Child maintenance reviews, appeals and complaints

If you got a child maintenance decision before 11 July 2016 but you think it’s wrong, you can ask for a review. If you’re not satisfied after the review, you can appeal to an independent tribunal. You can also contact the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to complain.

This information relates to Child Maintenance Service decision notifications made before 11 July 2016. For information on how to appeal your child maintenance decision notified on or after 11 July 2016, go to Appealing a Child Maintenance Decision.

Reviews

If you think that your child maintenance decision notified before 11 July is wrong, or that important facts or information have been overlooked, you can ask the CMS to carry out a review to explain its decision or look at the case again.

You should do this within one month of the date of the letter informing you of the decision and tell CMS why you think the decision should be reviewed.

This is not a formal process and you will receive a letter which will confirm the decision of the review.

You can appeal the new decision but you must do this within one month of the date of the letter informing you of the review decision.

Appeals

Appeals are heard by The Appeals Service Northern Ireland (TAS (NI)), an independent organisation separate from CMS. This is a formal process and the tribunal members who will take another look at the decision, will be appointed by TAS (NI).

They will include a legally qualified member and sometimes a person who has financial expertise, such as an accountant.

Decisions you can't appeal

You cannot appeal against administrative decisions about collecting and enforcing child maintenance payments. For example, a paying parent (non-resident parent, 2003 scheme) can’t appeal against a decision to use an enforced deduction from earnings order to collect unpaid child maintenance. But they may be able to go to court to challenge such decisions.

You also cannot appeal against a decision because you are denying you are the child's parent. A separate process is used to manage disputes over this.

However, if you have been presumed to be the parent of a child you can appeal the decision.

Information on managing disputed parentage and appealing presumed parentage is available on the pages below:

The Appeals Service may also decide not to go ahead with your appeal if it has no reasonable prospect of success because you want to appeal against something that is set out in law, such as the way child maintenance is worked out.

The Appeals process

It may take some time for a tribunal to reach a decision about your appeal as there can be up to three stages in an appeals process.

Stage one

CMS will look at the appeal and take one of two steps. They can:

  • review the decision again 
  • send the appeal to TAS for action

This stage will take an average of 12 weeks.

If CMS decide to review the decision, they will let both the paying parent (non-resident parent, 2003 scheme) and receiving parent know (parent with care, 2003 scheme) of the outcome of the review.

If CMS decide to send the appeal to TAS for action, paying parent (non-resident parent, 2003 scheme) and receiving parent (parent with care, 2003 scheme) will be  notified by CMS.

Stage two

If TAS is dealing with the appeal, they will investigate the case and let CMS know their decision. They will also let the paying parent (non-resident parent, 2003 scheme) and receiving parent know (parent with care, 2003 scheme) of the decision.

This stage will take about 20 weeks.

Stage three

Once TAS informs CMS of the appeal outcome, the child maintenance decision will be changed, if necessary. This stage will take on average two weeks.

When you disagree with the TAS decision

If the Tribunal followed procedures properly and is legally precise, its decision cannot be changed. CMS must follow the Tribunal’s instructions on what to do to put the decision right.

If you disagree with the tribunal decision, there are two ways to ask for it to be reviewed or changed:

  • the decision can be “set aside” (is not legal) if documents were not received or were not sent to someone involved in the appeal
  • you can appeal to the Child Support Commissioner who can overturn a Tribunal’s decision if it is wrong in law

For information on how to appeal and contact the Child Support Commissioner, go to:

What happens when a decision is reviewed or appealed

While a maintenance decision is being reviewed or appealed, it will stay in force. The paying parent must still pay child maintenance until the issue is sorted out.

If a new decision is made, it may either increase or reduce the amount of child maintenance due.

Complaints about the service you have received from CMS

If you’re unhappy with the service provided by CMS, you should contact them and explain what part of the service you’re unhappy about.

You can complain about how CMS managed your case or the service you received. You cannot appeal these issues through the legal system.

If you used the full complaint’s process but think your complaint wasn't properly investigated, you can ask the Independent Case Examiner or the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman to investigate your complaint.

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