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The government has today announced plans to reform the child maintenance system which includes a proposal for parents to pay a £100 fee if they are unable to reach an independent agreement.
Under the new system, parents will be able to get initial help and information on the range of options available to them free of charge. They can then decide whether to make their own arrangements, using the help they have received or to use the statutory service for which there will be a charge. In cases where people have suffered domestic violence, their case will be fast tracked directly onto the statutory service - and no payment will be required to enter the system.
Costs could include an upfront application charge of around £100. Parents on benefits will pay a fee of £50, of which £20 will be paid upfront and the remainder in instalments.
The government says the aim of the charge is to encourage more parents to reach agreement together without automatically falling back on the state to resolve their issues.
Launching the consultation, Work and Pensions Minister Maria Miller said: "Too often in the past the Child Support Agency has been used as a threat that can make the difficult time of separation worse instead of encouraging people to work together and take responsibility for their child.
"When couples split up they generally know what is best for them and their children without the state interfering. Thousands of parents are already working together to make their own maintenance arrangements without the help of the Agency and tell us these arrangements are working well. We want more people to come to their own maintenance arrangements which are in the best interest of the child and offer value to the taxpayer."
However, the children's charity Barnardo's has warned that some vulnerable families may slip through the net. Barnardo's Chief Executive Martin Narey said: "Barnardo's notes the intention to encourage parents to exercise responsibility and make their own arrangements to provide financial support for children. That may work in the majority of cases. But the government need to tell us what will happen to those parents who are unable to reach amicable settlement and equally unable to pay for a statutory service.
"If the welfare of the child is to remain paramount then the system must make allowances for vulnerable families whose hands are tied by the strain of living in poverty."
To respond to the consultation paper, visit the Department for Work and Pensions' website. The consultation closes on 7 April 2011.
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