CMS0017

 

Written evidence submitted by anonymously

 

 

Foreword

 

The protracted events that have resulted from the mishandling of my case by the CMS unfortunately necessitates a long document – so I have provided an initial introduction and summary to provide an overview of what I then proceed to report in detail.

 

Introduction and Summary

 

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) has been calculating my annual child maintenance payment schedule in December of each year since 2014.

 

There were some initial problems right at the start of my dealings with the CMS, when they were unable to understand that, at that time, my income came from dividends from a business in which I was a director. They treated the section in my tax return that recorded my dividend income as a separate, and additional, income to my total declared income – doubling my maintenance liability as a result. This was dealt with back at that time, with, I should note, tortuous, and generally frustrating exchanges, which gave me a clear impression that the people I was dealing with really did not grasp how individuals in the private sector report their income, and how to interpret that information.

 

Nonetheless, despite this false start, over several years thereafter they mainly managed to get the calculations right and I had few problems with the CMS and the calculations they were making in my annual reviews; which took place in December of each year, and which set my maintenance schedule for the year that proceeded from that date.

 

This all changed in my December 2020 annual review, in which the CMS erroneously carried over “unearned” income from a historic, and no longer relevant, tax return, ignoring the evidence in my most recent tax return at the time; which clearly showed I had not benefitted from this income in that most recent tax year – despite this being the tax return that they were legally mandated to use as their basis of evidence for their calculation.

 

I immediately challenged the CMS on this, and despite acknowledgement of the error by agents on the frontline, and a declared commitment from them to correct their mistake, I proceeded to endure an absolutely horrendous sequence of events, as the promised re-evaluation of my payment schedule just disappeared without notice, and the CMS then failed to take responsibility for this and forced me to have to pursue them through the courts. Throughout this ordeal the CMS perpetrated failure after failure in the processes they were supposed to be following, demonstrated incompetence and ignorance at every turn, and, most disturbingly, engaged in excuse-making and efforts at self-vindication to cover up their incredible ineptitude and bungling.

 

The sum-total of this episode is that the CMS has managed to take what was a very basic initial error on their part, and through their unremitting dereliction of their very clearly defined responsibilities, they have escalated my case into an outrageous debacle that has resulted in huge amounts of my time, energy, emotion and money being wasted, and have caused problems with my daughter’s mother because of the constantly changing expectations the CMS have caused her to have; and that’s not even to mention the cost to the tax payer for the resources that have been abused by the CMS in their efforts to evade taking responsibility for their own failings in my case.

 

To be clear – the CMS could have corrected this issue in a matter of minutes (by simply reading my most recent tax return correctly). Instead they proceeded to turn this situation into a costly, and unbelievably stressful, saga that is still ongoing (15 months down the line) at the time of writing.

 

All of this has taken place against the backdrop of a virtually unreachable team of decision makers within the CMS, who hide behind a scarcely available telephone triage team who, whilst invariably sympathetic and as helpful as they can be, are used as a human shield to hide the individuals from reach who are making the decisions that turn ordinary people’s lives into a living hell.

 

The CMS online portal is also signally ineffective – numerous communications sent to the CMS via this medium go unanswered, while those that do get answered invariably take multiples of the 7 day deadline the CMS claims to set itself (and those responses often come too late for the matter in hand). The advent of almost exclusively online communications has also coincided with the CMS abandoning many of the former postal correspondences that it used to send out, and not replacing them with an online alternative (e.g. they no longer seem to send out the notification of an upcoming annual review, which would outline the evidence they would be taking into account for that annual review – which at least used to give you some warning of the mistakes they were about to make).

 

I have also been compelled to address my problem directly to the head of the CMS on numerous occasions – whilst copying in my MP, on these correspondences. At these times *********** appeared to just pass over my problem to the people who were causing the mess in the first place; taking no accountability for the unending failures of the people under her supposed control, nor instructing them to do the sensible thing and get this simple matter resolved and put to bed. If ************* is tasked with reforming the CMS and getting it on the track of properly executing its responsibilities and minimising the costs to the taxpayer resulting from procedural errors, I can only attest that my impression is that she is completely failing in her role and cares little or nothing for the problems her department is causing to countless ordinary people.

