Is the Child Maintenance Service the Worst Idea EVER?


What is the child maintenance service, anyway?

Replacing the CSA

Like thousands of other single parents, I’ve recently been received a letter from the CSA, announcing that my existing child maintenance agreement, as run by the CSA, will end in a few months, and I need to make new arrangements.

Now I know it has a terrible reputation but I can’t lie – when the CSA got involved in our family maintenance arrangements, it was nothing short of a life saver.

Like many divorced couples, money is a touchy subject for me and my ex. Instead of monthly muttered near-arguments about late payments, or why isn’t it this, or that amount, or why aren’t you spending it on X or Y, with the CSA doing the sums and taking the money, there was… nothing.

We were lucky – first, because Flea’s Dad has reliably made payments, and wants to support our daughter. I know a lot of absent parents don’t do that, and it must make a hard situation unimaginably more difficult. And second, because the CSA worked for us – for many thousands of parents it was a tangled mess of failure to collect payments, and inaccurate calculations.

But that’s not to say the new system isn’t even worse.

How the Child Maintenance Service Works

The new Child Maintenance Service replaces the CSA. Single parents seeking maintenance for their children now have three choices.

First – and this is the option the government would prefer, it’s clear – I discuss the issue with my former partner and come to a civil arrangement about what should be paid, when, and how. And that all works out. I like to think of this idea existing in a bubble, sitting on a magical cloud, next to a unicorn and a sparkling rainbow.

Perhaps the unicorn is busy reading one of the helpful guides on the CMS website for parents, called things like, “Managing Feelings” designed to help you make your own arrangements with someone you’d frequently like to stab in the heart.  Top tips include gems like this: Compromise involves a little bit of give and take on both sides. If you can both do this, you’re more likely to make arrangements that work for your family! 

So choice number one? Possibly not for us. Option number two, meanwhile, involves paying the government £20 to calculate how much my ex should pay, based on how much he tells me he earns (he’s self-employed so declares his own income), and then I can discuss with him how and when it should be paid. Yeah. Budge up unicorn, I’ve got a mermaid here that needs a seat.

Behind door number three, I can ask the new child maintenance service to collect the money from my ex, and pay it to me. This relies upon my ex providing the right information (which to be fair, he probably will), agreeing to use the service AND then being prepared to pay a 20% service charge on top of the maintenance, to the new CMS agency. I will also have to pay a 4% charge to receive the money paid for my child’s care.

Which is nice.

Basically, the government is asking single parents to give them 24% of the funds intended to support their children – and thereby, one assumes, massively reducing the burden on the state to support those children.

Sure, we’re all adults and should be able to manage our own finances. I could probably suck it up and go back to having awkward silences over the phone with my ex every time we talk about money, and he can imply that I’m richer than Richard Branson, and I can imply that he’s an idiot, and everyone will be just a little bit unhappier as a result.

But what really worries me about this new policy are families that aren’t as lucky as ours.

What happens to the women with violent or abusive former partners? Are they really being forced into a choice between establishing regular contact with someone they might have struggled to escape from, or losing 24% of maintenance that might be desperately needed?

It’s a horrible choice to have to make. Do I need the money badly enough to get back in contact with a former partner who may be violent, or abusive, or hostile? Would it be safer, and less upsetting to try and manage without maintenance entirely?

However you look at it, I can’t help thinking that it’s poor and vulnerable families that are going to be hit hardest by the change – including, of course, some non-resident parents who may find themselves equally reluctant to make the same choices.


What do you think? Do you have any experience of the CSA or CMS, and these changes?

39 thoughts on “Is the Child Maintenance Service the Worst Idea EVER?”

  1. I am in this situation with my eldest daughters real dad. I have s restraining order on him. My fees have been wavered due to special circumstances and they do that. The new service is amazing and they have so many more action to get the money. I get an update call every month (we have issues with gaining the money) and they are amazing and helpful.

    1. I think it’s AMAZING you’re having a positive experience – did they waive both the commissions (yours and his) and the application fees, for you? That’s certainly not the information they present publicly.

