What legal action can I take against the Child Maintenance Service?

If you are unhappy with the service you have received from the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), you can make a complaint. This article explains what you can complain about, what to include in your complaint and what you can do if you’re not happy with the response.

What can I complain to the CMS about?

The most commonly complained about issues include:

  • Mistakes, for example, if the CMS loses your documents
  • A long delay in dealing with your case
  • Bad advice, such as mistakes in the calculation or not explaining arrears figures
  • Delays taking enforcement action
  • Difficulty contacting them, or having to wait a long time before talking to someone
  • Failure to provide you with a translator
  • Being discriminated against

Before making a complaint, you should take time to consider what you want the CMS to do. For example, this could be:

  • Apologising to you
  • Fixing the problem
  • Explaining what went wrong
  • Changing the way they do things
  • Paying you compensation

How do I make a complaint to the CMS?

Initially, you should ask to speak to, or write to, your case worker if you have one, or their manager. Explain why you are unhappy, giving as much detail as you can. Because the CMS deals with such a high volume of cases, it is best to write to them, so you have a written record of the complaint.

When writing, put “Complaint” at the top of the letter or email and keep a copy together with any reply you receive. This is important as you may need to take the complaint further and you will need to provide full details of your complaint at each stage. It is not uncommon for the person dealing with the complaint not to have passed on all the information.

If you decide to call them, you should keep a record of:

  • Who you spoke to
  • When you called (date, time, etc)
  • What each of you said
  • Any action the CMS said they would take

What information should I include in my complaint?

Where possible, you should include the following:

  • Your name, address, date of birth, CMS reference number and contact details
  • Copies of any correspondence (you should make sure you retain the originals)
  • A summary of the complaint together with accurate dates of events, such as telephone calls and contact with CMS staff
  • Any other documents relevant to your complaint
  • An explanation of the reasons you are unhappy with the way you were treated by the CMS

You should receive a letter from the CMS within 2 working days confirming they have received your complaint. They will then try to deal with it within 15 working days, although in reality, it is likely to be much longer. If this is the case, they should tell you and agree a new timescale.


What can I do if I’m still not happy with the response from the CMS?

There are further steps you can take to resolve your complaint. This includes:

  • Complaining to the Complaints Resolution Team – their details will be on any correspondence you have received from the CMS
  • Ask the CMS for a review – if the Complaints Resolution Team does not provide the resolution you are seeking, you can ask them for a review. This review will look at how the complaint was dealt with and what else could be done. Contact details will be in the letter from the Complaints Resolution Team.
  • Contacting your MP – you may get a quicker response from the CMS if you go via your MP. They can:
  • Advise you as to whether you can take the complaint further
  • Try to get the law changed
  • Refer your complaint to the ombudsman
  • Help with a decision you can’t appeal against

MPs can also help progress a case if the CMS are not replying to your letters or taking too long to take action. They could get enforcement action started if you are owed child maintenance, or a deduction from earnings order reduced if you are being asked to pay too much and it is causing you hardship.

  • Contacting the Independent Case Examiner – if you have received a final decision letter from the CMS, then it will tell you that you can take your complaint to the Independent Case Examiner (ICE). The ICE is not part of the CMS. You must make your complaint to the ICE within 6 months of receiving notification of the CMSs final decision. You will need to send a copy of the decision alongside your complaint to the ICE.
  • Contacting the ombudsman – this is an independent person who looks at complaints about organisations. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman deals with complaints about the CMS. However, you cannot contact them directly, as this must be done via a referral from your MP.
  • Going to court – if you cannot resolve your complaint in any other way, you could consider going to court, especially if your right to a private and family life has been affected. You should be aware that this is likely to be costly and time consuming, and you will probably have to pay court fees, unless you are eligible for a fee exemption. LINK
  • Challenging a decision through judicial review – you can ask the court for a judicial review of a CMS decision if the CMS did something they don’t have the power to do, they disregarded something that was relevant, took into account something irrelevant, or didn’t follow their own procedure.

What compensation can I get from the CMS?

You may be able to receive compensation if:

  • You have paid for things like telephone costs or bank charges
  • The CMS has taken too long to deal with your case, such as failing to reply to letters
  • The CMS has caused you severe distress, embarrassment, or inconvenience
  • You have lost out financially because of delay by the CMS in getting child maintenance

You will have to show any evidence for financial loss, additional telephone costs or bank charges. This could include providing an itemised bill or bank statement, for example. If you wish to claim compensation, then you should tell the CMS at the outset when making your complaint.

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