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Child maintenance 2012 scheme: Early Progress

The Department for Work and Pensions has successfully introduced the first phase of the Child Maintenance 2012 scheme, according to the National Audit Office. The Department tackled early weaknesses and made decisions about timing and phasing to reduce risk. However, the spending watchdog has warned that the scheme’s overall objectives might be at risk if the number of people intending to use family-based arrangements does not improve over current levels.

The 2012 scheme replaces the existing 1993 and 2003 child support statutory schemes, which struggled with IT problems leading to poor customer service and incomplete information about outstanding debt. The two-phase 2012 scheme has been designed by the DWP to encourage parents to make their own arrangements for child maintenance. Phase 1 brought in a new IT system and simplified rules for applicants. Phase 2, expected to start in June 2014, will introduce charging to encourage parents to make family-based arrangements. The Options Service provides guidance to parents on different ways to arrange child maintenance. It is now mandatory to go to the Options Service if parents want to make an application for child maintenance.

The Department has simplified the way it administers child maintenance by reducing the number of its procedures and automating checks on parents’ income. It is also introducing online portals to allow employers and parents to manage payments online.

The DWP has significantly improved the control of its programme, which has led to better integration of suppliers, increased accountability and improved contractor performance.

It expects to save £220 million a year by encouraging parents to come to their own arrangements, thereby reducing the number of applicants to the scheme, and also by introducing charges.

The NAO today finds that, although the costs of the programme have increased and the Department does not yet have full information about cases, the 2012 scheme is approaching expected levels of performance. It is assessing 95 per cent of new cases accurately.

Phase 2 continues to be the most uncertain phase of the 2012 scheme and, in early 2014, the Department decided to postpone the start of it by three months, to June 2014, to reduce risks. The Department has identified charging and case closure as the main risks to the 2012 scheme. It has done some modelling of the impact of charging but accurately predicting parents’ reactions is difficult. If its assumptions are wrong, the scheme’s overall benefits may be at risk. The number of clients intending to choose family-based arrangements has reduced since August from 5,540 to 3,590. This may change as the Department introduces charging.

Amongst the NAO’s recommendations, the Department should complete testing of the new systems or fully assess the risks of proceeding without full testing.


“The Department for Work and Pensions has significantly simplified the way it administers child maintenance and is approaching expected levels of performance. However, there are indications that fewer parents are intending to choose family-based arrangements, and this is concerning. I am pleased to see that the Department is proceeding cautiously and aiming to learn from experience. Significant tasks still lie ahead for the Department. However, delivering value for money from the 2012 scheme will depend on winding up the remaining legacy cases from previous schemes and successfully implementing technology improvements.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office

Notes for Editors


Expected cost of introducing the 2012 scheme


Expected annual saving from introducing charging and closing cases


Legacy cases that the Department will close or move to the 2012 scheme by 2018

£503 million

Cost of administering the child maintenance statutory service in 2012-13

£370 million

Expected cost of closing cases from the previous schemes ('legacy' cases)

£352 million

Expected cost of IT for the 2012 scheme


People making applications to the 2012 scheme between December 2012 and March 2014

95 per cent

Accuracy to within £1 or 2 per cent of the correct calculation in 2013-14

90 per cent

Proportion of new cases where HM Revenue & Customs or job centre systems have provided details of parents' income

1. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at Hard copies can be obtained by using the relevant links on our website.

2. The National Audit Office scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Amyas Morse, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 820 staff. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy. Our studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. Our recommendations and reports on good practice help government improve public services, and our work led to audited savings of £1.1 billion in 2013.

PN: 31/14