Letters are being sent out to separated parents informing them of fees they will incur if they cannot agree their child maintenance payments themselves.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) will introduce charges for parents using its Child Maintenance Service (CMS) later this year.
Parents taht turn to the service to arrange financial support will have to pay a £20 application fee. There will also be an ongoing 20% collection fee for the paying parent and 4% collection fee to be paid by the receiving parent. On top of that, there will also be a range of enforcement charges for parents that do not pay their maintenance in full and on time.
This means a maintenance payment of £100 will cost the paying parent £120, but the receiving parent will only receive £96. The DWP is therefore charging £24 to deliver a payment of £96 – a charge of 24%.
Until now the CMS has been provided free of charge and has helped parents who are caring for their children – usually mothers – without the other (absent) parent.
The DWP has claimed that it hopes the charges will encourage estranged partners to communicate with each other better – effectively putting them off using the service. However, the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group suggests the DWP has overlooked the fact that it is often very difficult for splitting parents to negotiate with each other effectively – particularly in the immediate period after the relationship has broken down.
Anthony Thomas, chairman of the LITRG said that ultimately the decision would increase hardship for children. "Sadly at a time of great worry and stress parents are being asked to either come to a prompt, amicable agreement or face paying a government agency for advice, which is hugely worrying.
"For the poorest of families this can only lead to further hardship. Childhood poverty is already high in the UK, with more than one in six children affected. This measures threatens to make that position worse for fragile single parent families."