Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Child Maintenance Services

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is delivering essential services during the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. However, reduced staffing levels may mean that the Service will not be able to put child maintenance arrangements in place as quickly as usual, and may not be able to pursue missed payments.

Paying or receiving the right amount

Over time, CMS will ensure all customers pay or receive the right amount of child maintenance and that calculations are backdated where needed and unpaid amounts pursued.

Money received via Collect and Pay arrangements will be passed on as quickly as possible, and action is being taken to provide additional support to separated parents to help them cope with the impact of COVID-19. This includes:

New applications

CMS will set an effective date and send a provisional calculation to parents in order to get a child maintenance amount flowing as quickly as possible. CMS will complete the application process as soon as possible and will backdate any later changes, if necessary.

Calculation 

The time period for reconsidering a paying parent’s maintenance liability on the basis of a change in income will be reduced from 12 weeks to two weeks. This is intended to help reduce the short-term financial pressure that will be experienced by many paying parents. It is acknowledged that this may have a short-term negative impact on the income of some receiving parents and CMS will revert to the 12-week time-period as soon as possible.

Changes of circumstance

CMS will only take action on priority change of circumstances. Parents are encouraged to report changes online where possible except where changes must be reported by phone.

In the short-term, CMS will accept verbal evidence of a reduction in income and will prioritise loss of job changes over other changes in income. CMS will monitor the impact of this and will revert to the previous standards of evidence required for changes of circumstances as soon as possible.

In addition, CMS will also revise calculations, and pursue arrears and / or enforcement action against anyone who has abused this short-term measure once the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has stabilised.

Deduction from Earnings Orders (DEOs)

CMS will impose DEOs where possible, but will not pursue businesses that are unable to implement them. This may have short-term impacts on receiving parent incomes, and CMS will revert to standard practices for managing DEOs as soon as possible.

Income reduction

In response to a drop in income, CMS will advise the paying parent to pay what they can to ensure as much money as possible is flowing to receiving parents and children. CMS will retrospectively amend the calculation to reduce it for the period of low income. This will give rise to the normal appeal rights for both parents.

Reporting changes 

If your circumstances have changed for one of the following reasons, call the Child Maintenance Service straightaway:

  • if you have lost your job
  • if you are temporarily receiving no income while you are self-isolating during the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • if you are temporarily receiving statutory sick pay during the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • if child maintenance should no longer be paid because of a change in circumstances
  • if you are adopting a child, or
  • if you are reporting a bereavement

For any other changes parents are encouraged to report these changes online by registering or logging into your self-service account.  You can access the site 24 hours a day:

Customers using their self-service account will receive an automated message advising that they will be contacted within 12 weeks. However, at present, the vast majority of self-service messages received by NI CMS are actioned and cleared within seven working days.

Vulnerable customers, including those with no internet access, can report any changes by phone.

New customers are encouraged to make family-based arrangements. Parents can use the online calculator to work out an amount, and keep a record of any payments they make between themselves:

 

 

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