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Child Maintenance

Arranging child maintenance through the Child Support Agency or Child Maintenance Service

 

Part 1: Overview

Child maintenance is financial support that helps towards a child’s everyday living costs when the parents have separated.

It’s for children who are either:

  • under 16
  • under 20 and in full-time education (but not higher than A-Level or equivalent)

The parent who doesn’t have day-to-day care of the child (the ‘paying parent’) pays child maintenance to the parent or person who does (the ‘receiving parent’).

The ‘receiving parent’ could be a grandparent or guardian as well as a parent.

You can arrange child maintenance yourself or through the:

  • Child Support Agency (CSA)
  • Child Maintenance Service

These organisations are called ‘statutory child maintenance services’. They’ll work out how much should be paid, and they can also collect the payments for you.

When you apply for child maintenance, you’ll be told which organisation will handle your case.

You can use the child maintenance calculator to get an idea of what payments might be.

Who can use a service

You can apply if you’re:

  • the parent the child lives with
  • the parent the child doesn’t live with
  • a grandparent or other guardian of the child
  • a child living in Scotland

Who can’t use a service

You can’t apply if the receiving parent or the child lives outside the UK.

The statutory services can only help in certain circumstances if the paying parent lives abroad.

Get help from Child Maintenance Options if you can’t use one of the statutory services.

What statutory child maintenance services can help with

They can help you:

You can ask someone else to deal with your Child Maintenance Service case for you.

 

Part 2: How to apply

To apply to a statutory child maintenance service – the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service – contact your local CSA office.

They’ll tell you which service will manage your case.

The parent the child doesn’t live with is called the ‘paying parent’. The parent or carer they live with is called the ‘receiving parent’.

Information you need to supply

You need to provide information about you and your family, eg:

  • your National Insurance number and bank account details
  • details about the child you’re applying for – including the full names of their mother and father

There’s more information about what you need to provide in the CSA’s child maintenance application checklist.

How your information is used

Your information is used to set up and manage child maintenance payments, and sometimes to find the paying parent.

They won’t give out names and addresses unless ordered to by a court, but information might be shared with other government organisations, debt collection agencies or the courts.

If the services can’t get the information from either parent, they might ask other people or organisations, eg:

  • the paying parent’s employer
  • government organisations like Jobcentre Plus
  • prison services or local councils
  • the paying parent’s bank or building society

The Data Protection Act controls how your information is used. There’s also more information about how the CSA uses and stores your information.

Contact the Child Maintenance Service for information about how they use your information – their contact details will be on any letters you’ve received.

How long it takes

You’ll usually get a response from the service managing your application within 12 weeks – sometimes it can take up to 26 weeks, eg if there’s a problem with contact details for the paying parent.

If the contact details for the paying parent aren’t known, the service will try to find them – but if they can’t, the receiving parent can’t open a case.

The first child maintenance payment is usually made within 6 weeks of making payment arrangements with the paying parent.

 

Part 3: How to pay

When you use a statutory child maintenance service – the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service – child maintenance can be paid:

  • directly to the receiving parent, if both parents agree
  • by direct debit – the service managing your case will set this up
  • directly from the paying parent’s earnings – the service sorts this out with their employer

Payments are paid into the receiving parent’s bank account.

The ‘paying parent’ is the parent the child doesn’t live with. The ‘receiving parent’ is the parent or carer they live with.

Paying child maintenance directly

When the service managing your case has worked out a child maintenance amount, you can make your own payment arrangements if you both agree. This is called:

  • Maintenance Direct if you’re using the CSA
  • Direct Pay if you’re using the Child Maintenance Service

The easiest way to pay is by standing order – payments go direct from the paying parent’s bank, building society or Post Office account into the receiving parent’s account.

If you or the other parent don’t have a bank, building society or Post Office account and can’t open one, tell the service managing your case.

When payments are made

If you’re using a statutory child maintenance service to collect and pass on payments, they’ll arrange this based on when the paying parent is paid their wages, pension or benefits.

If you’re a paying parent and 
having problems paying, contact either your local CSA office or the Child Maintenance Service (using the contact details on any 
letters you’ve been sent).

Collection and payment schedules

If you’re the paying parent, the service managing your application will send you a ‘collection schedule’ – this tells you how much you need to pay and when.

