I am out of work and have no income:
Legislation dictates that maintenance will be revised only where income has changed by more than 25%. If your income has reduced by more than 25%, you have no earnings at all, or you have made a claim for a benefit you must call CMS immediately to report this change. This must be reported by telephone.
You may be advised to reduce your payments until the new recalculation of maintenance is carried out. Be sure to keep good records of all payments made during this time.
If you are suffering financial hardship you should consider applying for Universal Credit or any other emergency financial support available to you.
I have been Furloughed by my employer:
As a Furloughed employee you are still receiving 80% of your income. This does not breach the current 25% threshold and at the time of writing, CMS is not recalculating maintenance because of Furlough. Nevertheless, you are advised to report this situation to CMS, as it may safeguard against enforcement action if you are finding it difficult to maintain payments at the full rate. This must be reported by telephone.
The key message is to communicate with CMS so that your account is updated with any financial hardship.
How long will it take for maintenance to be recalculated:
A change to your circumstances will normally have to be in place for at least 12 weeks for maintenance to be recalculated. This period is being temporarily reduced to 2 weeks to reduce the financial pressure on the paying parent.
Loss of employment changes will take priority to those reporting a reduction in income.
Verbal evidence of any change is likely to be accepted initially, but in time we expect CMS to review cases where verification of income changes may be necessary and request the appropriate evidence.
False reporting of income changes may lead to recalculations being revoked, and arrears being enforced.
Any recalculation of maintenance will carry the standard right of appeal.
Can I stop my payments during this crisis?
The short answer is ‘No’, you should not stop paying simply because there is a pandemic. If your income has been affected because of the crisis you may be entitled to changes to the liability (see above).
If you genuinely cannot afford to make your maintenance payments it is crucial that you contact CMS and explain the reasons why. Where it is possible, discuss your situation with your ex, as interim arrangements may be agreed between you during this period of uncertainty. Any such agreement MUST be reported to CMS to safeguard future difficulties.
It is important to pay whatever you can during any period of hardship, and keep records. When life resumes to normal you may have to prove that you have made payments throughout this time.
Will I have to pay fees if I cannot afford to pay?
At the time of writing, there is some uncertainty over this. It has been suggested that no referrals to move a case to Collect and Pay, which will attract the fees if your financial hardship is related to the current health crisis. There is no official statement in that respect, but what we do know is that any financial hardship must be reported immediately, with the reasons why payments are unaffordable.
The law is clear; a move to collect and pay can be made only where the Secretary of State is satisfied that you will not pay without such intervention. Those with a good history of payment will have a much stronger case to argue if the matter is referred to the collect and pay service type.
Those with a poor history of payment are more likely to face those charges and/or enforcement at a later date.
False reporting may also result in your case being moved collect and pay and fees being appropriate.
If my ex stops contact, will it affect my shared care allowance?
Government guidance currently advises contact between child and parent to continue, unless there is a member of the household that is symptomatic or falls into one of the 'Vulnerable' groups. Nevertheless, there will be some parents who simply do not wish to take the risk. Should this occur, and your shared care allowances are reduced as a result you may have to consider taking the matter through the Mandatory Reconsideration process and possibly into appeal. We would expect CMS and/or Tribunal to consider carefully if there was a genuine cause of concern that prevented access from continuing.
My child has now left school, can I stop paying?
If the child was due to leave school this summer, and he/she does not register with any further education or training, your liability remains payable until 31st August. Your liability does not cease because schools have closed early.
My ex and I have a private arrangement – but I cannot afford to pay
If you have a private arrangement with your ex-partner, speak to them and discuss your circumstances and concerns. Everyone has been affected by Coronavirus, and it is the responsibility of parents to do the best for their children. Communication is absolutely the best way to deal with the impact of the pandemic.
If you cannot agree to new terms during this period, it may result in an application being made to CMS. Provisional calculations are being completed to help maintenance payments to start as soon as possible, but any revisions to the provisional calculation because a party disputes the details may be delayed.
I have not received my maintenance payments
If you are a Receiving Parent and not received the maintenance as expected you may want to first contact your ex-partner to discuss any circumstances that are preventing payment. If this is not an option for you, you must report this to CMS. Unfortunately, CMS is only accepting calls for those wishing to report a change of income, loss of employment or status of a qualifying child. If you can, submit your query via the online portal or write to them.
What is happening about the enforcement of arrears
We understand at the moment, enforcement action is unlikely to proceed. HMCTs are themselves re-organising in response to Coronavirus, which means they are carrying out urgent work only, including crime, terrorism, public health matters and emergency family matters. In that respect, it is unlikely that any court based enforcement will occur in the immediate future.
Deduction from Earnings Orders may still be issued, but CMS is unlikely to rigorously pursue the employer who may have difficulty imposing those orders. The usual process for imposing DEO's will be reinstated as soon as possible.
I need to contact CMS but cannot get through
Understandably their lines are exceptionally busy at the moment. CMS is accepting calls only for those reporting changes due to Coronavirus. All other matters should be reported via their online portal which can be found here
You must continue to monitor your portal regularly for updates, and responses.
I do not have access to the online portal
We are seeking further clarification on this, but we understand that a password is taken when you first have contact with CMS. If you can recall your password, you can access the portal and reset your pin code.
If you need to discuss your concerns in any further detail, or you have other queries regarding child maintenance legislation, please purchase our Telephone Support Service which provides access to our trained CMS specialists.