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Children in poverty and the Child Maintenance Service inquiry launched

23 May 2022

The Work and Pensions Committee is continuing its work on children in poverty with an inquiry into the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) and the financial support arrangements for children and young people in separated families.

The inquiry will explore how the DWP might improve the CMS to better support children in poverty and examine the barriers parents face when trying to access CMS support as well as how the system interacts with wider social security, including Universal Credit.

Reforms in 2012 were aimed at encouraging families where one of the parents does not live with the child to create their own arrangements for the payment of support and reduce the use of the government service. While family-based arrangements have increased and use of the CMS has fallen1, the estimated proportion of separated families without any arrangements in place has risen from 25% in 2011/12 to 44% in 2019/20.

In March, the National Audit Office published a report on child maintenance calling on the DWP to do more to ensure families could easily use the CMS. In 2019, the Social Security Advisory Committee recommended that the Government publish a strategy for separated parents and their children in respect to the social security system.

Chair's comment

Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said:

“The dramatic rise over the last decade in the number of separated parents with no child maintenance arrangements in place means some young people from such families risk living in poverty.

Families are being encouraged to make their own arrangements, but there is still a role for the Child Maintenance Service to help separated parents make the best provision for their children. The design of the CMS and the way it is functioning seems to be hindering many in doing so.

Our inquiry will look at how to remove barriers to establishing child maintenance arrangements, and examine how the CMS and wider social security system can work better to ensure children from separated families have proper support growing up.”

The inquiry follows on from the Committee’s previous children in poverty work on measurements and targets and the experiences of families with no recourse to public funds.

Call for evidence

The Committee is inviting submissions on the following questions:

  • Approximately how many children in the UK live in separated families? What proportion of these children are living in poverty?
  • What are the impacts on children and parents living in poverty in separated families? Are any groups particularly affected?
  • What prevents parents from establishing family-based arrangements?
  • Some parents aren’t using CMS or a family-based arrangement – how are they organising financial support for their children?
  • What barriers are there for parents when trying to access support from CMS?
  • How effectively is CMS at supporting children in poverty who live apart from one of their parents?

- How effective are the Direct Pay arrangements?

- How effective is the Collect & Pay system at collecting and enforcing child maintenance agreements?

  • How quickly does the CMS respond to queries and request from parents? Is there any data on this?
  • How can the CMS ensure self-employed parents are contributing to fairly to child-raising costs?
  • What role does the CMS have in dispute resolution for families?
  • How does CMS interact with the wider social security system, including Universal Credit?
  • How can DWP improve the CMS to better support children living in poverty?
  • More widely, how can the DWP best support children with separated parents?
  • Is the Child Maintenance Service operating better than the previous Child Support Agency? Are children better supported now than they were then?
  • Are there any international examples of best practice on supporting children and separated families that the Department should learn from?

The deadline for submissions is Friday 8 July.

Further information

Image: CCO