Department for Work and Pensions
Child Maintenance Service to clamp down on domestic abuse
New laws protecting parents who use the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) from abusive ex-partners are due to be introduced following an independent review.
- New measures to protect survivors from direct contact with abusers
- Improvements to domestic abuse staff training
- One-to-one support for survivors to be trialled
Survivors of domestic abuse will be given the choice to allow the CMS to collect and make payments on their behalf – without the consent of an abusive ex-partner. This will prevent perpetrators from using child maintenance as a form of ongoing financial abuse and control and mean survivors will not have to have contact with their ex-partner if there is evidence of domestic violence.
The CMS will also have new powers to report suspected cases of financial coercion to the Crown Prosecution Service to help bring abusers to justice. One-to-one support for survivors will be piloted and domestic abuse training for staff improved.
These changes come after the DWP commissioned Dr Samantha Callan, a leading expert on domestic abuse, in the autumn of 2021 to review CMS support for parents who had experienced domestic abuse in setting up a child maintenance arrangement. This followed the tragic death of Emma Day, who was murdered by her ex-partner, Mark Morris.
Minister for Work and Pensions Viscount Younger of Leckie said:
Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime and we are doing everything in our power to support survivors to make child maintenance claims safely and without fear.
We have strengthened the ways in which the Child Maintenance Service can support survivors in making a maintenance claim safely. I am grateful to Dr Samantha Callan for recognising this and for her vital work which will protect more parents from abuse, bring more perpetrators to justice and help keep families safe.
Minister for Social Mobility, Youth and Progression Mims Davies, DWP’s Lead for Women, said:
Any form of domestic abuse and coercive control is unacceptable and illegal but very sadly can be found in most communities and we need to help people speak out and get the assistance they need. Here at DWP we are committed to doing all we can to provide vital support to those affected.
Our improvements to the Child Maintenance Service will mean no one will be prevented from making a claim because of domestic abuse and financial control, and will run alongside our wider support for DWP claimants experiencing abuse or who are in vulnerable situations to disclose this and be helped to move forward in safety.
Dr Samantha Callan said:
As well as violence, there is now legal recognition that domestic abuse includes financial and other forms of coercive control which can continue to play out – or be initiated – after parents separate. My review highlights the pressing need for the Child Maintenance Service to help protect its clients from all forms of abuse and be aware that these can be perpetrated by the receiving as well as the paying parent and I am pleased the Government is acting on my recommendations.
Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs said:
Emma Day’s death highlighted the critical role of the Child Maintenance Service in responding to domestic abuse. The proposed changes to the CMS demonstrate the powerful impact that a Domestic Homicide Review can have and why it is so important that lessons are learnt. I am particularly thankful to Emma’s family for all their work to campaign for change.
I welcome the Government’s response to the independent review and pleased to see that the majority of the recommendations have been accepted. I look forward to working with DWP to make further improvements to the CMS for survivors, and to following the progress of the Child Support Collection (Domestic Abuse) Bill.
All CMS customers are asked if they have experienced or witnessed domestic abuse. If customers feel that their specific claim will put them in danger, they will be signposted to support – such as the National Domestic Violence Helpline for example – and asked to contact the police about their case.
If a customer is in immediate danger, the CMS will offer advice on contacting the police and, if customers do not feel able to do this, then to ask whether customers are content for the CMS to call the police on their behalf.
Tackling domestic abuse is a key priority for this government. That is why it introduced its landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021, alongside a comprehensive action plan of other non-legislative measures.
The cross-government Tackling Domestic Abuse plan, published in March, invests over £230 million into tackling these heinous crimes. Meanwhile, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 extended the controlling or coercive behaviour offence to clamp down on economic abuse, which can be part of a pattern of controlling or coercive behaviours by domestic abuse perpetrators.
For the new offence to be effectively implemented and to further assist frontline agencies in identifying, investigating and evidencing domestic abuse offences, the government is updating the Controlling or Coercive Behaviour Statutory Guidance. This will be published in spring 2023, in line with the extended offence coming into force.
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 also removed the ‘living together’ requirement for controlling or coercive behaviour, which means the offence will soon apply to intimate partners, ex partners or family members, regardless of whether the victim and perpetrator live together.
The government response to the independent review of the Child Maintenance Service response to domestic abuse can also be found on GOV UK.
- The Independent Review was a recommendation made in the Safer Lambeth Partnership’s Domestic Homicide Review into the murder of Emma Day, as one of several agencies that came into contact with Emma Day. Recommendations were made to multiple agencies that came into contact with Emma Day.
- The DWP asked Domestic Violence expert, Dr Samantha Callan, to lead this review in Autumn 2021.
- The measures announced today will build on the CMS’s significantly strengthened work over the years to help those who have experienced domestic abuse set up a child maintenance arrangement safely.
Support the CMS has in place for domestic abuse survivors
- A definition of domestic abuse is used that is not limited to incidents involving a former partner and includes abuse that may have been experienced by the parent and/or their child(ren). It includes any instance of domestic abuse which has been reported to an appropriate body or person, although no evidence is required.
- Waiving the £20 CMS application fee for survivors of domestic abuse.
- Mandatory staff training on how to respond to domestic abuse issues.
- There are two payment arrangements. Direct Pay, where the CMS works out the calculation and parents arrange payments between themselves when both parents agree. And Collect and Pay, where the CMS collects payments from a paying parent and passes it onto the receiving payment for a fee. Work will be undertaken to look at ways in which survivors could be exempted from charges in collect and pay arrangements.
- The direct pay service is designed to be a safe service for victims of domestic abuse and allows customers to avoid collection charges. Support available within the direct pay service stream includes facilitating the exchange of bank details, ensuring personal information is not shared, and providing information about setting up bank accounts which do not allow parents to be traced.
- Further measures include non-traceable payment methods, which keep parents’ locations hidden and ensures there is no unwanted contact with an ex-partner.
- The Get Help Arranging Child Maintenance website contains advice and information on staying safe and signposting information to specialist support organisations.
- The introduction of a Complex Needs Toolkit and Domestic Abuse Plan for caseworkers, which provide clear steps to follow to support customers who are experiencing abuse. The Toolkit and Plan are regularly reviewed and strengthened.
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