The government has now introduced application fees, collection fees and enforcement charges for parents who use the child maintenance service to collect and pass on payments to parents.

The government wants to encourage more parents to think about working together to arrange child maintenance instead of using the child maintenance service or the courts.

The charges will be as follows:

* A £20 application fee for applying to use the statutory scheme
* A 20% collection fee on top of their usual child maintenance amount for paying parents using the collect & and pay service
* A 4% collection fee deducted from their usual child maintenance amount for receiving parents using the collect & and pay service
* A range of enforcement charges for paying parents who don’t pay child maintenance in full and on time.

Example

If the service works out that one parent has to pay £200 per week in child maintenance that parent will have to pay 20% on top of the £200 to cover the collection fee so the parent will actually pay £240 per week to include the £40 in charges. This is a very large fee, an extra £2,080 per year.

The parent receiving the £200 weekly maintenance will lose £8 each week to cover the 4% collection charge, a total of £416 per year.

Total fees are therefore £2,496. If maintenance is paid over a ten year period, ignoring any increases that would be due over time, the total fees would be a massive £24,960.

Although having the charges in some cases may help persuade some parents to agree payments where before they would not this is still a lot of money to lose in extra fees, money that could be spent on the children.

The child maintenance service also have powers to enforce the payment of maintenance by forcing the sale of property or belongings, register child maintenance as a debt and even, through the courts, confiscate driving licences and imprision parents who avoid paying. In doing this they will levy fees now and the charges will be:

* £200 for a lump sum deduction order
* £50 for a regular deduction order
* £50 for a deduction from income at source order

Only time will tell whether these new measures lead to more parents reaching agreements between themselves. The problem though is that there will unfortunately always be parents who will not be able to reach an agreement so will have to face the statutory charges which to some may seem very unfair.

Rachael Oakes
Partner and National Head of the family practice