Charis is a keen writer & loves to express her views on subjects she feels passionately about. Here, among other things you can read about her first hand experience with the Child Support Agency (soon to be Child Maintenance System), and her campaign to change the way it is run.

Recently Steve Webb – who is the Minister for The Department of Work and Pensions and thus the minister for the Child Support Agency (CSA) called for tougher laws to make sure non-residential parents pay maintenance – which I am all for, honestly, you cannot image how ‘for this’ I am! I don’t know why it’s taken so long!

I know all too well from personal experience that the current system is completely useless. The CSA don’t seem to have any power to enforce the laws in place & by the time they get anywhere your child will probably be an adult!

My ex has avoided paying child maintenance for almost 5 years now. He is well off, he has been on at least 3 holidays this year, turns up in a different vehicle every time he visits & is always in a new designer suit, oh plus he’s in the media frequently & a TV presenter – previously Mr Scrimper on C4’s ‘SuperScrimpers’ (there’s a joke there somewhere!) and more recently ‘Storage Hunters’.

So how is he getting away with it? As far as I can ascertain from the operators at CSA they cannot pin point where he is, even though I have given them numerous addresses over the years and taken his number plate down several times. It seems it’s up to me to investigate and give them new leads. They ask me where he is and if I have any info?! I didn’t realise I had to investigate this myself?! Is it not enough I’m bringing up two kids on my own, running a house, two businesses and pushing myself to the limit?! I now have yet another job to add to the never-ending list that has become my life!!

Someone please tell me what the point of CSA is?! It seems they can only arrange payment with a parent who was going to pay anyway!!
They should be able to search their names & DOB with all the banks, mobile phone companies, police & hospital records to find their addresses & what they have in their accounts. Apparently they can ask HMRC for details and the DVLA – something which also takes far too long.

CSA does have the power to seize assets, meaning they can take the non-paying parents vehicles, send bailiffs to their address and in very few cases send them to prison. But first they have to prove where they are and that they have received the letter – to prove liability – i.e.; The non-payer is aware they should be paying maintenance and are not – apparently phoning them & telling them is not proof of liability?!

The CSA also have to prove they have the money to pay, which means they need information given to them from the non-payer, their employer and/or HMRC. Therein lies the problem in my case, it seems all these non-payers have to do is ignore the letter & not hand in their accounts to HMRC and they’re sitting pretty!! Can we make it any easier for these scumbags?!

The penalties and new guidelines being discussed by Steve Webb are no where near harsh enough, I really don’t think these ‘parents’ (and I use that term loosely here) are going to care about their credit rating being affected! People who shirk their parental responsibilities are breaking the law – they are criminals. Last time I checked criminals don’t live lives like the rest of us – working our asses off trying to earn an honest wage, they dodge tax, steal, con & lie to get what they want. These ‘parents’ are no different.

I think far more cases should be taken to court much quicker, they should have community service or forced labour – their wages should be handed straight to the single parent (which apparently can happen but I’ve yet to see proof in my case). HMRC should look into them & investigate them if they have a limited company, are self employed or claiming not to earn anything yet still manage to live a lavish lifestyle. When all else fails send them to prison – this should not be a one-in-a-hundred-thousand case, this should be every non-payer who persistently ignores letters & will not hand over evidence of their wages. We need to come down really hard & make an example out of them – and it shouldn’t take years.

What you have to realise is that there are over 1 Million open CSA cases in the UK. Of that the Department for Work and Pensions ‘say’ that 81% of these parents are ‘compliant’. Yet when you look into the stats & see what they describe as a compliant parent you realise this is all just a massive cover up so the DWP reach their targets & the stats add up nicely in the governments favour.

The Charity – Gingerbread which is a campaign group for single parents claim the DWP are vastly overestimating the proportion of non-resident parents who are up to date with their payments.
You see, to be compliant in the eyes of the DWP you would only have to pay a fraction of one weekly payment over a twelve week period, meaning – if Joe Blogs is told he must pay £40 per week for his two children & he only pays £1 on one of those 12 weeks he would be seen as compliant.

Those children get £1 instead of £200 towards their keep in those twelve weeks, or over a year  just £12  instead of £2080.00 – I want to know HOW? HOW???? Can this be legal and seen as perfectly acceptable by the DWP?!!