 

I am now in the process of having to waste the time, money, and resources, of HM Courts and Tribunals Service, to resolve this matter, despite it being beyond plain that the CMS is completely at fault and any rational judge will waste no time in moving against them on this matter.

 

I have also reported the CMS to the Independent Case Examiner, and within seconds of outlining my complaint to ************ of the ICE, he immediately acknowledged to me that the CMS was clearly at fault and he was directing for them to correct that mistake. During this call, he also advised me that it is not uncommon for someone in the CMS to “dig their heels in” and ignore the directions of the ICE, even when the CMS has no leg to stand on.

 

This was a particularly troubling, albeit by this time, unsurprising, revelation to me; and confirmed what I have now clearly come to understand – the CMS may claim to act with impartiality and according to the legislation dictated to them by the government, but it is patently obvious to me that they care nothing for the regulations that are supposed to direct their behaviour, and are, effectively, an authority unto themselves.

 

It should also be noted that the CMS repeated the exact same mistake in my December 2021 annual review – carrying over the same “unearned income” that was by that time a full two years out of date. On this occasion I was equipped with a whole year of battling this matter from the previous annual review in Dec 2020, and I spoke to an agent knowing fully well what to instruct them to do – directly furnishing them with a copy of my tax return (which they should have had directly from HMRC anyway), and pointing to the relevant page of that tax return which confirmed that this unearned income no longer existed and they therefore had no justification whatsoever for factoring this now outdated figure into my ongoing maintenance calculations. The agent confirmed immediately that the CMS had made a mistake and ordered a variation to be conducted; in the process confirming that the very same mistake that the CMS had made a year previously in Dec 2020 should have likewise been resolved quickly and without controversy – a state of affairs that lamentably did not come to pass.

 

As an incidental note – even with someone in my corner on my most recent challenge to the CMS, their promise to have the false calculation of my Dec 2021 annual review revised in January of 2021 has failed to materialize, and they are only now making the appropriate corrections to my current payment schedule after I have yet again had to spend time and effort chasing them on this, and after once again having had to make unaffordable overpayments while they clear up their own mess.

 

In summary, the CMS have been responsible for an absolutely scandalous sequence of failures on a matter that should never have occurred in the first place, but, when it did, should have been dealt with quickly and efficiently. They have done nothing but evade responsibility for their mistakes, ignored the articles that constrain the procedures they are supposedly obliged to follow, they have disregarded the limits of their authority, ignored evidence in their possession, invented excuses, and even resorted to, it dismays me to note, flat-out lies (all of which I provide the proof of in the proceeding evidence); ultimately they have shown a willingness to act with extreme prejudice against anyone that is not prepared to put up with their arbitrary and damaging practices.

 

I cannot state this more emphatically – the CMS is totally unfit for purpose.

 

n.b. I have in this document just provided a summary, with examples, of the issues I have suffered at the hands of the CMS. I have all the correspondences and evidence to support the points raised, should these be required.

 

A brief clarification on the reporting of my income to HMRC, and the CMS

 

My tax returns are uploaded digitally to HMRC each year.

 

At the time of my December annual reviews, HMRC is in possession of my tax return for the most recent complete tax year; and the CMS refers to HMRC for this information to retrieve my income information for its maintenance calculation.

 

For example. In December 2020, my tax return for the most recent complete tax year was the 2019-2020 tax year (year ending 4th April 2020). That tax return was submitted by me to HMRC in July 2020, and was therefore the tax return that was logged and recorded with HMRC at the time that the CMS would have asked HMRC in Dec 2020 for my most recent income information.

 

Since my tax returns have been recorded digitally with HMRC (at least since 2017), the CMS has just referred to HMRC at the time of my December annual review each year, and HMRC has furnished the CMS with full income information for myself, so that the CMS could make an accurate maintenance calculation – this included advising the CMS of all employment income and any “unearned” income I had received in that tax year (in particular, and for myself, this unearned income historically related to dividends from the company where I was formerly a director, but from which I resigned in 2016, and from which I no longer receive any income).

 

Up until my Dec 2020 annual review, the CMS had correctly referred to both the earned and unearned income sections of my tax returns and made the correct maintenance calculation accordingly – and I had proceeded to pay the maintenance consequently due.