If you’re the receiving parent, they’ll send you a ‘payment schedule’ – this tells you how much is due and when it’ll be collected.

Paying off child maintenance debt

If you’re a paying parent and you’ve missed paying child maintenance you’ll usually be asked to pay the full amount you owe straight away. You can pay:

  • with a credit or debit card
  • through your bank

In some circumstances, you might be able to agree with the service managing your application to pay the debt in instalments.

The CSA or the Child Maintenance Service can take action if child maintenance isn’t being paid.

 

Part 4: Non-payment

The statutory child maintenance services – the Child Support Agency (CSA) and the Child Maintenance Service – will take action if child maintenance isn’t paid.

When a child maintenance payment is missed, the service you’re using will contact the parent the child doesn’t live with to:

  • find out why they haven’t paid
  • arrange for them to pay what they owe
  • warn them about action that might be taken if they don’t pay

The parent has a week to respond. If they don’t, the service you’re using can take action to get the child maintenance owed.

The parent the child doesn’t live with is called the ‘paying parent’. The parent or carer they live with is called the ‘receiving parent’.

What the statutory child maintenance services can do

The service you’re using can take action immediately if the paying parent pays through them.

If the paying parent used a statutory service to calculate child maintenance but pays directly (Maintenance Direct through the CSA or Direct Pay through the Child Maintenance Service), the receiving parent needs to ask the service to take action.

Statutory child maintenance services can get unpaid child maintenance in 3 different ways.

Taking money from a paying parent’s earnings or benefits

The service you’re using can tell the paying parent’s employer how much to take from their wages. The employer must then pass this to the service – if they don’t, the service can take them to court.

If the paying parent gets benefits, a State Pension or War Pension, the CSA or Child Maintenance Service can take the amount owed from these payments.

Taking money from a bank or building society account

The statutory services don’t need permission to do this. They can tell the bank or building society to take either:

  • regular payments
  • a one-off payment

Taking court action

The statutory services can take a paying parent to court over unpaid child maintenance. Things the courts can do include:

  • sending bailiffs (Sheriff Officers in Scotland) to a paying parent’s home to take and sell their belongings to get the child maintenance owed
  • sending a paying parent to prison
  • collecting money that’s owed to the paying parent by someone else and using this to pay the child maintenance owed
  • forcing the sale of a property and using the money to pay the child maintenance owed

If a paying parent tries to avoid paying by selling property or transferring it to someone else, the service managing their case can ask the courts to stop them.

The service can also ask the courts to reverse any sale or transfer that’s already happened.

If a statutory service takes action through the courts, the paying parent may have to pay the service’s legal costs as well as their own.

 

Part 5: Disagreements about parentage

If someone denies they’re the parent of a child, the statutory child maintenance services – the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service – will:

  • ask them for evidence proving they’re not the parent
  • tell the other parent what’s happened and ask for evidence to prove parentage

If the person named as the parent can’t give evidence proving they’re not, the service managing your case can:

  • ask both parents to take a DNA test
  • ask the courts to make a decision

Presumed parentage

The CSA or Child Maintenance Service can presume parentage if the person named as the parent:

  • was married to the child’s mother at any time between the conception and birth of the child (unless the child was adopted)
  • is named on the child’s birth certificate (unless the child was adopted)
  • has taken a DNA test that shows they’re the parent
  • has legally adopted the child
  • is named in a court order as the parent when the child was born to a surrogate mother

If a statutory child maintenance service presumes parentage it will work out a child maintenance amount. The person named as the parent has to pay this until they can prove that they’re not the child’s parent.

Paying child maintenance during a disagreement

If the child maintenance amount has already been worked out, the person named as the parent has to pay until they can provide evidence that they’re not.

If the amount hasn’t been worked out, the service managing the case won’t work it out or ask for payment until the disagreement has been sorted out.

If the person is found to be the parent, the amount of child maintenance they have to pay will be back-dated.

If the named person proves they’re not the parent

If this happens the service managing the case may:

  • refund any payments made after the date they first denied they were the parent, or offset the amount against maintenance for another child
  • refund the cost of any DNA tests arranged through the service

The CSA or Child Maintenance Service may also ask the other parent to pay back any child maintenance.

Refunds depend on the circumstances of each case.

 

Part 6: DNA tests

The Child Support Agency (CSA) and the Child Maintenance Service can use DNA testing to sort out disagreements about parentage.

