Child maintenance reforms will 'penalise single parents'

By Gabriella Jozwiak

| 05 June 2013

Proposals to reform the child maintenance system will leave many lone parents worse off, causing children's welfare to suffer, research suggests.

Child maintenance payments have lifted children out of poverty among 19 per cent of families with parents on benefits. Image: Guzelian

A report by the Nuffield Foundation found that within five years, half of all private maintenance arrangements set up by single-parent benefit claimants with their former partner had broken down.

Fiona Weir, chief executive of single parent charity Gingerbread, said the findings undermined the government's planned changes to the child maintenance system because it incentivises claimants to set up private arrangements by levying charges against those who use the state-run service.

“At a time when private maintenance agreements are being sold as the best solution for separated parents, this study shows that for a significant group of single parents they are simply not feasible,” said Weir.

The Child Maintenance Service will replace the current Child Support Agency from 2014. Under government proposals, parents who pay child maintenance would be required to pay a £20 application fee as well as 20 per cent on top of each assessed payment.

The parent receiving maintenance would have seven per cent deducted from each assessed payment.

Weir added: “Introducing charges where private agreements haven’t worked risks making some of the most vulnerable parents even poorer – either because they have no choice but to pay to use the new statutory system, or because they give up on child maintenance altogether.”

The researchers surveyed 800 single parents on benefits in 2012 and compared the results to Department for Work and Pensions data from 2007.

The Nuffield research found that 64 per cent of single parents benefit claiments do not receive any child maintenance from their child’s other parent. However, the proportion that do has increased from 24 per cent in 2007 to 36 per cent in 2012.

The report also concluded that child maintenance payments had lifted children out of poverty in 19 per cent of families with parents on benefits.

Nuffield Foundation director of social research and policy Teresa Williams said the child poverty findings were important because “family income plays a significant and independent role in children’s outcomes”.

“While the increase in the number of children receiving financial support from their non-resident parent is a positive development, we need to focus on how this can be extended to the majority, who currently receive nothing,” said Williams.

Around 750,000 single parents receive out of work benefits.

Gingerbread, Bryson Purdon Social Research and NatCen Social Research all worked with the Nuffield Foundation on the study.

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