Applying to the CMS for child maintenance
You might want to ask the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to arrange maintenance for you if:
you haven’t been able to agree maintenance with the other parent
you had a private arrangement which has broken down
you’ve experienced domestic violence or abuse
You can’t ask the CMS to arrange maintenance if you get maintenance under a court order which is less than a year old.
It’s best if you can arrange maintenance directly with the paying parent. This won’t cost anything and is usually quicker.
Check you can apply
You can apply to the CMS if you’re the person with day-to-day care of the child. You could be their parent or someone else - like a grandparent. You must be entitled to Child Benefit for the child.
You can only apply to the CMS if all the following rules apply to your family:
you’re all ‘habitually resident’ in the UK
the child is under 16 or under 20 and in approved education - they’re called a ‘qualifying child’
no one else already gets maintenance for the child through the CMS
Check you’re habitually resident in the UK
The CMS can only arrange maintenance if both parents and the child you’ll be getting maintenance for are all habitually resident in the UK. This means you’ve made the UK your home and intend to live here for the time being.
If you’re not sure if you’re habitually resident, talk to an adviser.
Check if the child is a qualifying child
A child is a qualifying child if they’re under 16.
If they’re 16 or over, they’re a qualifying a child if all the following apply:
they’re under 20
they’re in approved education or training - check what’s approved education or training on GOV.UK
they’ve never been married or in a civil partnership
Applying for maintenance
You’ll need to call Child Maintenance Options (CMO). They'll explain how you can get maintenance. If you decide to apply to the CMS, CMO will give you a reference number and explain how to apply.
Child Maintenance Options
Telephone: 0800 171 2345
Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm
Welsh language: 0800 408 0308
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm
Calls to these numbers are free from mobiles and landlines.
Check how much it costs to apply
It costs £20 to apply to the Child Maintenance Service. You won’t have to pay if either:
you’re under 19
you’ve experienced domestic violence or abuse
Check what information you’ll need to give when you apply
You’ll need to give the CMS detailed information about yourself and your family. This includes:
your National Insurance number
your bank account details
your child’s name and date of birth
how many nights a week the child spends with each parent
the full names of both parents
You'll also need to give enough information for the CMS to identify and find the paying parent. For example, you must give their address if you know it. Giving as much information as possible will help the CMS arrange maintenance more quickly.
If the CMS can’t find the paying parent
The CMS might phone you for more information about the paying parent or ask you to fill in a form. They might ask for information like the paying parent’s date of birth and national insurance number.
Don’t ignore their request as this will delay your application. If you don’t know all the information, say you don’t know.
The CMS can trace the paying parent through any organisation that might hold their details like:
their current or previous employer
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)
Check how much you’ll get
You can check how much you might get on GOV.UK. You’ll need to know:
how much the paying parent earns
how many children the paying parent is or will be paying maintenance for
how many nights a week the child spends with the paying parent
if any other children live with the paying parent
If you want to check it’s been worked out correctly, you can talk to an adviser.
If the parent who has to pay is on benefits
You’ll only get £7 a week if the paying parent is on certain benefits including:
Employment and Support Allowance
Universal Credit calculated on the basis that they have no income
If you want to check the full list of benefits the paying parent needs to be getting, you can talk to an adviser.
Getting the CMS assessment
You’ll usually hear from the CMS in 4 weeks unless they have problems finding the paying parent.
They’ll send you the result of their assessment so you can check it. You’ll get more information about how they worked out the amount. This includes the paying parent’s income.
When you’ve agreed it’s correct, the CMS will send you and the paying parent a payment schedule for the year. This will show when the paying parent should make payments. It will include any maintenance they should have paid since you applied to the CMS.
Paying child maintenance
You can get the money:
direct from the paying parent - this is called ‘Direct Pay’
through the CMS - this is called ‘Collect and Pay’
You can make your own arrangements for payment. For example, the paying parent can arrange to have the money paid into your bank account every month. This won’t cost anything.
If you don’t want the paying parent to know where you live, you can ask the CMS how to set up a non-geographical bank account. This is an account with a sort code that doesn’t give any information about where you live.
Collect and Pay
You can ask the CMS to collect maintenance and pay it to you if:
you don’t want to use Direct Pay - like if you’ve experienced domestic violence or abuse
you used Direct Pay but that arrangement broke down
you had a private arrangement and it broke down
You and the paying parent will have to pay a fee to use Collect and Pay:
you’ll have to pay 4% of the amount of maintenance you get - it’ll be taken from what you get
the paying parent will have to pay 20% of the amount of maintenance they have to pay - this will be added to what they have to pay
The CMS has said Greg should pay £35 a week in child maintenance to Jane. If they use Direct Pay, he pays £35 and she gets £35.
If they use Collect and Pay, the CMS will add 20% to what Greg has to pay (20% of £35 is £7). This means he’ll have to pay £42 (£35 + £7 = £42).
The CMS will also deduct 4% from the amount Jane gets (4% of £35 is £1.40). This means Jane will only get £33.60 (£35 - £1.40 = £33.60).
Keep a record of what you get
You should keep a record of the payments you get. This will help in case there’s any dispute in future about how much has been paid.
If you want to complain to the CMS
If you don’t agree with the calculation, you can ask the CMS to look at the decision again.
If you’re not happy with the service you’ve received from the CMS rather than with a decision they made, you can make a complaint. Read more about complaining about the CMS.
Page last reviewed on 23 September 2020