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If you're owed child maintenance

This advice applies to England

If your child’s other parent isn’t paying you child maintenance or is only paying some of it, there are steps you can take. What you can do depends on how you’ve arranged to get maintenance. 

You might have arranged payments:

  • directly with the other parent - this is known as a ‘private arrangement’

  • through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

The payments the other parent should have made are called ‘arrears’.

If you have a private arrangement

If you can, you should try to talk to the other parent to find out why they’re not paying. 

If you can’t, you’ll need to ask the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to collect your child maintenance instead. Tell them your private arrangement has broken down because the other parent didn’t pay. Find out how to arrange maintenance through the CMS.

The CMS can't make the other parent pay any arrears they already owe you. 

You can read more about what you can do to get maintenance arrears if you had a private arrangement

If the CMS arranged child maintenance for you

What you need to do depends on how you get your payments.  You'll get your child maintenance through either:

  • Direct Pay - this is when the CMS has worked out how much maintenance you should get and the other parent pays you directly

  • the Collect and Pay service - this is when the CMS collects maintenance from the other parent and then pays it to you

If you get maintenance by Direct Pay

If you can, you should try talking to the other parent first. Try to come to an agreement on how they’ll pay the arrears they owe you. 

If you can’t, tell the CMS about the arrears as soon as you can. They won’t know about the arrears until you tell them. You can write to them or call. 

If you write, keep a copy of your letter. 

If you call, make a note of when you called, who you spoke to and what they said. Follow your call up with a letter so you have a written record of what was said. You might need this if there’s a dispute in the future. 

If you send a letter, ask the Post Office for free proof of postage - you might need to show when you sent it. 

Child Maintenance Service

Child Maintenance Service 21

Mail Handling Site A

Wolverhampton

WV98 2BU

Telephone: 0800 171 2345

Relay UK - if you can't hear or speak on the phone, you can type what you want to say: 18001 then 0800 232 1975

You can use Relay UK with an app or a textphone. There’s no extra charge to use it. Find out how to use Relay UK on the Relay UK website.

Monday to Friday, 8am to 7.30pm

Saturday, 9am to 4.30pm

Calls are free from mobiles and landlines.

The CMS will ask the other parent for proof they’ve paid. If the other parent can’t prove they’ve paid, the CMS will ask them to pay the arrears and tell them to keep paying maintenance. 

The CMS can:

  • move the other parent to the Collect and Pay service and agree with them how repayments can be made

  • send them an arrears notice

If the other parent still won’t agree to repay the arrears, there are other things the CMS can do to get the money.

If you get maintenance through the Collect and Pay service

You don’t need to tell the CMS. They collect the payments, so they’ll know if the other parent misses any. 

They’ll try to agree a repayment schedule with the other parent. 

If the other parent still won’t agree to repay the arrears, there are other things the CMS can do to get the money.

If the other parent won’t agree to repay the arrears

There are things the CMS can do to get the money you’re owed from the other parent. These are called ‘enforcement measures’. 

The CMS can try to get the arrears from the other parent’s earnings, benefits, or bank or building society account. 

If that doesn’t clear the arrears, the CMS can apply to court for a ‘liability order’. This means they can ask bailiffs to take goods from the other parent and sell them. 

If the other parent owns their home, the CMS can also ask a court for an order to sell it. The CMS can use any money raised to pay off the arrears.

If this doesn’t clear the arrears, the CMS can ask a court to consider: 

  • taking away the other parent’s passport or driving licence

  • sending them to prison

If you’re not happy with how the CMS is collecting the arrears

The CMS will decide how to collect the arrears. You should contact the CMS if either:

  • you’re not happy with how they plan to collect the arrears - like the repayment period is too long

  • you think they’re being too slow to take enforcement action

You can write or call. You should explain the effect on the welfare of your child. For example, you might be falling behind with your rent or have no money to buy their school uniform. 

If you write, keep a copy of your letter. 

If you call, make a note of when you called, who you spoke to and what they said. Follow your call up with a letter so you have a written record. You might need that in case of any dispute in the future. 

If you’re sending a letter, ask the Post Office for free proof of postage - you might need to show when you sent it. 

Child Maintenance Service

Child Maintenance Service 21

Mail Handling Site A

Wolverhampton

WV98 2BU

Telephone: 0800 171 2345

Relay UK - if you can't hear or speak on the phone, you can type what you want to say: 18001 then 0800 232 1975

You can use Relay UK with an app or a textphone. There’s no extra charge to use it. Find out how to use Relay UK on the Relay UK website.

Monday to Friday, 8am to 7.30pm

Saturday, 9am to 4.30pm

Calls are free from mobiles and landlines.

If you think the delay has been too long or the CMS is being unreasonable, you can make a complaint or get compensation

If you’re willing to accept less money to clear the arrears 

You can agree to clear the arrears by accepting a single payment that’s less than the full amount you’re owed. Either you or the other parent can suggest doing this. 

This is known as a ‘part payment in full and final settlement’. You might want to accept it if you think it’s better to get some money rather than none at all. 

The part payment will only clear the arrears. If your child still qualifies for maintenance, the other parent will have to keep making regular payments.

If you agree to a part payment, you can’t change your mind later. The other parent won’t owe you the arrears any more. 

If you’ve been offered a part payment, you might want to talk to an adviser before you accept.

If you want to accept a part payment, you’ll have to get the CMS to agree to it too. They won’t agree if they think:

  • the other parent can pay the arrears 

  • there’s a reasonable chance of getting them paid in full

If both parents and the CMS agree to a part payment, the CMS will confirm it in writing. They'll give details of how and when the part payment should be made. 

If the other parent doesn’t pay, the CMS can cancel the agreement and try to get the arrears back in other ways.

If you’ve had too much child maintenance 

The arrears you’re owed could be reduced or cancelled if you’ve received too much maintenance because your situation has changed. This is known as ‘offsetting’. It’s most likely to happen if you got more maintenance than you were entitled to because:

  • your child moved from the care of one parent to the other 

  • your shared care arrangements changed 

If the other parent has died

You can ask the CMS to try to recover child maintenance arrears from what the other parent owned when they died. This is called their ‘estate’. The CMS doesn’t have to agree to do this. 

The CMS might cancel the payments owed to you. This is called ‘writing off the arrears’. It means the arrears won’t exist anymore. The CMS might do this if they can't:

  • find the person dealing with the other parent’s estate

  • recover the arrears from the estate because there’s not enough in it 

The CMS will write to tell you they want to write off arrears. They’ll tell you:

  • the amount of arrears

  • when the arrears became due

They’ll ask you if you think they should write off the arrears. You’ll have 30 days to reply. You should say why you might still need the money, like if you have debts. If you know who’s dealing with the estate, you should tell that to the CMS too. 

The CMS will take your views into account before making a final decision. You can’t appeal if they decide to write off the arrears, but you can make a complaint.

If you’re owed arrears under the Child Support Agency schemes

You might be owed arrears under the 1993 or 2003 child maintenance schemes. These schemes used to be managed by the Child Support Agency.

The CMS won't always try to collect these arrears - it depends how much you're owed and how old the debt is.

The CMS will write to you to tell you if:

  • they're going to write off the arrears

  • they can still try to collect the arrears and what you need to do if you want them to do this

If you’re owed arrears under the 1993 or 2003 child maintenance schemes, you can talk to an adviser.

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