    2. You are lucky. Was happy with cms at first but as my babies father ducks out of jobs they are too slow to get money. My daughter is 9 months old and we have had £21 as he goes on the dole and when they sort that out he gets a job then he doesn’t answer their phone calls or letter gets a job then 3 months down the line we have no money even though he has told me where he is working. They know he’s working but waiting for hmrc to confirm this so they can go for deduction of earnings. He has earned over £3k in wages and he will leave the job once they apply this. They are too slow. I feel like there are no penalties for not paying and the system protects the non paying oarent

    3. Gosh I wish I was having the experience you’re having with them I have got a lovely debt on the account now which is 1600 and I’m still not receiving payments been waiting since child maintenance took over from a CSA I have had no payment I’m actually getting into debt now because I rely on them payments

    4. To be honest I am fed of up hearing crap about fathers. I agree SOME partners are abusive and need restraining orders. BUT there is no mention I your article of how women use this system to their own nefarious means. The law is an ass, and unless there are special circumstances identified by a court. Then if a father pays CMS the mother has a duty to allow the father to see his children. Not hide behind a faceless organisation. You should write about the fathers who care pay and still don’t get to see their kids. And the bad mothers that turn children against them. Your article is sitting somewhere near that cloud where the unicorn you mention is.

      1. I’d *love* for you to identify the “crap about fathers” in this post. I say that my ex has made payments reliably and I trust him to be honest. I say we BOTH should be able to suck it up and make arrangements like adults.

        What I do think is crap? Is a system that uses financial penalties to force parents into contact with someone who may be abusive or violent. The CMS – and arrangements made through it – are entirely independent of contact and custody arrangements. I do also say (as you’ll know if you read the post) that the issue of forcing contact with someone violent or abusive could equally apply to resident and non-resident parents. There are abusive women just as there are abusive men!

        I actually don’t mention contact/custody arrangements in this post. I suspect that’s YOUR issue and YOUR dispute with YOUR partner. As it happens, my child has a close relationship with her Dad and has always had regular contact. I’ve written numerous times on this site about how important I find kids’ rights to enjoy a relationship with both parents, regardless of what parents might think about each other. I still think the CMS is fundamentally flawed.

        So I suggest you take your unicorn and go find someone else to have a row with.

        1. If you have had no payments at all like myself you can phone and say you would like to raise a complaint thus will go to an investigation side who will take over the case especially if they self employed . Cms hopeless I’m Iver 3 years now with non payment

          1. My ex is 4982 in arrears to be precise! He gets a job they catch up with him he drops the job that circle has occurred for the past 6 years! They went for legal enforcement but he dropped his job and low and behold they can’t do a thing Iv not received a payment for the past 4 years. What annoys me is he’s not ashamed and openly states where he’s working over social media but cms have no interest that he’s taking myself and them for a mug (obviously he believes he’s above the law) I ring constantly and am told the debt will never leave him, maybe so but if your not going to collect it then he’s not really ever going to care is he. He’s abusive and I cannot speak to him as I’m reduced to tears if we ever have to speak he’s evil. I probably won’t ever see a penny but atleast when it was csa they actually bothered chasing him for the money. I actually rang up this morning to say that he’d been working for our local council for the last 3 months and they were non the wiser! Really what on earth did I pay the fee for they don’t do a thing. Last year they had the audacity to call me and ask me to waver the arrears or cancel the claim because he had called and asked them to!!! No why should I?? They appear to be all for the paying parent or in my case he doesn’t even pay.

  2. Aside from the epic use of figurative language which made me laugh out loud… This situation is utterly disgraceful. I had no idea the gvt had taken this money grabbing route of failing our children YET AGAIN!

  3. OMG. The government are taking a 20% service charge?! That money is for the kids not the sodding government! Wow. I’m not even in this situation but for the people that do this is astounding. What a bloomin’ joke!

      1. Im having a nightmare. While at csa no probs for 7 years go to cms and im 1600 in areas. Since last year thats gone to 3500 bare in mind ive never missed a payment in 9 years. Ontop of this 8 formal complaints gone unanswered ive been threatened with prison. Forcing to sell my house license and pasdport revoked. Trying to force me to pay additional 20% on click and collect and when i refuse i just had a deductions of earnings placed against me for a debt i do not owe. I have never missed a payment in 9 years have bank statements to prove it but they will not accept them as evidence of payment. Cms are a joke. Driven me to contimplate suicide its that bad. Instructed a solicitor today. Ive had enough