This either:

  • proves 100% that someone isn’t a child’s parent
  • shows a 99.9% probability that they are a child’s parent

The person named as the parent and the parent the child lives with need to agree to the tests. If the child is 16 or over, they can give their own permission.

Arranging a test

This can be done either through:

  • the DNA testing company used by the CSA or Child Maintenance Service
  • a private testing company

The statutory child maintenance services only accept the results of a private test if:

  • it’s been done by an approved company
  • security arrangements meet acceptable standards
  • everyone involved is satisfied that the test was done properly
  • the test was based on samples from the person named as the parent, the parent the child lives with and the child

DNA testing involves the following steps:

  1. The DNA testing company sends an information pack to the parent the child lives with and the person named as the parent.

  2. The person named as the parent chooses a doctor to do the test.

  3. The doctor gets a testing kit from the testing company.

  4. The doctor takes a sample (either from the mouth, or a blood sample).

  5. The doctor sends the samples to the testing company.

  6. The testing company sends the results to the person named as the parent, the parent the child lives with and the service managing the case – they might also be given to a court as evidence.

Test fees

When using the Child Support Agency the person named as the parent has to pay the DNA test fee, which is £252. If they pay when they return their appointment form, they can pay a discounted rate of £187.20.

When using the Child Maintenance Service test fees may vary depending on how may children are involved.

In some circumstances the CSA or Child Maintenance Service will pay the test fee if the person named as the parent can’t afford to. But if they’re found to be the parent, they’ll have to pay it back.

Test fees can change – contact the service managing your 
case to check.

After the test

If the test proves the person is the parent of the child, the service managing the case will work out how much their payments should be.

Payments will include:

  • child maintenance
  • the cost of the DNA test

If the test proves the person isn’t the parent, the statutory child maintenance service may:

  • refund the cost of the test (if it was done through the CSA or Child Maintenance Service)
  • refund any child maintenance payments made after parentage was denied

The statutory services don’t pay back any child maintenance that was paid before the person denied they were the parent of the child.

Refunds depend on the circumstances of each case.

 

Part 7: Changes you need to report

When you use a statutory child maintenance service – the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service – there are some changes you have to tell them about by law.

What you have to report depends on whether you’re the parent or person the child lives with (the ‘receiving parent’) or the parent the child doesn’t live with (the ‘paying parent’).

Either parent should tell the service managing their case if the paying parent’s income changes.

If you’re the paying parent

You must tell the service managing your case if you:

  • move house (you must give your new address within 7 days of the moving date)
  • start or stop getting benefits
  • change your phone number (including mobile number)
  • start or stop working for an employer
  • start or stop being self-employed
  • become unemployed
  • have a rise in your gross weekly income of 25% or more (but only if you use the Child Maintenance Service)

If you pay child maintenance through deductions in your earnings and you leave your job, you must also tell the service:

  • the name and address of your new employer (if any)
  • how much you expect to earn
  • your new payroll number (if any)

If you’re the receiving parent

You must tell the service managing your case if there’s a change to:

  • the number of children living with you that you get child maintenance for
  • the number of nights a child regularly stays overnight with the paying parent
  • the number of children that you or your partner get Child Benefit for

You must also tell the service if:

  • a child you get child maintenance for leaves full-time education (below A-level)
  • you or any of the children you get child maintenance for no longer live in the UK
  • you find out that the paying parent is coming off benefits
  • you’re moving house or know that the other parent is
  • your phone number (including mobile number) changes

If you don’t give the CSA or Child Maintenance Service the right information

You could be taken to court and fined up to £1,000 if you:

  • don’t give the service managing your case the information it needs
  • give the service information that you know is false

This applies to any person or organisation who, by law, must give the CSA or Child Maintenance Service information, eg:

  • employers
  • accountants
  • either parent

When changes could affect your payments

Child maintenance payments could be affected by changes to:

  • income
  • family circumstances

If you’re using a statutory child maintenance service, changes in your circumstances may mean a change to the amount of child maintenance you pay or receive.

Read the information about how child maintenance is worked out to find out about the different rules.

 

Part 8: If the Child Support Agency or Child Maintenance Service makes a mistake

If a statutory child maintenance service – Child Support Agency (CSA) or Child Maintenance Service – makes a mistake in your child maintenance case, this is called ‘maladministration’.

