The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has claimed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is making “good progress” on transforming the way child maintenance is administered.
The Department is currently making changes to the scheme with the aim of encouraging more people to make family-based arrangements to reduce the number of statutory cases.
Overall, DWP hopes to reduce the number of statutory claims by a quarter, or 250,000, by 2018-19 – a target PAC has deemed “ambitious.”
“However, there is a worrying uncertainty around the impact that the introduction of charges for statutory child maintenance service will have,” Hodge claimed.
“In it unclear whether charges have been set at the right level to achieve this objective,” she added after explaining DWP’s primary objectives.
The Chair’s concerns stem from a survey of callers informed of the choice available for child maintenance that found the number of parents intending to choose family-based arrangements reduced by more than third from August 2013 to March 2014.
“Research suggests that for parents on low incomes, the £20 application fee would be a significant barrier to applying for the statutory service,” Hodge claimed.
“There is a risk that some parents end up reaching no arrangement at all, to the detriment of the children involved.
“The Department must monitor closely the number of parents that choose family-based arrangements following the introduction of charging for the statutory scheme,” she added.
PAC also has concerns regarding DWP’s “poor” record of implementing reform programmes, but has said it can learn from the good practice evident in the child maintenance scheme.
However, it warns the Department must be careful when closing legacy cases from the old systems and make sure the necessary new ones are in place in time.
Following its report on the child maintenance scheme, PAC has made a number of recommendations for DWP going forward.
It believes the Department needs to evaluate the introduction of Phase One, ensure major programmes have resilient and stable leadership teams in place, closely monitor the number of parents making family-based arrangements and monitor and manage the scheme’s performance.