 

It should also be noted that in the years preceding the Dec 2020 annual review, I had not had to directly send the CMS any information (i.e. my tax return) for them to conduct the correct maintenance calculation; as they had direct access to my tax return via HMRC – and were making the correct calculations accordingly.

 

 

 

 

A brief explanation of my circumstances

 

I was until 2016 director of a market research business, but had to resign my directorship in July of 2016 due to a severe decline in the business’s fortunes, and the unwillingness of the other director of the business to continue running the business with my involvement. As part of the agreement for my resignation, I was given a £50,000 lump sum from the residual profits in the business, which was distributed to me in £2,000 / month payments, to give me an income to sustain me while I pursued a new livelihood.

 

These payments represented the “unearned income” that would be recorded in my tax returns for the years I was receiving that income, and which the CMS would factor into my maintenance calculations.

 

These payments ceased in the tax year 2018-2019, when all of the £50,000 had been distributed, and marked the end of any “unearned income” I have since received.

 

I have subsequently taken up employment in my new partner’s small cleaning business, which currently has a relatively low revenue, but which we are working to try and grow in the hope of a more prosperous future – but in the meantime we are drawing down a very limited income, and are having to make do with our restricted circumstances while we try to grow the business.

 

Summary of the mistake made by the CMS in my Dec 2020 annual review

 

December 2020:

 

 

February 2021:

 

March 2021:

 

April 2021:

 

It is perhaps worth clarifying at this point, that prior to the Dec 2020 annual review, the CMS had always correctly varied my additional income figure in its maintenance calculations – correctly referencing the relevant unearned income figures that were recorded in my tax return that was relevant to each annual review:

 

Thus, the CMS had got it right in the preceding years when I was receiving this unearned income, varying each year’s maintenance calculation appropriately to the different levels of unearned income I was receiving in different years. However, once there was no more unearned income to receive, they arbitrarily, and without a shred of evidence to support their move, chose to keep applying the final £16,000 of unearned income that I had received in 2018-2019 to all future year’s maintenance calculations, ad infinitum.

 

Given the CMS is explicitly empowered to make its calculations solely on an evidence basis only, and for that evidence to be provided by HMRC, they had, in my case, clearly completely disregarded the rules by which they were obliged to operate.

 

Notwithstanding all of the above, I responded to this late in the day claim from the CMS that they needed me to directly send them my tax return for 2019/2020 – immediately sending that to them via their online portal, and which they proceeded to acknowledge receiving. It was now clearly reasonable to assume that the CMS had no good grounds for not getting on with performing the correct calculation, and resolving this matter with the minimum of subsequent fuss.

 

And so, exasperated by the situation, on 19th April 2021 I emailed the head of the CMS, *********, cc-ing in my MP, *********, expressing my concern about the mishandling of this case and pointing out the fact that this could be resolved quickly, easily, and without the time and expense of a tribunal hearing. On 21st April 2021, I was informed by the CMS that ********* had passed on my message to the relevant team so that they could deal with ‘the incorrect mandatory reconsideration decision within 2 weeks’.

 

I assumed, therefore that it had been acknowledged that the mandatory reconsideration needed to be conducted again, and that I would hear from them asap.

 

However, after two weeks had elapsed I had heard nothing, and at this stage I had no choice but to get on with making a precautionary application to HMCTS for my case to be heard at tribunal (as this application needed to be made within a month of the original mandatory reconsideration rejection).

 

The CMS meanwhile went quiet yet again.

 

June to September 2021

 

At the start of June I made a complaint to my MP, about my case with the CMS, expressing my frustration that the CMS had yet again failed to address my case despite promising to do so, and sharing my concern that public time and resources were being wasted forcing me to go to tribunal when this case could be solved very quickly with some sensible intervention by the CMS – she forwarded my complaint to the DWP complaints team.

 

On the 10th July I was contacted by a CMS “Complex Case Manager”, requesting various items of tax return evidence from me so that they could conduct a variation on my maintenance calculation to bring this matter to a close. In this letter I was asked for tax return information which I did not understand: k              M,*****, *******, *******, ******* or *******; and so I had to ask an accountant to explain to me what was being requested – and it transpired that the CMS was asking for self-employment or business partnership income information. I am not self-employed nor am I in a business partnership, and I am therefore unable to provide such information – as no such information exists. Furthermore, I have

never been asked for such evidence in the past, and yet the CMS has, prior to my December 2020 annual review, always had the correct information for my earned and unearned income, and has always performed the correct calculations accordingly.

