20 February 2018

Should child maintenance include childcare costs?

I’m aware that child maintenance can be an emotive topic for both men and women, resident and non-resident parents. No one situation is the same and as such it can be tricky to comment without people getting upset or feeling it is a personal dig. This is not intended to cause offence, and is certainly not a dig towards one group or another, but after a discussion earlier today with a woman who is having to make a choice between putting her heating on or being able to pay her childcare fees I felt something needed saying. She asked her ex for a discussion about whether he would be able to help towards the childcare fees. The answer was no before the conversation even began. 

My own experience of child maintenance since my split from my daughter’s father has been fairly positive. There has never been a month where my ex hasn’t paid the nominal required amount. That amount is calculated through the CMS, so it is the ‘fair’ amount according to the Government.

However, child maintenance doesn’t look into childcare and nursery fees. Some may feel this is fair. I didn’t and I still don’t. While together, both me and my ex worked full time and as such our daughter was in nursery full time. She was only a year old so we didn’t qualify for any government funded hours. These facts didn’t change when we split – what did change was that the childcare went from a joint cost to me paying it all. My ex said that he was unable to contribute more than the required £36 child maintenance per week. I am forever grateful that I was able to claim working tax credits as without them I would have had to give up work. It didn’t cover all of the cost of the nursery, far from it, but it allowed me to work and provide for both myself and my daughter. To put it into perspective, my weekly child maintenance didn’t even cover a day at nursery.

I think people can misunderstand working tax credits and the benefits single parents can be entitled to. Tax credits can support with up to 70% of childcare costs. Not a guaranteed 70%. And while I was entitled to some working tax credits (sadly not the 70% figure!) I do not receive any further benefits such as housing benefit.

I purchase my daughter’s shoes, wellies, coats, clothing, nursery/school bags, nursery expense, then there's activity costs and much more. Please don’t get me wrong – I can afford it and I gladly do so. I will never see my daughter go without and I know this is the same for majority of parents. But being honest? It does burn a little when you’re aware that your costs for the upkeep of a home are the same as your ex’s and yet you have to try and find this extortionate amount to pay for childcare for the privilege of going to work.

I appreciate that a non-resident parent should not have to cover the costs for the resident parent to work as such, I really do. Nevertheless, I think that when a situation is that both parents work and regardless of who the child lived with childcare would be needed, then why shouldn’t there be a contribution? I asked for 15% of the weekly nursery fees when we initially split and was told by my ex he wouldn’t be able to afford it. Had our daughter lived with him he would have had to find a lot more than that!

Some parents do abuse the child maintenance system – both ways. Some resident parents receiving child maintenance will ‘squander it’, using it for themselves rather than their children. I am sadly aware of parents like this, and I don’t mean they go out for a drink with friends at a weekend or treat themselves. I mean that their children are in inappropriate clothing for the weather or in clothing that simply doesn’t fit, they don’t have the funds for nappies or the cupboard staples to feed their children… while they go out and get new tattoos, smoke, drink and go on full weekend benders. I’m also aware of parents who work for themselves or work a second job and do not declare their earnings to prevent their ex from receiving the amount they are entitled to. The only people who suffer here? The children involved.

Please don’t misunderstand where this post is coming from. I know some non-resident parents pay above and beyond to support their children. I am aware that I am ‘lucky’ that I get child maintenance from my ex at all. I know some parents do not pay a penny towards their children, or those who are single parents by choice or by bereavement do not have a partner to contribute. But when two people have a shared responsibility for a child, does it not make sense that, where appropriate, the Child Maintenance Service should look into nursery and childcare fees as part of the assessment? No parent should ever have to make a decision between being able to work and afford childcare fees or heating their home – and more so when the other parent could actually contribute.

Written by Susan @pizza.for.tea

1 comment

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