Child maintenance and the Child Support Agency
The Child Support Agency is the government's child maintenance service. It is overseen by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission.
The role of the Child Support Agency is to make sure that parents who live apart from their children contribute towards their children's upkeep by paying child maintenance.
The Child Support Agency use a standard process to work out how much child maintenance should be paid in each case, and to manage the payments. They may take legal action if the right amount is not paid at the right time.
Do we have to use the Child Support Agency?
You can arrange child maintenance privately or you can use the Child Support Agency. In either event, the parent who does not have the main day-to-day care of the children (the “non-resident parent”) must pay the parent who does (the “resident parent”). In some cases, this may be a grandparent or guardian.
If you use the Child Support Agency, they will calculate the amount of child maintenance you should receive and even collect it for you. If you want to make arrangements for child maintenance privately, contact Child Maintenance Options for impartial information and support.
How does the Child Support Agency work out how much maintenance should be paid?
The Child Support Agency (CSA) uses information provided by both parents to decide if someone has to pay child maintenance and to work out how much maintenance should be paid. It may also use information from other sources, including the non-resident parent's employer or HM Revenue & Customs.
It then works out child maintenance by applying one of four rates to the non-resident parent's ‘net weekly income'. Income is earnings, money from an occupational or personal pension, certain benefits and in certain circumstances tax credits. Net weekly income is the amount of income you are left with after paying things like income tax, National Insurance and contributions to a pension scheme. (NB. If the pension scheme is set up to repay a mortgage, only 75% of the money paid into the scheme can be taken away from your gross (total) income. So your net weekly income includes 25% of any mortgage-linked pension contribution.)
What rates does the CSA apply to calculate maintenance?
The four rates the CSA applies to the non-resident parent's net weekly income are:
- the basic rate (if they have an income of £200 a week or more);
- the reduced rate (if their income is more than £100 but less than £200 a week);
- the flat rate (if their income is £5 to £100 a week);
- the nil rate (if their income is less than £5 a week).
Doesn't the CSA take any other factors into account in setting maintenance?
Other factors, such as whether the non-resident parent or their partner are getting benefits, can also affect which rate applies.
It is also important to note that the maximum net weekly income the CSA can use to work out child maintenance is £2,000. If the non-resident parent's net weekly income is more than £2,000, the parent with care can apply to the court for extra maintenance.
Other things can also affect the amount of child maintenance a non-resident parent has to pay, such as:
- the number of children living with them;
- the number of children they need to pay child maintenance for;
- whether the child stays with them at least one night a week;
- whether they or the parent with care are getting benefits.
So what is the basic rate?
Bear in mind that maintenance may be adjusted to take account of the factors listed in the preceding section, but if the non-resident parent has to pay child maintenance for:
- one child, they will have to pay 15% of their net weekly income;
- two children, they will have to pay 20% of their net weekly income;
- three or more children, they will have to pay 25% of their net weekly income.
And the reduced rate?
The non-resident parent pays a standard amount of £5, plus a percentage of their net weekly income over £100. This will depend on the number of children the non-resident parent needs to pay child maintenance for and whether they or their partner receive child benefit for them. As above, the amount may also be adjusted down if the child stays with the non-resident parent at least one night a week.
What about the flat rate?
The flat rate is £5 -- no matter how many children are involved.
And please tell me about the nil rate?
As the name suggests, the nil rate means the non-resident parent does not have to pay any child maintenance.
How do I apply for maintenance?
You can make an application for child maintenance online via the CSA website. The CSA will try to make a decision on your application within 12 weeks of receiving it. The process may take longer, however, depending on the amount of time it takes the CSA to gather information.
How do I appeal a CSA decision?
If you disagree with a child maintenance calculation, you can ask the CSA to look at it again. The CSA will review your case and then write back to you explaining their decision either to change its child maintenance calculation or to leave it unchanged.
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