The problem of enforcing child maintenance against joint accounts

family law

Enforcement of orders requiring one party to pay money to another is often not easy, and not cheap. In all cases therefore careful consideration must be given to the prospects of success before enforcement action is commenced. After all, the last thing an impecunious party needs is to throw good money after bad. There may be matters of principle involved, but no one can live on principle alone.

I wrote here in July last year about the government’s plans to make deduction orders to recover child maintenance arrears from joint bank accounts held by a non-resident parent (NRP). The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had launched a consultation on the plans. The consultation closed last August, and the DWP has now published the government’s response, including the government’s amended proposals for new legislation to put the plans into effect, taking into account concerns raised in response to the consultation.

In my previous post I expressed serious concerns about the plans, which I thought might help to collect a little more child maintenance, but at the same time would open up new issues, and do little more than scratch the surface of the problem of non-payment of child maintenance. In particular, I envisaged the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) getting utterly bogged down in complex representations by other account owners. I said:

“At best it will take a great deal of time and effort to sort these out. At worst, it will be impossible to sort out who owns what. I can also foresee that ‘innocent’ other account owners (and their dependants) are going to suffer hardship, through no fault of their own.”

Do the government’s amended proposals address these concerns?

The government now proposes that:

  • Prior to making a deduction order they will obtain account information, including account statements from deposit takers (banks/building societies etc). This account information will be examined to establish flows of money through the account and establish ownership of the monies contained within the account.
  • There will be the opportunity for account holders to make representations about both lump sum deduction orders (in respect of arrears of maintenance) and regular deduction orders (in respect of arrears and on-going maintenance payments) – including the distribution of ownership of the funds in the account. This is to ensure they do not remove monies not owned by the parent.
  • They have applied a 14 day representation period prior to serving the deduction order for regular deduction orders.
  • Recognising that lump sum deduction orders have the potential to be more complex than regular deduction orders, they will increase the representation period for these to 28 days.

They also propose the following additional rights to ensure that there is independent oversight and clear channels for joint account holders to appeal their case:

  • To request a review of a deduction order for the joint account holder should they not be able make representation within the representation period.
  • For the joint account holder to request a review of a regular deduction order if the debtor reduces their payments into the relevant account; and
  • For all account holders to appeal any decision to impose a deduction order against a joint account.

The most important point in all of this is, I think, the first. Clearly, the account needs to be studied in order to ascertain whether it is worth proceeding. However, I have two big concerns about this. Firstly, will the CMS have the necessary resources to carry out this assessment? And secondly, I will repeat another point I made in my previous post: once an NRP knows that the CMS is targeting a joint account, they can simply close the account, or divert their income elsewhere, thereby defeating the CMS’s aims.

As to the other amended proposals, they are similar or the same as before, basically giving account holders the right to argue the matter, and to appeal against any decision by the CMS. My original thoughts remain: there are going to be a lot of resources expended upon arguing matters (which will obviously eat into any extra maintenance recovered, at least as far as the state is concerned), and if the CMS gets it wrong, ‘innocent’ other account holders could suffer considerable hardship.

The government, as the holder of taxpayers’ money, needs to act with the same prudence as the individual litigant when it comes to the enforcement of child maintenance. Before going after funds in a joint account they will have to ask whether they are opening up a can of worms, and whether they will be throwing good money after bad. I fear that in the vast majority of cases the answers to both questions will be in the affirmative.

The government’s response to the consultation can be found here.

Photo by Philippe Put via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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6 comments

Mr T - October 31, 2017 at 4:04pm

Get rid of all child support – problem solved.

If one parent can’t afford to care for the child give them to the other parent. If neither can they need to sort something out between themselves?

Equality, plain and simple.

JamesB - October 31, 2017 at 8:53pm

I agree 100% anything otherwise is social engineering and promoting single parenthood.

Lee - October 31, 2017 at 5:45pm

Well I must say at least something is being done .
Can anybody shed any light on if the government have irradiated the procedure of waiting a year for a cms mandatory reconsideration , another year to not even get a date , and then maybe a three year tribunal h v c 2009 and more cases . To which your. Children your fighting for are then adults ? Do they realise the process is so mentally draining and stressful ? Or is it a ploy so people drop out ? Lol

Andy - October 31, 2017 at 8:46pm

This has to be the biggest joke of all time..
If the NRP was paying and what He can afford with arrears then the incompetent CMS and of course the Incompetant government that stated the collection of revenue by raiding joint account or accounts..
Logistically CMS and alike have no resources to persue such time consuming efforts in account and who deposits what..The end result is where a innocent party through incompetence by CMS may deduct monies from a innocent account holder..How many times will this happen and of course the stupid CMS can’t pay back the taken money as the GOLDDIGGER receiver has spent it..any compensation if this is done..Bet not,and of course no blame by CMS..all they will say is prove it..it just
is a farce..
If the NRP was not paying as majority of the Gingerbread idiots mother groups state and of course every NRP is not paying apparently then better tell Gingerbread and partner groups to prove it..

In a common sense world both PWC and NRP should pay a equal lump sum each month and this would be fair with both taking responsibility for children not currently penalising the NRP every time..
Pity the NRP has such tools available to either divert funds to off shore accounts create false accounts through financial accounting also simple pension payments to reduce CMS demands..

In the end the government want the CMS to be successful not like its predecessor…
As for the NRP if the monthly payments were affordable and agreeable then you would find all would pay without any complaint but when idiots make deductions as either 9%,16% and above for one ,two ,three or more on this deduction table then what chance does any NRP have…as for the joke calculation of either 25% increase or reduction in salary to change monthly payments but also such stupidity them to implement further 9% over weekly earnings of £800 or more..so either way your stuffed..

I note a recent situation where a company director paid himself £150.00 per week but paid his wife as second director all salary and dividends so CMS calculation was at the lowest possible cost…
Bloody good luck to him for that one..
If I have spoken out of turn then tuff you try giving £600per month to some one who is earning more than me and claims benefits as well…the system is just take take take..but not at government cost or benefits..how wrong they are.

BillyO - November 2, 2017 at 4:52am

A government agency being able to plunder JOINT accounts!
What has happend in the UK? Have you lost all morals and ethical standards?
People don’t have ANY basic rights in the UK anymore.

I live in what many would call a corrupt SE Asian country. I would agree with that description, however such things like the plundering of a joint account because one of the account holders perhaps owes some money would not happen here.

The UK is morally bankrupt.if someone wants to keep money safe they can simply move it out of the jurisdiction.
Get real and stop making a mockery of the basic foundations and morals that the UK was built upon.

Me T - November 2, 2017 at 9:43am

George Orwells 1984 in action. It was supposed to be fiction not an instruction manual!!

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