 

I then separately received a letter from the DWP complaints team on 11th August 2020.

 

Finally, frustrated by the seemingly random behaviour of the CMS, I rang them at 9.30am on 7th September 2021:

but that their statement that the CMS had used my 2018/2019 tax return in my Dec 2020 annual review was not true.

to my payment schedule should be completed as a matter of priority and these overpayments be backdated to December 2020.

 

However, I then received a message through the CMS online portal on 15th September 2021:

 

In its totality, the above demonstrates a completely chaotic set of correspondences from the CMS, communications that are full of errors and contradictions and reveal an organisation in a state of complete disarray, but which is making me the scapegoat for their failings.

 

 

Throughout the chaos of these events it is easy to lose sight of the following key facts:

 

 

Subsequent fallacious and error-strewn submission made by the CMS to HMCTS in response to my tribunal appeal

 

As a result of this outrageous failure on the part of the CMS to sort this matter out, I have had to pursue my appeal via tribunal.

 

Having submitted my own evidence and statement to HMCTS, the CMS, after months of ignoring my case, finally made its own submission only days before the deadline for their response to the tribunal expired, (in which case an automatic judgement would have been made in their absence).

 

However, not content to let the matter disappear in the face of the overwhelming evidence against them, the CMS, at the last minute, got their act together to make a fanciful submission to HMCTS which was full of the now customary errors, untruths, excuses, stupidities and flat-out lies.

 

All of the underlying evidence for the following can be supplied on request, but I have outlined below some of the key aspects of the CMS’s submission.

 

 

In Section 4, Page C, of their statement

 

The CMS stated in this part of their submission that my application for the variation for additional income to be cancelled was rejected because:

 

********** had failed to supply sufficient evidence that the additional or unearned income was no longer in place, or that any assets used had been disposed of or are no longer being used.”

 

This statement demonstrates the fundamental fallacy at the heart of the CMS’s whole case – since the evidence that this additional income was no longer in place had been in the CMS’s possession right from the time of my Dec 2020 annual review; it is my 19/20 tax return.

 

As highlighted earlier in this document, P.3 of my 19/20 tax return shows no dividend income in that tax year, whereas in the preceding years there was dividend earnings that were recorded in P.3 of each of those year’s returns.

 

The absence of this information from P.3 of my 19/20 tax return is because no dividend income was earned in that year and therefore there was nothing to record in that section of my tax return. The CMS’s claim that it is my fault that they don’t have the required evidence is not only untrue (as they did have the evidence), but is also passing the buck on to me for their own inability to properly interpret a tax return and for their also failing to adhere to their mandated requirement to make maintenance calculations on an evidence-only basis.

 

In Section 5, Page D of their statement – claim that 2019 tax return was used in my Dec 2020 annual review

 

The CMS then proceeded to repeat the following ludicrous claim:

 

“In this case at the effective date of the decision, when the details were requested for the latest available tax year, HMRC provided details for tax year ending 2019 which showed that for this tax year ********* had an unearned income amount of £16,000. This amount was therefore applied as a variation in the decision under appeal.”

 

This statement is flat-out untrue for reasons that should already be abundantly clear.

 

The tax return information that was made available to the CMS for my Dec 2020 review was not, as they claim here, the 18/19 tax return. It was my 19/20 tax return; and as previously noted, their own online portal, and their own agents, confirmed this to be the case!

 

In Section 5, Page D of their statement – claim that additional income was derived from investments and savings

 

Further down the same page, the CMS claimed:

 

“As part of his appeal ******** has stated this income was from investment (sic) and savings and shouldn’t be included as he hasn’t received this since the 18/19 tax year.”

 

This, I am alarmed to have to point out, is an utterly fictitious claim made by the CMS. At no point – verbally or in writing – have I ever claimed that this income was from investments and savings; nor would I have ever made that claim, since the income in question was (as previously detailed) residual dividend payments from my former market research company.

 

In Section 5, Page E of their statement – the legislation the CMS claims governs their actions

 

On this page, the CMS pointed out:

 

“The legislation states the latest available tax year is the most recent tax year for which HMRC have received the information required to be provided in relation to the paying parent under PAYE Regulations or in a self-assessment return.”

