It can be a confusing and complicated topic when it comes to child support payments.
There are many laws, requirements and details to consider when dealing with the CMS or CSA.
For the purpose of this post, we’ll look at some of the most common questions about CSA arrears.
If you’re a parent, you may have seen a variety of terms used when it comes to paying child support. In the UK, the current system responsible for collecting and distributing funds to dependents is run by the Child Maintenance Group (CMG).
This organisation implements the 1991 Child Support Act, which sees all children get the financial support they need. Previously, the Child Support Agency (CSA) was in charge of this process.
In 2012, it was replaced by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). However, people still ask questions about CSA arrears, as payments are still made through this organisation.
Just to summarise – the CSA has been replaced but payments still go through it as the old organisation!
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What is the CSA arrears law?
Both parents of a child are legally accountable for the cost of raising them. If you’re separate from the other parent, the one who doesn’t have the child on a day-to-day basis is often responsible for making payments.
If you fall into arrears on your CSA payments, you’ll have to find some way of paying it back. If you don’t, the CSA or CMS could take legal action against you. However, it is often possible to arrange a repayment schedule with them.
You have to pay back the arrears within a certain time limit, and you can be asked to pay up to 40% of your income. However, the exact amount depends on your circumstances, both in life and financially.
Is there a CSA arrears time limit?
Generally speaking, there is no time limit on when the CMS or CSA can collect your arrears. Usually, they will try to collect it within two years of you falling behind with your payments. However, this isn’t always possible.
If they are unsuccessful in attempting to get you to repay the money, they CMS or CSA could take legal action against you. The most common step is a deductions from earnings order, which takes money directly from your pay check.
If you go to court, a judge can also give you a liability order or charging order. The first means that bailiffs can come to your property to recover items to cover your outstanding debt. The latter forces you to sell property to pay your child support.
Where can I find a CSA arrears calculator?
If you receive a notice that you are in arrears with your child support payment, it can be tough to know what to do. If you find that the amount on your arrears looks wrong, getting a straight answer isn’t always easy.
However, there are several things you can do. As well as contacting the CSA directly, you can also try using a CSA arrears calculator.
This will make sure that you’re not paying too much. Once you have calculated what you’re supposed to be paying, it can be much easier to get the situation resolved.
If you find that the calculator says you should be paying less, you can then contact CSA and ask them to review your file. You can also appeal how much you’re paying based on the amount the CM Options calculator figure.
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What about CSA case closed arrears?
Since the CSA was replaced by the CMS is 2012, there has been a transition period. During this time, there were many questions raised about what happened when CSA cases were closed but still in arrears.
People flocked to message boards saying they had received letters years later about CSA case closed arrears.
What seems to have been happening is that when the two departments changed over, some closed cases were still accruing charges. This means that the amount owed is much higher than it should be.
So, even if you had received a notice saying your case was closed, you could then later get a letter saying you owe money.
The CMS has to provide you with a breakdown of any charges you have. This means that you can write to them to ask for such details if they say your closed case is in arrears. Often, it’s nothing more than a clerical error.
Where can I get CSA arrears advice?
With all the confusion that comes with dealing with CSA and CMS services, it can sometimes be tricky to know what to do. Thankfully, there are some really useful resources out there that can help. If you need CSA arrears advice, the below pages are good places to start:
- StepChange. The debt charity has several resources dedicated to dealing with CSA arrears. They can point you in the right direction for getting help.
- The UK Government. If you want a detailed breakdown of all the laws and rules that impact and can help you, the official government website is a thorough resource.
- Citizens Advice. As well as a wealth of online resources, Citizens Advice also has phone and in-person support that can benefit you.
- Forums. There are many armchair experts on the web who will happily help you with queries. Try looking for some forums that deal with CSA-related questions and post your question.
Are CSA arrears written off?
In some rare cases, the CSA will write off arrears, meaning you’ll no longer have to pay what you owe.
However, it’s extremely rare that they will do so, and the final decision rests with the CSA or CMS. Some of the reasons they’ll write off arrears include:
- If the other parent declares to the CSA/CMS, they no longer want the money to be collected.
- If the arrears are specifically from 1993 to 1995 when an interim maintenance agreement was in place.
- If you find out from the CMS or CSA that your arrears are suspended permanently.
- If you die and no money/assets remain for payment to be taken from.