If you’re sitting there thinking ‘Oh well, this doesn’t affect me, I don’t have kids, I don’t care’ maybe you should… who do you think is picking up that deficit?! The tax payer that’s who! If you have a job, if you use the NHS, if you drive, if you eat, everything you use and consume will have more tax added to it to give the single parents enough money to survive. I think we need to ask the government why we are having to pick up this tab?!
All because Joe Blogs doesn’t except his responsibility as a father & thinks you should pay it, either that or he doesn’t care if his children live or die. Why should the rest of us have to pay more taxes so these useless ‘parents’ can shirk their responsibilities?!

I have had an open case since 2010, I received nothing for years. I rang persistently to find out what was going on with my case – it was always in a different department, or they were currently awaiting some decision or other. I could never get any information out of them… get this – because of the data protection act!! As I said – I’m asked to find out information about him myself – so I complained, which was a long drawn out process. I must admit I received a very polite letter & a phone call from a lady who said she was ‘looking into it’ and that was about that! None of which put any food on my children’s plates, did not clothe them, did not pay any bills.

Eventually I received one payment of £5! The CSA rang me to tell me the good news – like I should be so grateful! What I managed to get out of the operator was one of the ‘rules’ they have is if a non-resident parent pays anything at all at least every 12 weeks the CSA can’t touch them for a considerable amount of time! And that’s exactly what my ex had done. Every twelve weeks I’d receive £5 – not that I noticed it. Only once this had gone on for a considerable amount of time – (we’re talking years) did they have any ‘power’ as they put it. It’s now almost five years & I literally get £20 a month when he can be bothered to pay it! Yet, he is seen as ‘compliant’ in the DWP’s stats! He would be part of the 81% that are ‘paying’. I want to know how many more cases are like mine?!

The laws must be changed and the DWP’s description of ‘compliant’. I want compliant to mean just that – a non-residential parent who has given all the correct information required and pays the amount CSA have worked out on time every week.
What is the point of giving the non-resident parent an amount he/she has to pay in the first place if you’ll allow him/her to pay a mere fraction of that amount & get away with it?!

Currently my maintenance is worked out at a ‘default’ amount, this is because, not only has my ex paid next to nothing he has also succeeded in giving the CSA no information what so ever, no accounts, no proof of earnings – nothing, as I said they still don’t know where he lives!! They have spoken to him on the phone & he refuses to tell them! And he’s received no penalties whatsoever for doing so.

At the moment he owes me over £10,000 – and that is worked out at the default amount. Speculating purely from the newspaper article I have seen of him lately I would imagine he is able to pay quite a lot more than that. I’m not going to name him, simply because I don’t want you thinking I’m a neurotic woman hell bent on revenge. That is not the reason I have taken the time to write about this subject (although you’re quite right I do think my ex is a poor example of a man to put it lightly), I am actually much more interested in creating awareness & changing the DWP’s laws & systems to make sure these non-paying parents are made to pay or suffer the penalties in a much tighter timescale.

So come on CSA – pull your finger out, change the laws, shake up the department for work & pensions & make these parents pay. Stop them seeing their children & charge them accrued admin fee’s & fines for the pleasure. Add interest on what they owe for every unpaid week, or week not paid in full. Make them think twice about avoiding it in the first place!

Make the Family Courts take into consideration what the non-residential parent pays towards their children in contact disputes. In 2012 my ex took off with my son who had only just turned four at the time, without my consent to an unknown address. It took me three weeks of representing myself in Family court (I had no money for representation) to get the orders in place to have him returned – including an order for the Metropolitan Police to release his address. I now have a residency Order and Prohibited Steps Order in my favour. During this battle I was advised never to mention money, or the lack of it paid by their father –  that by mentioning the fact that my ex thinks so little of his children that he refuses to pay any money at all to feed or clothe them would actually damage my case & go against me!! I still cannot believe this is the case & I will do everything in my power to change these laws – because in my opinion they DO NOT BENEFIT OR PROTECT the children, and at the end of the day isn’t that the entire point of all of these laws in the first place?

If you have had ongoing non-payment issues with CSA or feel you have been treated unfairly in Family Court I want to hear from you. Together we can make a difference,  join the Facebook group by clicking this link – ‘The Child Maintenance Service – Make it Work’

Written by Charis Williams  April 2015

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