SEA responds to changes to the CMS to support domestic abuse survivors

Yesterday, (Tuesday 17th January) the Government announced new powers for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to better support survivors of domestic abuse who are seeking to claim child maintenance from their ex-partners.

This announcement comes as a result of an independent review into the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) policy and procedure around domestic abuse, led by Dr Samantha Callan. This review was recommended by a Domestic Homicide Review (DHR), which was carried out after the murder of Emma Louise Day. Emma had been trying to claim child maintenance from her ex-partner Mark Morris, who repeatedly threatened to kill her if she did not cancel the claim and eventually killed her as she walked home from the school run in May 2017.

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, CEO and Founder of Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) said,

“We hear from victim-survivors of economic abuse whose ex-partners use child maintenance payments to continue controlling them, for example withholding payments when they’re needed most, or using the payments as a bargaining chip to enforce contact. It is yet another method that abusers can exert economic control from a distance.

“We are pleased to see the review published today with a recognition that the system needs improvement to support survivors.  We welcome the recommended steps to improve the system, such as enabling abuse survivors to move to the collect and pay system, as well as dropping the £20 fee for applying to child maintenance.

“However, it is disappointing to find no mention of exempting domestic abuse survivors from the 4% charge applied to parents receiving payments via Collect and Pay. For many survivors, it is too dangerous to arrange payments with the other parent directly and this charge clearly penalises them for using their only safe option.  We call for these charges to be removed.

There is also little in the review that sets out how the CMS will ensure perpetrators do not get away with non-payment or delayed payment, denying survivors and their children the economic resources they need to rebuild their lives. The CMS offers a lifeline to economic abuse survivors but the failure to collect money consistently allows perpetrators to continue to economically abuse and coercively control victim-survivors.

“We are also eager to see expert training for CMS staff, in dealing with applicants who are survivors of domestic, including, economic abuse. The devastating murder of Emma Day showed just how important it is that staff understand the risks that survivors are facing and provide a safe response.  This training must be consistent with the training received by financial services so that both public and private sectors can work together in ensuring abuse survivors are supported to reach safety.”