seconds uniforms and school shoes that needs repairs because this father refuses to pay anything towards the children. The courts need to have an ultimatum to say you need to pay.

I couldn’t read the whole article because it made me so cross. Why are all paying parents constantly tarred with the same brush? I’m not a paying parent and therefore don’t have to dwal with the Chid Maintenance Service. But I know prople who are. I hear the horror stories of child alientation, errors from the DWP that leave paying parents in debt so they don’t end up on deduction from earnings payments that mean they pay even more and havd even less to live on. The system is biased and unfair. How can it be right that a receiving parent could quite easily survive without the psyments when they’re living in rent free, mortgage free accommodation and have enough income for luxuries like two holidays a year etc. yet the paying parent has to live like a pauper so they can maintain a roof over their head to be able to have their children but then get abuse from their ex because they don’t take the kids on holiday?
Child Maintence should not be and cannot be a one size fits all approach. The current system breeds child alienation, mental health problems and poverty to name but a few.
In response to the article, if a paying parent can’t pay they cant pay. They can’t magic money out of thin air. And they aren’t a cash cow either. If they have lost their job or are on furlough then they too are probably wondering where their next meal is coming from and possibly having to use good banks too. Receiving parents aren’t a ptotected species and commen sense needs to be used by all to consider the human rights and needs of all.

It’s not just single mothers facing hardship over this pandemic. It’s the NRP that are suffering, people are losing there jobs, unable to financially support them selfs. Not being funny but has anyone stopped and thought that it’s not just the kids or mothers suffering but the father to meet ends meet. Hes gotta live too if he cant get the money for his food or housing how on earth can he afford CMS the system as a whole does not take into consideration of anyones mental wellbeing they are greedy people destroying peoples life. Alot of fathers kill themselves because the support ain’t there and nor is the financial help. All because the hardships of living in total debt. It’s unfair and unjust

I readed you’re article yeah there are some dead beat partners out there but there are some of us including myself that desperately want to see their children but are blocked all contact and are alienated by their ex’s that those who do this should receive a penny as this whole CMS system is screwed up it unfair and wrong and its time for a change #NO SEE NO PAY it’s simple as that.

I have not had proper maintenance in over a yeR. I go through CMS. He told them he was living abroad, CMS were going to close the case. I gave them all the proof to showhes still living and working in the UK. They told me in January 2020 they had applied to his bank to take arrears. Now with lockdown Im told I will have to wait till they have staff back.
I feel very disillusioned.

I am a receiving parent. My ex husband and I separated due to DV. In order to reduce payment since he cannot avoid it, my ex provided fraudulently obtained birth certificates to CMS and claimed he now has two other children abroad whom hes paying child support for! Shocking!! I knew straight away it was all to reduce payment contested the decision with CMS but 14 days was not enough to gather the evidence required. Without a DNA test, the truth is probably never going to come out. There loop holes in the system. It is not about the money, it is about the lies and what length people can go to try to avoid or reduce payment.

I completely agree with this the “paying parent” should pay. I am a single mum and I am lucky if I receive the £29 a month my ex is meant to pay for two children, which in itself is a ridiculous amount. My ex currently owes £400 in arrears prior to the covid-19 pandemic. At what point will the CMS say enough is enough and chase them for what they owe. Not all mothers live extravagant lifestyles or use this money to survive but they rely on it to put better food on the table.

How about an article from the other side.

Many non resident parents have had their pay cut dramatically during lockdown, yet the CSA will not allow reduced payments.
Many non resident parents are having their kids much more during lockdown, but this does not effect payments.
Many non resident parents are having their children as much as the resident parent during this time, yet they dont qualify for any of the additional financial support being handed to the resident parents.
Many non resident parents are being prevented from spending as much time as they can with their children as the resident parent is attempting to prevent access creeping over an extra 52 days and so effecting their maintenance payments.

The system is broken, but dont be fooled, it is as broken for non resident parents.

Oh boo ho. Must sperated parents who now havent paid probably are existing on barely nothing. Stop demonising NRPs who are probably having just as tough times . I’m sure when things get back to normal the CMS will be quick to just slap orders on folks without any negotiating.

Why should a man who helped to create a life be able to not pay a single penny…they should be slapped with orders as they want the glory of being dads without all of the responsibility which includes providing for their child/ren!

My ex owes almost £5k in unpaid maintenance. I did their job for them, git details if job, hours, employer etc and he still does not pay. Hours if my life wasted that I could have spent with my daughter. My only option is a civil case ( he is claiming benefits and says he’s not working with two new cars in the drive ??). The system does not work. There is NO enforcement. The system is a farce from start to finish

I agree, its been over 12 months now, He told them he was living abroad, ifound alltheproof to show he was still living and working in the UK. They said they were going to get money from his bank account.Then lockdown happened and everythings on hold.

I have had the same issue…my son’s dad sold our family home, has not paid towards our son since we seperates in 2017! He went on three holidays with his prior girlfriend and her children and now has a new girlfriend and is keeping her during the lockdown!

Child maintenance is failing receiving parents as it gives the paying parent pretty much unlimited number of appeals against the amount they have to pay. I’ve been in a 2 year battle with my ex to receive money towards our children he left now has a girlfriend who has 3 children and 1 child together. My ex has appealed and appealed their calculations, quit his job to avoid paying preferring to work cash in hand so cms can’t take the money from his earnings. I’ve had to rely on handouts and food banks as he’s paid nothing towards the children in 2 years! And all cms keep saying is while there is an ongoing appeal they are unable to do anything… The other thing that goes against me is he gets discount due to his girlfriends children because she get child benefit yet she gets child maintenance ect from her children’s father so why do I get less towards my children? Plus there is no penalty for non payment… Personally I feel that there needs to be some ramifications for non payment to prevent parents like me forced to wait over 2 years with no payments plus as I can prove he quit his job to avoid paying I think he should face consequences for this. It drives me crazy that he acts like the dad of the year in front of people yet refuses to provide for them.

Sorry…unlimited appeals? They dont care what we earn and normally cheery pick previous high earning years p60 figures. They certainly dont really care about what happens to a PP family

Me and my two children are facing severe financial hardship because since March of this year my ex partner has stopped paying child maintenance altogether due to the coronavirus pandemic.

My ex husband took for me my children because of the benefits and because of the lockdown I didn’t apply to back my children and they are sfrening with here dad’s please can you help me to back my children from the born until 15years know after growing up they to for me

Maybe he’s not earning now?