        1. I was being chased for a £4800 CSA debt that wasn’t owed for over 4 years, I proved that it wasn’t owed and eventually this was removed, not before I had already paid it back along with an additional £1800, leaving me with an over payment of £6200. I asked for an audit of my account between what CMS asked me to pay and what i should have paid, this has 18 months worth of payments missing, however the payments required for the same 18 month period were on there. I have done my own audit and sent this to them, no response which is not a surprise. I have even had over £500 removed from the account as the receiving parent wanted to close the account. This is money that I have paid and they have no legal right to have removed it. I am now in the process of taking CMS to court to recover the over payment and for compensation. The Customer Service towards NRP’s is utterly shambolic, whereas they bend over backwards for a RP. The complaints team are a joke, the complaints resolution team are worse. This whole set up is just another government department run by clowns and incompetent imbeciles. The quicker that these idiots are all sacked and the CMS is completely disbanded the better.

  4. It won’t work always for the non resident parent. My husband actually went to the csa himself as his ex caused so many problems. She refuses any contact whatsoever so how are we supposed to come to an agreement? She will more than likely cause so much trouble to make sure we pay the extra 20% just for spite….we’re dreading the new system.

  5. In my personal situation after domestic violence having to contact my ex and discuss money when that was a trigger for violence would nothing short of a nightmare. I know i am not alone in that sentiment and it seems that scrapping the system and making everyone start all over again in my book is more disastrous than the original system.

    Years ago (14 years ago) if you were receiving any kind of state funded benefit you need to declare any maintenance you received so they could reduce the state funded benefits and recoup some cost back by the absent partner paying for their child/ren … it seems these days you no longer have to declare and it doesnt effect state funded benefits so some family households are receiving both … how i feel on that is a whole other days discussions (sorry for rambling)

    1. Jaime – my situation was like yours. My ex was violent and never paid a penny towards our Son from 3 years until he died when my son was 13 years old. He was on benefits so I didn’t bother to pursue him for maintenance, as I worked full-time I felt I could cope. And like you it really irked me that WFTC exempt declaring maintenance payments, which means, as you pointed out, that some single parents are receiving maintenance and WFTC. Nor did I qualify for a widowed parent allowance after his death, as we divorced. Seems an all round crazy situation for a single parent who is not in receipt of any support from their ex.

  6. I am so glad I have never had to deal with this but my glasses aren’t rose tinted enough to think that may never be the case. This sounds like it will be an utter nightmare and could cause so many issues and potential harm to others.

  7. I totally agree that the new service is a total mess and I the worst idea ever. I was getting money for my eldest for many years from the CSA with no problems and then late last year we got a letter saying the claim would close due to the new system. I rang them up and was told to contact her ‘father’ to arrange payment, I told them we don’t know where he lives and he has no contact with us as he was violent and I was basically just fobbed off on the phone saying I should know where he lives etc. In the end I just closed the claim down and now get no money off him for his daughter and that is fine as we don’t need the money but if I was not financially stable I would have struggled without that extra income. xx

  8. The cms are a joke.
    I should have saved my £20 and bought nappies and milk rather than pay for the ‘service’ I receive

    My sons father walked out when he was 3 months old as he wasn’t ready to be a dad…found out 3rd baby he did it to. believed a lot of lies :/ We planned for our son so this was a shock.
    Contacted cms in the beginning of nov 2015 and its still not sorted out.

    I am in my 8th month waiting as he says he will send them proof of payments even though they have proof of non payment on my bank statements and he never sends anything to them.
    I have been moved to collect and pay and he hasn’t paid, they said he keeps calling saying he will provide bank details. They give him 21 days to send post back instead of just taking bank details over the phone

    They are not doing what is best for my son, I work part time till I can go back full time so this money would help
    They do keep saying they will do a deduction of earnings order but the have to recalculate then send him a letter then wait 21 days…..blah blah blah it just goes on

    He has looked online as there are websites that tell you how to dodge paying cms and they know this and do nothing

  9. Hello,
    We have been waiting for funds through the CSM for six months. My ex has a good job but is verbally abusive and extremely difficult, making arranging anything between us impossible. I used to have a life saving deduction of earnings through the CSA though this appears impossible to organise through the CSM. My ex recently said he would pay his arrears if the Collect and Pay (24% model) was dropped before implementation. The CSM agreed. I asked what would happen if the mooted money failed to appear – again. The CSM said they would contact my ex and moot Collect and Pay, but if he continued to ‘promise’ payment they would be unable to take the matter further. The man I spoke to yesterday said it was possible I would never receive money at all, as the CSM are worried they could be sued for incorrect deduction of earnings implementation. It’s frankly Kafkaesque! I am now interested in being involved in some sort of campaign to bring about legislative change: Our children deserve far better than this. If anyone knows of a campaign, or is keen to get involved, let me know.

