Largest ever CSA arrears case win – yet six months on, mum yet to receive any payment
Stephen Lawson, leading national child maintenance expert and Head of Litigation at Warrington legal firm FDR Law, has secured the biggest ever arrears case of over £190,000 for a single mother-of-three.
Hardworking single parent, Debbie, a team leader for a Drug & Alcohol Recovery Service married Jimmy in 1995 and they divorced four years later, shortly after which she contacted the CSA. Her former husband drifted out of work and she failed to receive any substantial child maintenance. After struggling to bring up her children alone, in 2005 she tried to secure proper maintenance for herself through the CSA after informing them that Jimmy was now working on oil rigs but they argued that because his employers were based abroad, they were powerless to obtain any information about his income.
Several changes in UK law and CSA procedure have resulted in Lawson taking cases to the Court of Appeal over the past few years. In 2011, he won a £35,600 landmark legal battle after another single mother was wrongly advised that her former partner did not have to pay maintenance since he worked in Afghanistan.
Says Stephen Lawson, “In 2014, the CSA concluded that because my client Debbie’s ex-husband had paid some sporadic maintenance at the low interim rate, he had actually overpaid, meaning she had to pay over £3,000 back. By the time she came to see me for advice, she was desperately worried.”
Stephen Lawson advised her to appeal the decision and as a result of the new assessments prepared by the CSA this resulted in arrears of over £190,000.00 – believed to be the biggest ever arrears case. Yet despite the CSA appeal hearing, which took place in February 2015, the CSA still hasn’t recovered any money from the client’s ex-husband.
Says Stephen Lawson, ‘A complaint was made on my client Debbie’s behalf to the CSA. They rejected the complaints on the 7 July 2015, repeating the “wrong” advice that they say they received from their policy team that they could not take foreign earnings into account. However the CSA have known that their interpretation of the law was wrong since at least 2011 when we took another such case to an Upper Tribunal. In that case the First Tier Tribunal Judge ruled that the fact that the father had not paid maintenance was entirely the fault of the CSA – who had told him not to pay.”
The CSA said in their letter of response to the client that they did not consider that any of the arrears were accrued as a result of agency maladministration – an allegation that is vigorously rejected by Lawson.
“As long ago as 2005 the CSA could, and should, have found out his earnings, imposed a proper assessment and enforced it when her ex-husband did not pay. Although he has over £40,000.00 equity in his house the CSA have concluded that it would not be appropriate for them to issue an application to force the sale of her ex-husband’s property because this equity is “insufficient,” commented Lawson.
Despite FDR Law’s client going all the way through the CSA complaints procedure, her complaint was rejected. It is now being considered by an Independent Case Examiner (ICE).
Says Stephen Lawson, “Since its conception 21 years ago, The Child Support Agency (CSA) has been dogged with problems and it would appear that it’s still a long way from fulfilling its obligations. Hundreds of thousands of parents are putting their trust in the CSA and when the outcome isn’t favourable, are left not knowing where else to turn. However expert help is available.”