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Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Government criticised over millions charged for child maintenance requests

Written by The Press Association

Separated parents have been forced to hand over millions of pounds to the Government after it introduced charges for its child support service, new official figures show.

The Department for Work and Pensions said it made £8.5 million in 2015/2016, including almost £2 million in application fees alone, under the new system.

Labour hit out at the Government for "clearly generating significant sums of money" without sharing the impact of the charges on families and child poverty.

While charity Gingerbread said it is money single parents can ill afford to hand over.

Since 2014, mothers and fathers who turn to the Government's Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to collect and pay child support settlements after failing to reach an amicable agreement must both pay a charge.

Non-resident parents, often fathers, are forced to hand over 20% on top of each payment, adding up to £5.6 million in the last financial year.

While the other parent, often mothers, must pay a charge of 4% on the money received, totalling £1.1 million.

The Government also made £1.7 million from the £20 application fee and £100,000 in enforcement charges.

The figures, released by Work and Pensions Minister Priti Patel (pictured) in response to a parliamentary question from shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith, are "draft and subject to audit".

Janet Allbeson, a senior policy advisor at Gingerbread, which supports single parents, said the amount of money generated by the Government is expected to rise as the service expands.

She said: "Gingerbread disagrees with the principal of charging parents to access the service, which risks deterring some single parents who will be unable to secure realistic and regular child maintenance without the backing of the CMS.

"Last year the Government collected £1.7 million in application fees alone. That is money single parents can ill afford."

Shadow work and pensions minister Debbie Abrahams said the Government has failed to reveal the impact of the fees on family income and child poverty.

She said: "These new numbers show that the Government is clearly generating significant sums of money from this new fees system.

"Yet they have still failed to publish the report they are legally bound to produce on the impact these fees are having on family incomes, single parents and child poverty.

"They need to publish that report as soon possible, so the full picture can be assessed sooner rather than later."

Around 30% of parents use the CMS service.

A DWP spokesperson said: "We want to encourage people to come to their own child maintenance arrangements which is usually in the best interests of their children, and the charges are designed to do just that.

"The charges also help cover the costs of running the service, which ensures better value for taxpayers."

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