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8 October 2014

Charity claims dramatic drop in parents applying for child maintenance help as charges begin

New government figures indicate thousands of parents are choosing not to seek help from the new government Child Maintenance Service because of new charges brought in this summer, warns the single parent charity Gingerbread.

The figures, published this week (30 September), show for the first time the impact of the £20 application fee to use the new Child Maintenance Service (CMS), which is gradually replacing the Child Support Agency (CSA).

3,700 fewer parents applied to the new CMS in August than in May this year, after charges were introduced on 30 June, a drop of 38 per cent.

Although it is early days since the application charge was introduced, this is three times the 12 per cent drop in applications to the new service that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had predicted as a result of the £20 fee.

Gingerbread Chief Executive Fiona Weir said: “At the moment, only two-fifths of the UK’s two million single parent families receive child maintenance payments from their child’s other parent. We warned the government that the charge to access the new service could make this situation even worse. These early figures seem to confirm our fears.

“Children in single parent families are already twice as likely to live in poverty as those in couple families. The government should not be putting barriers in the way of the three million children growing up in single parent families getting the support they need and we urge the DWP to drop the charge.”

The charity is also calling on the DWP to publish data it is collecting on how many of the parents who, after calling the government Child Maintenance Options helpline, decide not to apply to the CMS, then go on to successfully make their own child maintenance arrangements.

Fiona Weir added: “We don’t know yet whether the parents put off by the £20 charge are going on to make arrangements on their own, or are just giving up. The government must be transparent about the impact its reforms are having.”

All new child maintenance cases are now handled by the CMS instead of the CSA and all CSA cases are gradually being closed, with parents facing fees to reopen their case with the CMS. The government wants to encourage as many separated parents as possible to come to their own private arrangements, but Gingerbread has warned that for many who have experienced relationship breakdown this simply isn’t realistic.