    1. I would be happy to get involved. I have received a single penny in the 18 months they have had my case. I called today for an update and asked what the last date was that some has made any kind of note on my case, it was way back in February 2017. We are now in October.

  10. I have currently changed from the old system Csa to the child maintenance service. Found out yesterday that my weekly amounts are to be cut by £47 a week and no money now to 5 November. Check my bank on 12 November and to get back in touch if no money has been received. That’s 13 weeks from last payment and advisors say this is the transition phase to new system. I am outraged. I too think that the Government should look again at legislation. No warning that my payments would be reduced or waiting times. I feel for all those having to deal with this situation whilst trying to be good parents.

  11. OK, a bit late to this party but I need to correct a couple of things. Firstly, the 20% is not taken from the receiving parent’s payment but is paid as an extra amount by the payer.

    Secondly (and as a survivor of a very abusive ex some years ago I know the importance of this) the parent with care can opt for Direct Pay (no admin charges other than one off £20) and does not have to have any dealings whatsoever with the ex, simply pass bank details which can be non geographic, via the cms.

    Now, think about this. My partner’s ex, who has refused access for 8 years, is refusing to give the cms bank details with the sole aim of FORCING him to pay £70 per month in admin to the cms (on top of his normal amount) by using collect and pay.

    The bad behaviour is not all about nasty men not wanting to pay, there are some pretty nasty women out there too.

  12. I am fuming, my ex partner hasn’t bothered with my daughter now (13) for the last 5 years, no Christmas card or birthday card. Everything was fine with the old csa scheme. I was receiving £24 a week which I thought was a bit meesely and then informed I would receive a extra £4 per week. He got in touch and gave me a load of abuse pleading poverty and accused me of phoning them which I hadn’t. With this I decided to contact them (first time in 10 years) to ask about the increase and was informed of a change in his circumstances. They also asked if I wanted them to look into his earnings as they had not been reviewed for 10 years so I agreed. They got in touch with me fairly quickly to say I should have been receiving £43 a week instead of the £28. I have recently changed over to the new child maintenance service and am now worse off as their calculations say I should receive £25. I don’t uderstand how this is worked out considering wages have increased quite a bit in the last 10 years.

  13. Like most of the others here I found the CSA life savers. My Ex never declared the whole of his earnings but we got a small amount of money each month which supplemented my own earnings and gave the boys that little bit extra for all the sports that they do. I begged the CSM to let me go on collect as he had a history of abuse with me and the boys and also of not paying. The CSA had literally had to hunt him down through the tax office and collect money from his employers. They refused, made me pay £20 for the privilege of allowing him to go onto direct pay. He hasn’t paid a penny and they are doing nothing at all to collect the money. I’m furious but I can do nothing at all about it. Child maintenance service is all geared up for dead beat Dad’s to avoid paying. It’s not about me and it’s not about him it’s about the kids who are being robbed here..

  14. Deduction of earnings orders don’t work – as soon as the paying parents work make six monthly payments the NRP can apply to pay from their bank – what happens when they don’t – they have to go back on the DEO which takes three months to set up. This leaves the children nothing for quarter of every year. The process need speeding up and the CMS definitely shouldn’t be removing a DEO without certainty of continued payments – but they did with me. We’ve only had maintenance for half of the last three years due to faffing, reassessing and waiting for DEO’s and 6k arrears have accumulated which the DEO never collects. They need to seriously sort these issues out.

  15. “Option number two, meanwhile, involves paying the government £20 to calculate how much my ex should pay, based on how much he tells me he earns, and then I can discuss with him how and when it should be paid”

    This is not correct! Child Maintenance calculations are calculated from your ex’s previous tax years’ salary information, obtained directly from HMRC. It has nothing to do with ex telling you how much he earns. If he earns , say 15% more this year than last year, then this will be taken into consideration in next years calculation. Child Maintenance is always calculated using total salary for last tax year.

