Child maintenance and single parents on benefit

This study provides the first evidence on the maintenance situations of single parents on benefit since the requirement to use the Child Support Agency (CSA) was removed and the policy of reducing benefits in line with the level of maintenance received was abolished (in 2008 and 2010 respectively).

Researchers compared data collected from a 2012 telephone survey of 760 single parents on benefits and 40 in depth interviews with data from the 2007 Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Survey of Relationship Breakdown

  • Two thirds (64%) of single parents on out-of-work benefits do not receive any child maintenance from their child’s other parent, although the proportion that do increased from one quarter (24%) to one third (36%) between 2007 and 2012

  • Prior to 2008, single parents on benefit who received more than £10 a week in maintenance were subject to a pound for pound deduction in their benefits. This policy was abolished in 2010, and in 2012 the average amount received was £23 a week.

  • For one in five (19%) parents on benefit who receive maintenance, this income has lifted them and their children out of poverty.

  • However, one in four (25%) of those who do receive payments do not receive the full amount agreed on a regular basis.

  • The proportion of single parents on benefit who arrange payments privately has increased since the requirement to use the Child Support Agency (CSA) was lifted in 2008 (from 4% to 20%). However, over a third (37%) of single parents on benefit still use the CSA to arrange payments. Just under half (43%) of all single parents on benefit have no arrangement in place.

  • Private arrangements for paying maintenance are difficult to sustain over time: although four in ten (40 per cent) single parents on benefit had or had tried to have a private arrangement at some point, half had since moved to having a CSA arrangement or now had no arrangement at all.

The researchers recommend that these findings are considered by the government in its redesign of the child maintenance system. The government’s aim is to support greater numbers of separated parents to make their own private maintenance arrangements, and plans include the introduction of charging for parents who use the statutory new Child Maintenance Service (which will replace the CSA) to collect their maintenance.

However, the researchers conclude that the introduction of the new system carries a risk that some of the most vulnerable parents will become poorer, either because they have to pay the fees to use the new statutory system, or because they give up on child maintenance altogether. 

Project details



Amy Skipp, Gingerbread

Bryson Purdon Social Research

Grant amount and duration


January 2011-December 2012


Kids aren’t free; the child maintenance arrangements of single parents on benefits in 2012 by Caroline Bryson, Amy Skipp, Janet Allbeson, Eloise Poole, Eleanor Ireland, and Vicky Marsh 

Download Kids aren't free briefing paper (PDF)

Download Kids aren't free full report (PDF)