Does The CMS Work? Is It Fair? 9 First-Hand Accounts

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As a follow up to our complete guide to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), we reached out to the Frolo single parent community to see what experiences you had had. From issues with cash-in-hand salaries and self-employment loopholes to the conflict-resolution benefits, here are 9 first-hand experiences of the UK child maintenance service in practice.

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

If you’re currently dealing with the CMS and it would help you to connect with other single parents going through the same thing, you’ll find them on the Frolo app. 

My Experience: CMS Single Parent Stories

1. ‘Fair but flawed’

Having used the system both as a parent and a member of staff in the old CSA: in the main it works well. The biggest issues are around self-employment. Sadly many people who are self-employed have used loopholes for years to reduce their tax and mainly pay themselves in dividends, which isn’t accounted for in their earnings. This, in my experience, causes significant issues as you may have been with someone for years and know their income is well in excess of minimum wage, but then CMS tell you they earn minimum wage and work the calculations on that figure. 

Direct way is the best way forward for anyone else as the 25% additional cost for the payer and 8% for the receiver is just wasting money that could be spend on the kids. 

Is the system perfect? No. Is the calculation fair? In general, yes. Is there a huge flaw in that it financially encourages less contact from the PWC perspective and more contact from the NRP perspective? This generally results in huge conflicts regarding access / number of overnights per year and NRPs wanting more access are accused of only wanting more access to reduce their payment and PWC denying more access as they don’t want their CMS payment to reduce. 

2. ‘The cap is wrong’

My ex is on a massive amount of money yet his payments to our son are capped. He doesn’t even declare all of his income, on top of his massive wage he gets an extra £3,000 a month renting out two annexes at his home. 

There is no point getting this added to the claim because it is capped anyway so makes no difference to what is received. 

He has a new wife and her two teenagers living with him so the money is reduced for that but it is based on the capped amount not the gross weekly income amount, which I think is unfair. I have tried to call the CMS to say this is unfair but rules are rules. The only way I can get it adjusted is through the court but I would need to spend thousands to get that done. 

I think his dad realises that it is unfair, he is really good at paying for expensive items that our son needs so that is another reason I won’t take him to court but I think it’s wrong to cap the CMS. If they are earning that amount, they can afford to pay the full amount before the cap. 

3. ‘Not positive at all’

My experience hasn’t been positive at all. When me and the ex separated, we agreed that I’d pay half the mortgage and the bills, she then decided to apply for CMS. They have never taken into account the amount of debt she’s left me to pay off and that I was paying over and above what they were asking for since our separation. I’ve complained loads of times, on one call I was told my payments would be reduced by £150: they did it for one month then it shot up again. 

4. ‘It’s a bit messy’

The CMS has helped my children have some financial support towards their upbringing. I’m sure the kids' dad would say he cannot afford what he is calculated to pay (I can’t really afford what the kids cost either). Ours was a controlling and coercive relationship and the CMS has meant we don’t need to have those conversations as an impartial system works it out. It definitely doesn’t cover half the cost of them, but it’s certainly better than the alternative.

My only gripe is that he pays less for his children because he is living with another woman and her children classed as his dependents (who have their father paying maintenance for them - I get their dad pays less too because there is another adult around). Feel like it makes it a bit messy and the responsibilities of a father and his children shouldn’t change because of his life choices. Although maybe I’m not being impartial enough. 

5. ‘How is this fair?’

They have based my payments on my last year wage, as my wage has only gone down by 23%, they won’t adjust it until it’s down by 25%. My wife said I don’t have our boy overnight, I have given her a list of the nights I’ll have him for the next 12 months. I’ve gone back to them and they say that because she said I don’t have him overnight I need to pay and get a court order saying I’m going to have him. They are saying I need to pay £123 a month more than their calculator says I should pay. How is this fair?

6. ‘My ex lies’

Awful experience here. My ex lies to the CMS about having contact with my youngest and therefore pays less than he should do. He hasn’t seen her for over two years but claims he sees her 2-3 nights a week. 

I’ve been told by the CMS the only way I can prove otherwise is to spend time and money going back to court. The system is set up to enable abusers to continue financial abuse. It’s a mess. 

7. ‘My ex does cash in hand’

My ex claims to not be working but does cash in hand, he pays £7.55 a week but earns £600-£800 weekly. I’d rather not have his money at all, it would make me happier that he didn’t have that tiny input still, as that’s all he has left in regards to contact. 

8. ‘A nightmare to say the least’

My experience over the last 18 months has been a nightmare to say the least. When my previous partner ended our relationship, I told her I would continue paying half the mortgage and bills to help out with our two-year-old girl, however she made it clear she wanted more, and she contacted the CMS. 

From that moment on the CMS has been demanding ridiculous amounts of money, at one point they were demanding £300 a week for one child. I explained to them that I cannot afford to pay this, they were going off the wrong figures, and that I wouldn’t be able to pay for a roof over mine and my little girl’s head, my accountant even wrote to them on a couple of occasions explaining the figures they should go off but they didn’t take any notice. 

After several weeks of this they went into my bank account and removed £2,500. I didn’t even know they had my bank account as I pay my previous partner every month what the CMS calculator tells me to pay and I’ve never missed a payment. I’ve had to contact my MP on a number of occasions and I am in the process of taking the CMS to court to get my money back. And on top of this I am in a court battle to see my daughter more frequently. 

I understand that the CMS does help some single mothers as some fathers don’t want to pay but for fathers like me they are brutal! 

9. ‘Outdated system’

The CMS is an outdated system that doesn’t reflect modern day life. I have had various dealings with the CMS during my single parent journey from having my children every other weekend, 50/50 to becoming RP. Not one of my dealings with them has been positive. 

The service is not responsive enough, nor agile enough to deal with modern day life, making it unfit for purpose. It’s a one size fits all approach, if that doesn’t work they will try their very best to make the square peg fit into a round role. The customer facing side is undertrained for the role and the team who know what they’re doing and can do something else are massively overstretched. 

I am now the resident parent of both my children, my ex has the children significantly less than myself but because she has a court order that was not recognised for me, she doesn’t have to pay. 

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