New figures reveal extent of unpaid child maintenance backlog

By Lenore Rice

Approximately 1.2million people in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK are owed child maintenance payments according to new figures revealed by the Victoria Derbyshire programme.

The figures show that the overall backlog of unpaid child maintenance payments totals £3.8billion and spans back 23 years. The majority of this money was accumulated under the failed Child Support Agency which managed child maintenance payments between 1993 and 2012. It was replaced by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) system, but figures suggest it is similarly struggling to collect payments from absent and non-resident parents, with £93million of the total backlog developed under the newer CMS system.

When parents separate they are both expected to contribute towards the cost of raising their children. Couples will sometimes agree the division of costs between themselves, but when that is not possible they can turn to CMS, which uses an IT systems to assess the parents and calculate the payments that should be made by the non-resident parents. The term 'non-resident parent' refers to the parent who will not live in the same house as the children, and in the majority of cases is the father. Child maintenance payments are payable as follows:

  • all children under the age of 16
  • children over 16 and under 20 in full-time education at A-level stage or below
  • children over 16 and under 20 who are living with a parent registered for child benefit


If the non-resident parent does not pay child maintenance it can be taken directly from their earnings, their bank account, their benefits or via court action, but there is criticism that CMS rarely uses these powers. The Department for Work and Pensions says that 90 per cent of parents are paying the child maintenance payments they owe, and says they "actively pursue non-resident parents to recover unpaid maintenance."

If you require legal advice in respect of a matter connected to a separation or divorce, including child maintenance and contact, get in touch with one of the family law solicitors at Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast or Bangor by clicking here.