What is child maintenance?
When parents separate they both still have certain responsibilities for their children. This includes making sure that their children have somewhere to live and providing for them financially.
Financial support provided by the parent who is not living with the child is called child maintenance. A family-based arrangement, where parents agree on the level of support between themselves, is the quickest and easiest way to arrange child maintenance payments. If a family-based arrangement cannot be reached, then either parent can apply to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to secure statutory child maintenance.
Please be aware that the CMS has a data sharing agreement with the Home Office, which allows them to share any information given ‘for immigration enforcement purposes’.
What can the Child Maintenance Service do?
- Try to find the other parent if you do not know where they live, to sort out child maintenance
- Sort out disagreements about parentage, sometimes via scientific DNA testing
- Work out how much child maintenance should be paid
- Arrange for the ‘paying’ parent – the parent who doesn’t have main day-to-day care of the child – to pay child maintenance; sometimes this can be done by CMS contacting their employer
- Pass payments on to the ‘receiving’ parent – the parent who has main day-to-day care of the child
- Look at the payments again when changes in parents’ circumstances are reported
- Review the payment amount every year
- Take action if payments are not made
Do both parents have to be British?
The Child Maintenance Service can generally only assist if both parents and the child are ‘habitually resident’ in the UK. A person’s habitual residence is highly fact-specific and not a legal concept. It will be the place which reflects some degree of integration in a social and family environment. In relation to a young child, that environment is shared with the parent or guardian upon whom they are dependant, and so the integration of those persons will also need to be assessed. Having a National Insurance number, being a British citizen or having regularised immigration status are not prerequisites for establishing habitual residence.
We understand that parents without National Insurance numbers or who do not have regularised immigration status are encountering difficulties when initially trying to engage the Child Maintenance Service. This is an incorrect interpretation of the concept of ‘habitual residence’. The Child Maintenance Service have acknowledged that they can process applications made by parents in these circumstances, however the procedure they have in place to do so is not well known within their organisation.
Therefore, the following guide aims to set out the best way to make a referral to the Child Maintenance Service in such instances.
How to make a referral to the Child Maintenance Service
- Call Child Maintenance Options (CMO): 0800 083 4375
Lines are open: 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm Saturday.
- Explain why you are unable to come to a family-based arrangement for the payment of child maintenance.
- Ask to be put through to the Applications Team.
- Before you are transferred, make sure CMO give you a Unique Reference Indicator (URI number).
- Inform the Applications Team that you do not have a National Insurance number/ leave to remain in the UK, but that you are habitually resident in the UK. Explain that the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) have already confirmed that they can process applications in these circumstances.
- Explain that the Applications Team will need to raise an ‘incident’ and the application will need to be processed by the Clerical Team.
- Request a CMS reference number.
- Ask any questions you might have, such as how long they think it will take to process the application, when you should next expect to hear from them, what the next steps will be and how you should contact them in the future.
- If CMO refuse to transfer you to the Applications Team, or the CMS refuse to raise an ‘incident’ or confirm that the application will be processed by the Clerical Team, then you will need to contact them to make a complaint.
- In your complaint you should set out the following:
- Your reference numbers
- Steps taken to contact the other parent and come to a family-based arrangement
- Details of the call to CMO/CMS and the reasons given for not taking the application
- How you are habitually resident in the UK
For further information on cases regarding immigration status and the Child Maintenance Service, please contact our advice line.