This advice applies to Northern Ireland. Change country
Child maintenance enforcement - deductions from your benefits
Both parents are legally responsible for the financial costs of bringing up the children. If you split up, usually the parent who doesn't have day-to-day care of the children is responsible for paying maintenance.
If the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) arranged maintenance for you and you fall behind with your maintenance payments, you'll have to find a way of paying back the arrears. If you don't do this, the CSA or CMS could take enforcement action against you to try and make you pay back what you owe.
This page tells you what happens if you owe maintenance under the 1993, 2003 or 2012 Child Maintenance Schemes and the CSA or CMS wants to take money directly from your benefits to pay off the arrears.
In Northern Ireland, you can arrange maintenance through the Northern Ireland Child Maintenance Service.
If you want more information about the different ways you can arrange child maintenance, go to Child Maintenance Choices at www.nidirect.gov.uk.
Therefore, when the page refers to the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), in Northern Ireland this means the Northern Ireland Child Maintenance Service. When the page refers to Child Maintenance Options, in Northern Ireland this means Child Maintenance Choices.
Payment of arrears direct from benefits
If you owe maintenance, the CSA or CMS can sometimes take regular deductions from your benefits until the arrears are paid off. They don’t need to get a court order to allow them to do this. Deductions can also be made to recover any collection fees owed.
On top of any deductions for arrears, you still have to carry on paying the regular amount of maintenance you've been ordered to pay under the maintenance arrangement.
Under the 1993 Scheme, the CSA can make deductions from benefits to pay a contribution to regular maintenance payments but they can't make deductions for arrears.
How much can be deducted
Under the 2003 and 2012 Schemes, if you have to pay the flat rate of maintenance, the CSA or CMS can order up to £1 a week to be taken from any of your benefits except from the following benefits:
- Income Support (IS)
- income-based Jobseekers Allowance (JSA)
- Pension Credit
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
When deductions for arrears can't be taken from benefits
The CSA or CMS won't make deductions from your benefits towards paying off arrears if you pay maintenance at the nil rate. This could be for example because:
- you’re a child
- you're a prisoner
- you have a net income of less than £5 a week.
Students under the 2003 Scheme
If you had maintenance arranged under the 2003 Scheme, you pay maintenance at the nil rate, This means the CSA can't take deductions from your benefits towards arrears.
Students under the 2012 Scheme
If you had maintenance arranged under the 2012 Scheme, you don’t pay maintenance at the nil rate. The CMS can take deductions from your benefits.
How the deductions are made
The CSA or CMS will decide if a deduction from your benefits will be made. They then send a request to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) who will amend their payment system.
Reviews and appeals
If you disagree with a decision to take deductions from your benefits to pay for child maintenance arrears or you think the amount being taken is wrong, you can ask for the decision to be reviewed. This is called asking for a reconsideration.