What to do if you feel the assessment is wrong?
If you receive an assessment and you believe it is too much then the first thing to do is to pause and look at it carefully. Under the old system the CSA will not only assess you but also your ex, do you think she works and has an income? Remember that under the old CSA system the entirety of the cost of the child is placed upon the father where the mother does not work, if your ex is working and the CSA has not recorded any income then you could be paying too much maintenance. Look at your own income, have the CSA worked it out correctly? What about your housing costs, the CSA express that as a weekly figure, not a problem for a lot of people who are renting but if you are buying you are going to need to convert your mortgage into a monthly figure and then reduce it down to a weekly one. Have the CSA made the allowances for you they should have done? You should be able to obtain allowances if you have long distances to travel to work (and I do mean long distances, you will need to be doing over 30 miles each day before the CSA even remotely considers reducing the assessment, nonetheless if you do have high travel to work costs you may be able to claim for this). Do you have any children living with you and if so have the CSA applied any allowances.
Old system maintenance assessments are by their very nature quite complicated but if you feel your assessment is wrong then it probably is. Do not forget however that the CSA assessments can come up with some amazing changes, on more than one occasion clients have walked into these offices explaining that they issued an appeal, went to a Tribunal, won, only to find that their maintenance increased. These clients then come and see me to try and undo what they have done in the first place. The main point to make here is that appealing is not a one way bet, if correction of errors in child support assessment results in the maintenance increase then that is what will happen. This should always be borne in mind. If you are considering appealing you should obtain advice first and call us on 03456 588683.
If you are on the new system then your maintenance assessment is somewhat simpler but the Agency can still make mistakes, they still have to correctly determine the gross pay, Tax, NI, pension, the children that live with you, the children you have to maintain and the amount of shared care. There are plenty of opportunities for error. This is again one of those areas where if your think your child support assessment is incorrect it probably is. The most important thing on new law assessments is to look at the income figure very carefully, check it carefully against your own payslips, is it correct?
Both new law and old law the position concerning directors and the self-employed is prone to problems, not only with CSA inaccuracy with also with regard to departures and variations (where the mother attempts to obtain an increase in the maintenance). This is discussed in more detail on the section concerning defences.
If your entire maintenance assessment appears to be factually correct but you believe that you should be paying a lower amount then you can apply for either a departure (old law) or variation (new law).
Applying for a departure to a maintenance calculation (Old style CSA - prior to 3rd March 2003
Either parent can make an application to the CSA for what is called a “departure”. There are many different grounds for departures although as a non-resident parent the ones you need to look at are as follows:-
1. Travel to work costs. Whilst the CSA may allow a minor travel to work cost in the main calculation this is not usually reflective of the true travel costs. You can apply however for your true travel costs to be taken into account and the CSA will then have a look at the car you have, the cost of the petrol (not an associated expenditure such as MOT, depreciated, Road Tax, etc) and any associated out of pocket expenses - for instance we have one client who has to cross the Severn Bridge every day to get to and from work. With his pay at only £200.00 per week the cost of the tolls is a considerable drain on his finances. Another client commutes from Birmingham to London every day, his daily train fare cost is eye watering. It is not as even he is that well paid!
2. Contact costs. If regular contact is taking place you can apply for a departure to compensate for the costs of travel. This can consist of the cost of bus and train fares, air fares, petrol and taxi fares together with any road or bridge tolls.
3. Illness or disability. If you or your wife/partner or any child living with you suffers with an illness or disability it is possible to apply for a departure in respect of the costs associated with that disability.
4. Debts. If you have been left saddled with debts as a result of the relationship with the parent with care you can apply for a departure on this ground as well.
5. Pre-1993 Court Orders. This is very specialised and in reality hardly used now but if you were subject to a Court Order made before the 5th April 1993 and you were ordered to pay certain regular sums via the Court, for instance discharging the mortgage on the old house, paying the Council Tax or Car Tax and these really are only isolated examples (there are countless connotations of this) then a departure can be obtained in respect of those costs.
