On my local radio station's 7am news bulletin this morning, there was a story I had known was coming for a while. I knew it was coming, but I must admit to having had my head somewhat in the sand about it.
This morning, letters have been sent to single parents all over the country telling them of the new CSA arrangements.
The new CSA arrangements are that single parents must come to a maintenance agreement with their child's absent parent "amicably" or face a charge.
The charge will be applied to both parents: the person paying the maintenance will have a 20% charge added to their payment, and the person receiving the payment pays 4% of it.
This puts me in a tricky position. There are essentially three options open to me:
1. Speak to S's father and make an "amicable" arrangement with the man who told everyone he intended to take my child from me at the first available opportunity. The man who was too busy sleeping with other people to visit me us for more than a few hours a day while we were in hospital after S was born. The man who... well, you all know the story by now; it's not pretty.
2. Carry on using the CSA (now changing to the Child Maintenance Service because changing its name will apparently make us all forget their singular ineptitude). Since I receive only £20 per month from S's father, a 4% charge would see me paying only 80p per month. He would pay £2 above what he's already so graciously paying.
3. Drop the whole thing; walk away, and accept that even if he wins the Lotto tomorrow, S will not see a penny.
If my health visitor were here, she would tell me that Option 3 is not an option; that once you create a child you are responsible for it, whether you see it or not, and that is that. She would tell me that I should pay the charge just to ensure he still has to pay for the child he created.
I have not spoken to S's father for over a year now. It took a few months of his still emailing me random abuse, and last year he turned up drunk on our door step, but for now at least, things are quiet. (That doesn't mean I've let my guard down; I'm not stupid, and I know this person plays the long game. He's waiting for me to let my guard down, and he will be sorely disappointed to find it's not going to happen.) Why on Earth would I do the equivalent of kicking a wasp's nest, by contacting him again, for any reason? The reason I went to the CSA in the first place was that he was prevaricating on the agreement of maintenance, and calling or texting to ask for my bank details one more time, to check when he was supposed to pay, to argue the toss over how much he should pay. My health visitor pointed out to me that having a personal agreement with him allowed him the excuse he so badly wanted to keep harassing us. When I went to the CSA, and he found out, he punished us by refusing to pay any maintenance at all until they had set up their arrangement - something that took the usual government agency length of time.
With this in mind, it is obvious that contacting this person, for any reason, is simply not an option for us.
Which leaves us with Option 2: hand over 4% of my paltry £20 per month (last Summer it went down to just £8 per month) to pay for a service that takes his word for how much he earns, and doesn't perform even the most basic of checks to confirm he's not lying through his teeth about his financial situation.
By all means, charge an absent parent who has had to be chased down for payment by a government agency. To charge a lone parent who is already struggling for money seems to me draconian and unreasonable. It's as if the government is saying, "well, you shouldn't have become a lone parent in the first place!" A further punishment, on top of everything we already have levelled at us, for being lone parents.
Another point I'd like to make here is that the CSA are well known for being a bit rubbish. They don't chase down absent parents who owe money, sometimes for years. Payments can be late, or even nonexistent, and nothing is done unless the person waiting for payment calls up. Over Christmas, we went three months without money because, for the sake of £20 a month, it wasn't worth me calling an 0845 number to chase if if there wasn't a significant amount of money missing.
If they are going to charge for their service, I sincerely hope they will start providing a service worth charging for. A service where, if you're entitled to a maintenance payment, you get it or they chase the person to the ends of the Earth to get it.
I won't be holding my breath on that one.