You can sometimes get compensation called ‘special payments’ if this happens. If you’re using the CSA, read the CSA leaflet on special payments for more information.

If you’re using the Child Maintenance Service and you think a mistake has been made, contact the Child Maintenance Service directly – their contact details will be on any letters they’ve sent you.

Advance payments of child maintenance

Sometimes maladministration means child maintenance isn’t collected on time. This leads to a delay in the receiving parent getting child maintenance.

The ‘receiving parent’ is the parent or carer the child lives with. The ‘paying parent’ is the parent they don’t live with.

If there’s a delay, the service managing your case might make an advance payment to the receiving parent whilst it collects payment from the paying parent.

When statutory child maintenance services make advance payments

This only happens when:

  • there’s clear evidence that maladministration caused the delay
  • there’s clear evidence that if maladministration hadn’t happened, the paying parent would have paid or been made to pay
  • the amount owed because of maladministration is over £100
  • it would take more than 26 weeks for the paying parent to pay the child maintenance that wasn’t collected because of maladministration
  • the delay was longer than the time it normally takes to process payments

The receiving parent must:

  • have been made to wait longer than normal for their child maintenance
  • have shown an interest in progressing their case during the period of the delay, contacting the CSA or Child Maintenance Service at least every 3 months
  • agree that the CSA or Child Maintenance Service can keep the delayed payments once they have been collected from the paying parent
  • agree to refund any payments made directly to them by the paying parent instead of their delayed payments

The paying parent must:

  • have been paying up until the point of maladministration
  • be making regular payments when an application for an advance payment is made

The CSA or Child Maintenance Service will decide if advance payments can be paid – decisions are made on a case by case basis.

 

Part 9: Complaints

You can complain about the service you’ve received.

Child Support Agency (CSA) complaints

Contact the office managing your case and explain the problem.

They should respond to you within 15 working days.

You can make a complaint online if you’re still not happy.

Child Maintenance Service complaints

Contact the office managing your case explaining the problem. Their number will be on any letters they’ve sent you. They should respond to you within 15 working days.

If you’re not satisfied

You can ask the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) to look into your complaint if you’ve already been through the complaints process.

You can ask your MP to get the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to look into your complaint if you’ve already been through the complaints process and ICE.

 

Part 10: Appeals

You can appeal a child maintenance decision if you disagree with it. However, an appeal might take several months. Before you appeal you should ask the service responsible for your case to look at their decision again.

Child Support Agency appeals

Before you appeal, contact the Child Support Agency (CSA) to ask for the decision to be looked at again. You will need to say why you disagree with the decision.

You can appeal to an independent tribunal if the CSA decides not to review your decision or you are still unsatisfied after a review.

You must appeal within 1 month of the date of your decision letter. The CSA will only accept late appeals if you have a good reason, like:

  • you’ve been seriously ill
  • a close relative has been seriously ill or died
  • you live outside the UK
  • the postal services were disrupted

You must make your appeal in writing.

Use the form at the end of the ‘How can I appeal against a child maintenance decision?’ leaflet to make a CSA appeal. The leaflet also has more information about timescales and what happens to your appeal.

You can also write to the CSA to appeal, including:

  • your child maintenance reference number from the top of your decision letter
  • the date on your decision letter
  • details of the decision you’re appealing against
  • why you think the decision is wrong

Send your appeal letter or form to:

Central Appeals Unit
Child Support Agency
PO Box 33
Preston PR11 2DT

Child Maintenance Service appeals

If you disagree with a Child Maintenance Service decision, you can ask them to look at their decision again (called a ‘dispute’). Call the office managing your case to do this. You can find their number on the letters they’ve sent you.

You can appeal to an external tribunal if you are still unhappy after asking the Child Maintenance Service to review your decision.

Read the ‘What to do if you’re unhappy with the Child Maintenance Service’ leaflet for more information about disputes and appeals.

You must appeal within a month of the date of your decision letter.

 

Part 11: Further information

You can find more information about how the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service each deal with the issues covered in this guide in leaflets. These leaflets provide instructions and more details on the steps the services will take for a specific problem (eg, non-payment, a parentage dispute, or an appeal.)

See:

Other questions

Contact the CSA or Child Maintenance Service with any other questions.

 

Other relevant links

Permanent link to this article: http://operationfatherhood.org/dwp/child-maintenance/