As E’s refusal to pay any child maintenance until legally forced to do so continues into its seventh month, I am finding myself swinging between two emotional extremes. I have whole days where I feel unnaturally calm – I have an assurance that in the end everything will be ok, that this too will pass and that ‘this time next year’, it will all be over and I’ll be ok. But all it takes is one knock, or one bad night fretting over all of the ‘what if’s’ and I end up having a day being torn up by anxiety, ‘anger and fear about what will happen if E keeps refusing to pay.
The main problem is that I am facing the very real possibility that E has no intention of ever supporting his children again and he’s being aided and abetted in that, by the very people who are supposed to be helping me – the CMS.
I first contacted them in November 2018, when it became clear that E had no intention of paying me any child maintenance. This was where I made my first mistake – they offered me the choice of Direct Pay – which is where they calculate the amount that should be paid but me and E then come to a private arrangement re payment, or Collect and Pay – where they collect from E’s salary and then pay to me. The CMS charge for Collect and Pay (4% to the person receiving the payment and something like 15% to the person paying it). I honestly thought it was best to give E the benefit of the doubt and agreed to try Direct Pay.
It took around six weeks for the CMS to calculate and notify E and I of what the amount would be (in the meantime E paid nothing in December) and I received my first payment (for January) at the end of December (the two months he paid me nothing count for nothing as far as the CMS are concerned, as they will only collect arrears from the date they officially agree the amount to be paid). So I was now a few thousand pounds short, but had no way of ever recovering that money.
Further, the amount calculated by the CMS was around £1,000 short of what E and I had originally agreed, and didn’t include any payment at all for Oldest Daughter and Youngest Daughter because I don’t receive Child Benefit for them. I knew I would struggle financially, but I worked out how I could manage until we came to an agreement about the house and what we would do going forward.
As E had paid the January installment, I hoped that common sense (and common decency) had been restored and I hoped that I’d have some breathing space for a few months. However, February came along and E paid nothing.
This time, I immediately called the CMS and asked to go to Collect and Pay. When I hadn’t heard anything after a couple of weeks, I called them again. They informed me that E had raised a ‘financial variation’ query and that they were unable to move my case to Collect and Pay until this had been resolved. They told me that E was expected to continue to make payments whilst they were looking in to his query. I explained that he wasn’t. They said that they’d try to contact him (he, of course, was by now ignoring all attempts to communicate with him). They also told me that it could take up to four months to sort out the query and advised me to keep calling.
After several calls, I managed to ascertain that E’s ‘financial query’ was based around the Secured Loan that he was paying (well, actually, by now he wasn’t paying this either and, as well as getting no child maintenance, I was getting threatening letters from the Loan company). I pointed out that the Gov.UK website itself said that mortgage payments didn’t qualify as a financial variation if the person paying it had a legal and equitable interest in the property it concerned. The first person I spoke to at the CMS tried to tell me that a mortgage was ‘like a car loan’ and that I was benefiting from the use of the house, it must qualify. I pointed out that the Gov.UK website specifically distinguished car loans from mortgages, but he wasn’t having it. The second person I spoke to agreed that the mortgage payment didn’t qualify. The third person I spoke to said that they had to wait for E to send evidence of his claim before they could do anything.
By now it was the beginning of April and three more months of payments had been missed. Every time I spoke to the CMS I pointed out that I was receiving no maintenance and that I had four children to support. They told me that there was nothing they could do. They also told me that if E hadn’t responded to their emails and texts with bank account details for Collect and Pay within two weeks that he would be seen as ‘non-compliant’ and that, at this stage, they could move towards taking the money directly from his salary.
After the two weeks had passed, I dutifully called again to be told that ‘yes, he’s non-compliant’ and that they’d now move to take the maintenance directly from salary. A couple of hours later, I got a call from someone who asked how far into arrears E was and asked for my bank account details for them to make payments. He said that they’d try to get things moving in the next five days. At this point I had a wild flutter of optimism and asked if this meant I’d get some money in May. He quickly quashed this by telling me that it would still take up to two months to sort out taking directly from salary. When I asked him about what support was available to me whilst I was receiving no payments, he directed me to the National Debtline…
As we rolled into May, and I hadn’t heard anything, I called again. This time, I was told that they could see E’s payslips online and that they would move to take directly from salary in the next few days (but that this could still take until the end of July to sort out), when I told him how desperate I now was, he said he’d do it as quickly as possible.
Throughout all of this I have been regularly checking and trying to communicate with the CMS via their online portal. To date, not one message I have sent using this portal has been acknowledged or acted upon. On 13th May, I checked the online portal and – miraculously, the financial statement there actually included E’s arrears (around the £7,000 by now) and there were two letters waiting for me to read. Again, I stupidly felt a wild surge of optimism – until I opened them.
After over a month of waiting for them to confirm that E was non-compliant and they were moving to take direct from his salary, the letters on the portal proudly informed me that they were moving my account to Collect and Pay.
I called again, and was informed by the person I spoke to that E ‘must be paid weekly’ because they were preparing to take weekly amounts. I assured her that he was paid monthly, and asked if the fact they’d moved to Collect and Pay meant that they’d actually made contact with E. She said she didn’t know, but that they were planning to collect on 20th May, and that I should contact them if I hadn’t received any money by the end of the month. Again, I mentioned the fact that I’d now had no financial support for four months (six if you counted November and December) and that I was struggling to feed my children. She said there was nothing they could do.
This weekend, I received a message to call the CMS. I’m now too jaded to feel optimistic, but I dutifully called the ‘help’ line wondering what insanity awaited me.
The lady I spoke to told they were calling to let me know they were moving to Collect and Pay. I took a deep breathe said that I already knew this, and went on to explain about my previous conversations about non-compliance etc. She informed me that there was no record of these on the system. She then explained that they had to try Collect and Pay before they could move to collect directly from salary. She explained, again, that I’d have to wait until the end of May, and if E hadn’t paid that they could then move to take directly from his salary.
She then said that this might take more time (up to four more months) to sort out: “because he’s self-employed…”
I explained that he wasn’t self-employed and asked who had told her this. She had no record of where this had come from. I told her that he was paid a monthly salary by a big London training firm. She said that his job title (Director of his company’s professional school) meant that he was a Company Director and that he was effectively paying his own salary. I assured her that he was a salaried employee and that, in fact, one of the people I’d spoken to had been viewing his HMRC payslips online. She agreed that she could see his payslips and said she’d have to get the caseworker to look into this and give me a call.
Once again, I explained that I was now in a desperate financial situation. Once again I was told that there was no support available to me. As I hung the phone up, I realised that I’d originally asked the CMS to switch to Collect and Pay at the beginning of February, and that, despite phone calls, emails and hours of my time, we were actually no further forward than we were four months ago.
In the meantime, E is presumably spending his six figure salary on whatever he wants.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be banging my head against a brick wall…