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Child Maintenance Service must work for everybody and not just a privileged few

3 min read

The State must not be an accessory to child maintenance avoidance says David Burrowes MP.

Public attention will undoubtedly be focussed elsewhere today rather than on my Child Maintenance (Assessment of Parents’ Income) Bill. However many parents have waited all too long for fair child maintenance for their children and will not let a General Election get in the way of their campaign. The campaign message at the heart of my Bill, to use the Prime Minister's parlance, is that we need a Child Maintenance Service (CMS) which will work for everyone not just a privileged few.

There has been growing Parliamentary attention on the issue of child maintenance. Whilst not on the scale of the bedevilled and much maligned old Child Support Agency, it is significant that alongside my Bill prompted by the great campaigning of Gingerbread, there are parallel inquiries into the 2012 CMS, by the Work and Pensions and Public Accounts Select Committees and yesterday there was a backbench debate on CMS led by Marion Fellows MP. However the renewed attention is mainly because of constituents bringing their cases of injustice to MPs, for the sake of children who have a right to be maintained by both their parents, regardless of whether a parent is self-employed.

My constituent’s case where the wealthy non-resident parent (NRP) has been able to avoid child maintenance due to being self-employed, with no declarable income generating assets, is the reason for my Bill. Under the old CSA system you could challenge the calculation if the NRP’s assets exceeded £65000 or their lifestyle was inconsistent with declared income. In fact my constituent was successful in taking the case to a Tribunal which found the other parent possessed £600,000 worth of assets and should pay regularly to support their teenage son. The problem is that under the current CMS scheme the same parent is held to legitimately have a “nil” child maintenance liability, being based largely on ‘gross taxable income’ figures provided by the HMRC. My constituent has not received a penny of the £40,000 due to their son and has no redress from the CMS or Court. Her arrears are part of the estimated £52.5 million unpaid maintenance, which means that fewer than half of eligible children do not receive anything at all. This injustice is compounded by the 2012 rules not only abolishing the grounds to challenge assessments but also cutting off the avenue for redress through the Courts.

My Bill will reform the CMS to correct its current failure to cater for the children of traders, company directors and those with financially complex affairs. So it can’t be right that a haulier can avoid paying child maintenance because his tax return year removed his liability because he had bought a truck. The CMS should not allow the interests of a truck to be put before a child. The State should not be an accessory to child maintenance avoidance. The Government has its eye on the self employed to make the tax system work for everyone and it should include the child maintenance system as well.

David Burrowes is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Enfield Southgate

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