    What I do find strange is that they are only interested in adjusting payments due to change of circumstances mid through your annual payment schedule, if the change in income is at least + or – 20%.

    If you change jobs and earn 18% less than before then they are not interested. You would need to budget for this as your payments would remain the same until the next annual review, at which time HMRC would tell them you’re now earning 18% less and your payments would reduce accordingly.

    1. Thanks Jay. Actually in our case it’s accurate as my ex is self-employed. What I’m referring to as option 2 is the Direct Pay service, where the CMS calculates the total owed based on forms completed by my ex as a sole trader declaring his own income, and I pay a £20 application fee for that calculation BUT I must negotiate directly with my former partner about how/when it’s paid.

  16. Speaking as a single father with a close friend who is a single mother I can honestly say the new service is nothing short of shambolic.

    Personally I see my son 50/50 and don’t have these arrangements, as everything is split 50/50 with uniforms, costs of living , day to day stuff etc with my ex partner so I am pleased I don’t have to experience this.

    But my friend has been treated absolutely dreadful by this new system. When she first received the letters regarding the changes to a new company taking the payments forward, she was very prompt ensuring she provided all the correct and accurate information to them. Things went back and forward and after they calculated what the father should be paying he then decided to make up his own calculations. He has fed the CMS lie after lie saying that his son is earning hundreds each week, that he is not studying GCSE’s, the list is endless around the depths of utter garbage this man has came up with. For the past 4 months now he has paid about £150 each month less what he should be paying, giving my fiend no option but to go down the route of collect and pay as she would still get more money this way even though she would have to pay for this. Still the collect and pay has not been set up and the CMS still listen to the utter dross that comes out of this mans mouth, they have done nothing to help the situation my friend is in, keep offering another 14 days to father, but do they not realise that he will put off and put off and then the following month it will be too late for collect and pay, it’s shambolic. Surely after 4 months of going backwards and forwards they have been able to get all of the relevant information.

    I find it so frustrating. As a single father it really boils my blood. This man wanted to have children, yet he thinks he shouldn’t have to pay for them now they are separated. I understand all these fathers for justice, and they way some fathers are treated is shocking, but we really should be working to name and shame these pathetic excuses for men, who believe that they are dads by doing the odd like of and instagram post or a quick hello in a text message after only bothering your backside to see your children for 1 day out of 14. It makes me sick.

  17. I’m one of the cooperative paying parents, despite that I’ve been on the receiving end of csa mistakes over the years. At one point they had to pay me compensation for financial loss and they still continued to make errors. Hence I have no faith in their ability to get anything correct. My case culminated in one of their legal representatives visiting me to assure me everything was correct finally and I was satisfied it was right.

    Along comes CMO and I cheer as the system is simpler and they should be able to get this right. I had a long chat with my case worker and she gave me a figure of my weekly payment, I told her it seemed a bit low and to expect trouble. A few days later I receive a letter contradicting the conversation and my payments are now over 10% higher than I was paying through the csa. Why?

    Also, I’ve learned that cmo only take private pension payments into account, they ignore company pensions. My logic says if i stop my company pension and switch to private, i will be a bigger burden on the taxpayer when I retire, yet the government make it compulsory for employers to offer a pension. In other words they encourage company pensions.

    Have they got this wrong or could someone explain why they treat pensions differently. If I pay into either scheme the money I have left is the same. The only difference is my pension pot but that won’t benefit me for years

    1. This is not correct. The figure used for calculation is total earnings for last tax year before tax but AFTER corporate pension deduction. If you also pay into a private pension, then annual statements need to be provided to CMS in order for them to take these pension payments into account also. I pay CM and have a corporate and a private pension because my corporate pension isn’t great and I would not be able to rely on this alone

  18. Poor service so far . I advised CMS that my ex was working from the end of last year yet when they did the annual review this was not picked up. They investigated at my insistence after proving all the employer info. I was advised of my entitlement £15 per week from January but when I received my next letter the arrears were incorrect and no arrears have been brought forward from CSA.i had to call a number of times to try and sort the arrears from Jan but still not got anywhere with CSA arrears .
    They have had to put a deduction of earnings in place as ex won’t co operate but when first payment received its £80 short . No one called to advise me . Yet again I had to call to see what’s happening . It takes 3 working days to send my case to the team who will call employer . With technology these days why 3 days . Is it going by currier snail .

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