6. Costs of supporting “stepchildren”. Again this is another where the arrangements have to have been in place prior to 5th April 1993 but if you have a partner and she has children and they are all linked to with you before 1993 a departure can be applied for in respect of the costs of supporting these children.
7. Pre-1993 capital on property transfers. This is a very specialised area but if you think this affects you please telephone us on 03456 588683.
There are many terms and conditions including minimum thresholds in relation to these grounds but if any of the grounds are granted the CSA will take into account the grounds adding up the total amount of money and then deducting it from your net income. This means in effect that this money is put to one side and ignored for the purposes of the calculation. It does mean that if say the total of your travel to work costs are £40.00 per week that £40.00 per week is taken off your maintenance assessment.
Before making any departure it is always important to take advice, the result of making a departure could be that your ex who has not previously thought of making a departure could make one themselves. You could find that the benefit of making the departure application yourself could be swallowed and totally lost by a counter application being made by your ex. The fact is that departures can grant real help to some non-resident parents but to others they can be a poison chalice. These applications have to be handled carefully.
If you decide to make a departure application you will need to ask the CSA for the relevant form. This will then be sent through and you complete and return it to the CSA. The CSA then send the form with all the comments to the parent with care who has the opportunity to put forward her side of the story, this is called the resolution phase. If she does not respond then the CSA will consider the documentation purely on the basis of what you file if she does respond the CSA will consider all the information received and make a decision whether to depart or not.
It is possible for the CSA to make a decision on some parts of your application and to refuse the balance. Any departure decision (or any refusal to make a departure decision) can be appealed by either parent to a Tribunal and we have a very long record at this company of successfully appealing against CSA departure decisions and successfully obtaining the order required an appeal to a Tribunal. If you want to make a departure application or if you have had a departure application refused, or if you believe that a departure decision you have received does not actually reflect your circumstances then please call us on 03456 588683.
Applying for a variation to a maintenance calcuation (New style CSA - after 3rd March 2003)
Although the new system is a “one size fits all” equation you may not be happy with the calculation produced. You can apply for a variation so the figures are looked at differently. Variations can be applied for on many grounds but as a non-resident parent you would be looking at:-
1. Contact costs. Where there is a regular contact set-up with one of the children for whom you are paying child support and there is no shared care award it is possible to apply for a variation for contact. Allowable contact costs include travel tickets, fuel, taxi fares/car hire/tolls and fees and the cost of overnight stays where it is unreasonable to expect you to return home.
2. If you have a child living with you who is ill or disabled whether yours or a “stepchild” you can apply for a variation in respect of the illness expenses specifically incurred as a result of the condition.
3. If you have prior debts incurred whilst you and the parent with care were living together as a couple which was incurred for the joint benefit between the two of you or in respect of any child that was living with you at the time and you have been saddled paying with the debt then a variation can be granted. It is very important to realise you have to have been lumbered with the debt against your will. If there is a Court Order or financial settlement which ordered you to pay the debt then you would not be able to apply under these grounds.
4. Boarding school fees. If you pay the fees for boarding school then that element of the boarding school fees that covers boarding (as opposed to tuition) can be taken into account as a variation. Where it is not possible to distinguish between tuition and boarding fees the presumption is made that 35% of boarding school fees are represented by boarding.
5. If you are paying off a mortgage, secured loan or endowment policy on property for which the parent with care and the qualifying children still live and you not legally liable for the payments and have no legal interest in the property then you can apply for a variation on this ground. Very importantly here, you would still qualify for a variation on this ground even if you are making the payments as part of a Court Order.
Once it is decided that you qualify for a variation the thresholds then have to be applied and the combination of all of the figures are then deducted from your net income. Your child support is then recalculated.
Finally it is possible to make an application for a variation on the basis of property or capital transfers made before April 1993. This is an extremely complicated ground but if you reached a financial settlement with your ex which resulted in her receiving a capital transfer of either property or money before the 5th April 1993 this ground can make a very large difference to the amount of child support payable. It is highly algebraic in its calculation and anybody wishing to consider making such an application would be well advised to call us on 03456 588683.