 

I refer again to my comments above – the most recent tax year for which HMRC held my tax return in Dec 2020 was the 19/20 tax year – not the 18/19 tax year as the CMS claimed on Page D of its statement.

 

In Section 5, Page F of their statement – Conclusion of the Secretary of State

 

In this section the following conclusion is made:

 

“I therefore submit that the maintenance calculation made in this case is correctly calculated in accordance with the Child Support Act and Regulations…and whether the quality of the evidence supplied by ********** is acceptable to justify the removal of the variation.”

 

It was not me that had supplied the evidence of my income to the CMS, it was HMRC – the very body which the CMS highlighted above was the authority that it must follow when it comes to income evidence.

 

If the CMS had indeed made its calculation in accordance with the regulations as they claimed, then how could the CMS explain their claim that they’d used my 18/19 tax return in my Dec 2020 annual review, when my 19/20 return was the most recent return in their possession?

 

In Schedule of Documents, Page 36 – CMS Internal Communications between Caseworker and A Colleague Regarding Self Employment Evidence / SATRs, 14/07/21

 

In this record of internal communications, it is claimed by the caseworker making the request of their colleague that:

 

“PP states that as he’s not S/E is unable to provide a SATR.”

 

I never said any such thing. As is clear from my earlier comments, where I describe the CMS’s demand for evidence of Self Employed income from me (10th July 2021) and my response (12th July 2021), I made it clear to the CMS that I am not Self Employed and I cannot therefore provide any information from the Self-Employed income section of the tax return. This is quite different to me saying I cannot provide a tax return at all – which both HMRC, and myself directly, had already done!

 

Furthermore, I am yet again constrained to question the competence of those people within the CMS handling these matters, when they can’t understand that not being self-employed does not mean you do not submit a tax return.

 

In this same communication, the author noted:

 

“HMRC interface still brings 2019 unearned income of £16,000 and when 2020 info requested states no income details.”

 

In plain sight they provide the answer to their own question, and yet can’t seem to understand the information in front of them i.e. that HMRC are confirming I had £16,000 unearned income in 18/19 (already accounted for, maintenance already paid on this), and no unearned income specified for 19/20 because…there wasn’t any!

 

The second author’s response stated:

 

“My advice for your enquiry is that we would request a SATR later than the tax year being used if the PP has requested a change to the unearned income.”

 

Again, the answer is made clear to the caseworker i.e. the unearned income in question featured in the 2019 tax return, so look at the 2020 tax return.

 

The second author went on:

 

“So, if the PP is saying that for one particular year they did not receive any unearned income, for example, did not receive any dividends from shares held, I would have thought they would still have to submit a SATR to HMRC which we would require.”

 

Ignoring the fact that my unearned income did not come from an asset or investment (there is no reason for the second author to know the nature of the source of this unearned income), the rest of this statement is absolutely correct; I still have to submit tax returns to HMRC – and the CMS was given my 2020 tax return information by HMRC in the very first place, but, even when the CMS seemed unable to recognise the information in front of them, I then provided the very same information to them directly; all to completely no avail.

 

Agonisingly, the caseworker couldn’t seem to work any of this out, so they just rejected my request for the removal of the variation and forced all parties to tribunal.

 

FINAL COMMENT

 

In my submission, some serious questions need to be asked of the capabilities and competence of the people handling these matters within the CMS; they appear to be leading to an outrageous amount of wasted time, energy, and money for all involved, and are imposing an unconscionable drain on public resources, and causing a huge amount of upset and stress that could so easily be avoided.

 

I dare say there are a lot of people who neither have the time, the determination, nor, at the risk of sounding conceited, the education, to take this abysmal agency on. The fact that so many people are effectively forced to comply with the arbitrary behaviour of the CMS is a national scandal.

 

It is no surprise to me that many people who suffer at the hands of the CMS’s incompetence and its willful refusal to properly carry out its job are documented to have committed suicide; how this affects the children of those parents is a subject I couldn’t begin to contemplate.

 

In my opinion, the CMS are not only signally unfit for purpose, they pose a very real danger to the wellbeing of thousands of adults and children in this country, and the situation demands wholesale reform, or disbanding, of the CMS and its leadership.

 

March 2022