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DWP will make feuding parents pay

Department to charge for use of child maintenance system

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The Department for Work and Pensions has indicated that estranged parents using its statutory service for child maintenance will be subject to charges.

The plan is included in a consultation document on the future of the system, which outlines the priorities for the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission as it replaces the Child Support Agency (CSA).

It says a new IT system will be set up to help estranged parents who cannot agree on arrangements to obtain the financial support to which they are entitled in order to support their children. It will review cases annually through links with HM Revenue and Customs' tax systems, obtaining information on incomes to calculate child maintenance.

Parents who fail to reach an agreement between themselves and go through the statutory scheme will be subject to a charge of £100 for the application, with discounts for those on benefits, and £20 to £25 for the calculation. The document is explicit in stating that this will encourage them to reach an agreement.

Chris Pennell, principal analyst with Kable, commented: "This is the first real example of the public sector charging for services, which should encourage some people to come to an informal agreement to avoid being billed for going through the formal process. But it could also provide a model for how changes to a core service could be self-financed."

The DWP document also says that, in return for the fees paid, it will aim to develop a set of customer standards to provide an assurance on the level of service for those who use the full statutory scheme.

It claims that lessons have been learnt from the problems of the current computer systems, which had been developed for the CSA, and that the DWP is taking a lower risk approach to the design of the new systems. There will also be a testing window before the scheme is launched.

The new scheme will be launched in 2012 for new customers while the CSA will be closed to new applications. The document says this will provide a "sensible window" for the systems to be fully tested before the scheme is extended to existing CSA clients. It claims that this will help to avoid the mistakes that were made when reforms and a new computer system were introduced in 2003. Tata Consultancy Services won the deal to replace the CSA systems in 2009.

This article was originally published at Kable.

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