A Scottish military chaplain has launched a petition against the “heavy-handed” approach of new legislation that has resulted in increased maintenance payments from parents to their children.
The Rev Chris Kellock, 44, Church of Scotland chaplain to the First Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, said the change – introduced by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) and which means that future payments will be based on gross rather than net earnings – is unfair to parents doing their best to support their children and who are often financially overstretched.
He said that a system introduced as a “catchall to capture less scrupulous parents is causing turbulence in many lives”.
Kellock has seen his own monthly maintenance payments rise from £400 to £649, and said such increases are causing emotional, financial and mental stress for him and many other non-resident parents.
Kellock, from North Berwick, has been paying maintenance for the last ten years for two children from his first marriage. He and his second wife have one child. His second wife has three children from her previous marriage.
“I am fully committed to this responsibility and to my ongoing relationship with my two children. I have moved around with the army so have solely met all of the significant travelling costs in relation to seeing them, initially by car, then escorted flights and now train journeys from Scotland via London to the Salisbury Plain area in Wiltshire.
“It has been long recognised that the Child Support Agency (now the CMS) was not fit for purpose. Initially designed to track down non-paying parents, its one-size-fits-all rules led to untold damage, both emotional and financial, for many responsible paying parents,” said Kellock, who spent more than three months working in an Ebola hospital in Sierra Leone in 2014.
“My understanding is gross pay is now used in order to ensure those who were less than forthcoming about their annual earnings, or who were avoiding paying, are calculated at source rather than after tax.”
He added: “Whilst I fully support the proper support for children after break-ups, I do not condone the government’s heavy-handed approach. It is financially, emotionally and mentally draining trying to work out where the extra money from a random assessment is magically going to come from.”
Kellock’s petition is on the website change.org.
Claire Perry, Conservative MP for Devizes, which includes Kellock’s army area, said: “I regularly see many complex cases brought by my constituents to advice surgeries, and I always try to offer assistance where I can.
“The hugely inefficient and wasteful Child Support Agency was rightly replaced by the Child Maintenance Service in 2012, and the CMS uses gross annual income data (provided by HM Revenue & Customs) to calculate child maintenance because this is faster, more accurate and far more transparent.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “The CMS addressed many of the shortcomings of the old system, making it easier for parents to work together in the best interests of their children.
“Using gross earnings from HMRC is fairer and more transparent, ensuring faster, more accurate payments than under the previous system.”