Usually, the CMS/CSA will consider each case individually. They’ll take evidence from both parents and take into account the best interest of the child.
Any decisions they make are final and cannot be appealed.
How do I go about paying back CSA arrears?
If you go into arrears with CSA, don’t panic. Although you may want to rush to pay back the money, it’s best to go through the due process first.
When you have outstanding payments, you’ll first receive a letter from CMS/CSA. Although this may seem unpleasant, they have to work with you to resolve the matter.
The most likely outcome is that you’ll agree to some form of payment plan to repay the money. There are some fairly strict guidelines in place, so they’ll advise you of this in the letter or on the phone.
Do not ignore their contact or assume it will go away. They will continue to pursue you for the arrears.
What about how to avoid paying CSA arrears?
Many people look for answers on how not to pay CSA arrears. Ultimately, there isn’t a way to avoid paying what you owe.
Previously, there were some legal loopholes that meant people could avoid paying child support. However, these have since been closed.
If you’re having difficulties making payments, your best bet is to contact CMS/CSA directly. They will take your circumstances into account and try to find the most efficient and affordable way for you to pay the money.
You can also check out the advice links from the question above.
How far back can CSA claim arrears?
There is currently no time limit for how far back CSA can claim arrears from. So, even if you’ve not heard about your child support payments for many years, you may still receive a call or letter about it in future.
There have been examples of people in the last couple of years receiving notification about arrears dating back to the early 90s.
However, there is no way that a liability order can be granted for maintenance due before 12 July 2000. This makes it harder for them to enforce payment, but not impossible.
What about how to claim CSA arrears?
This depends somewhat on the situation you’re in. For example, if you have a family-based arrangement for your payments, the CMS/CSA can’t help. In this instance, you’ll have to sort the matter out with the other parent.
If you receive maintenance through Direct Pay, you have a bit more security. They advise that you first try and settle the matter with the other parent.
However, if they’re unwilling, you can then contact the CSA/CMS. They will then contact the other parent and take the necessary steps.
For those who use the CMS/CSA Collect and Pay service, things should happen automatically. If the other parent misses a payment, they will try and recover the money wherever possible.
If the CSA or CMS has made a mistake and you’ve lost out, they may compensate you for this. However, it’s not a legal requirement for them to do so.
Can I find information on how to appeal against CSA arrears?
The CSA uses a very specific set of criteria to assess how much each parent has to pay in child support.
As such, there are times when they get things wrong. They do have an appeals process in place, meaning you can apply for a reduction based on a variety of factors:
- Revision. If they have calculated it wrong, you can apply for them to review their calculation.
- Supersession. If your circumstances have changed since the initial calculation, it needs updating. The same applies if the other parent’s circumstances have changed.
- Variation. If there is additional information about the other parent and their finances you want to take into account.
- Appeal. If the CSA has declined a request for any of the above, you’re able to appeal the decision.
If you want to apply for any of the above, you’ll need to contact the CSA directly. This will then start the process, and they will send you information about everything you need to provide.
How much can CSA take from my wages for arrears?
If you go into arrears with your child support payments, it’s possible that the CSA will take legal action to recover the money. This can mean that the money is taken directly from your bank or even your pay packet.
The most they can take from your wages is 40% of what you earn each month. They have to leave you with at least 60%, and enough to live on. Although this does seem high, it can mean you pay off your arrears relatively quickly.
If you’re struggling to live after the money is taken, you can always contact CSA to see if you can arrange a different payment plan. Do not try and get out of paying the money, as it can end up costing you more.
How to dispute arrears with the CSA?
Like any organisation, the CSA and CMS do get things wrong from time to time. If you feel that they have wrongly stated you have a case in arrears, you can contact them to discuss the matter.
When dealing with such instances, it’s important that you have all of the necessary information at hand.
Make sure to track down any paperwork you have in relation to your case. This can include things like past letters and bank statements. With this information, you can more effectively dispute your case.
Are CSA arrears written off if self-employed?
In the past, there was a legal loophole that meant it was possible to avoid CSA arrears if you were self-employed.
Because of the way the child support services calculate payments due, it was possible for self-employed non-resident parents to minimise or even cancel out their CSA payments.
However, this loophole, along with several others, was closed in recent years. As it stands, if you’re self-employed, you must pay maintenance like any other parent. CSA/CMS work out your income based on average weekly earnings.
*Note: This is a real life example based on a customers’ savings data in October 2020.