Update on the Treatment of Child Maintenance Payments in Assessing Social Welfare Entitlement

In November 2022, the Government announced that child maintenance payments would no longer be included when calculating means and assessing eligibility for social welfare payments. This decision was made following the publication of recommendations made by the Child Maintenance Review Group, established by Government. The change means that many people parenting alone on reduced rates of social welfare payment due to means testing of child maintenance will see their payment increase. It also means that more lone parents may qualify for a social welfare payment.

Seeking Maintenance and the Liable Relative Provision

The review group recommended the removal of ‘proof of efforts to seek maintenance’ (which is a requirement for the One-Parent Family Payment and Jobseeker’s Transitional Payment). The removal of the liable relative provision, which allowed the Department to recoup money from the non-resident parent, was also recommended. Both of those recommendations will be implemented by changes to the law announced by the Department of Social Protection in August 2023 here and our understanding is that this change has been implemented in practice since December 2022.

Exclusion of Child Maintenance Payments from Means Testing

The recommendation to exclude child maintenance from the calculation of means for all social welfare payments is still pending as the law to fully implement this has not yet been changed, as of 13 September 2023. Primary legislation as well as statutory instruments, operational guidelines and application forms will also need to be changed. One Family have been advised by the Department of Social Protection that these changes are in process, and that they hope to have an update on the implementation date soon although no specific timeline was offered.

Once the legislation is changed, the exclusion of child maintenance from means testing will apply to both new social welfare applicants and people who already receive social welfare payments. Child maintenance will then no longer be assessed as means or income for the purposes of any Department of Social Protection social assistance scheme or means tested payment including One-Parent Family Payment, Jobseeker’s Transitional Payment, Carer’s payments, Rent Supplement, Disability Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance etc.

Obligation to Support Children

The removal of child maintenance from the calculation of social welfare payments does not in any way reduce a parent’s obligations to support their children. It is still the primary responsibility of both parents to maintain and support their children. It is hoped that these changes will improve the situation of children where their main carer is dependent on a social welfare payment, particularly in the context of increased cost of living expenses.

Below are frequently asked questions on our Helpline that you may find helpful:

Put simply, child maintenance is money paid to the parent the children live with most of the time, by the other parent, to pay towards the cost of caring for them. A parent is required to maintain a dependent child. A dependent child for maintenance purposes:

  • Is under 18 years old or
  • Is over 18 and under 23 years old but is still in full-time education or
  • Someone who has a mental or physical disability and where it is not reasonably possible for the child to maintain her/himself fully. In this case the duty to financially maintain that child continues indefinitely.

In Irish law, both parents are obliged to provide for their dependent children according to their circumstances – whether they were married or not.

Currently child maintenance is included in calculating a person’s ‘means’ which decides the amount of payment they receive weekly. Some maintenance is ‘disregarded’ if the person pays rent or mortgage. This announced change means that once the legislation has been changed, child maintenance will not be included in calculating a person’s ‘means’ and it won’t impact the amount of weekly payment they receive.

No, only child maintenance paid for the benefit of a child will be excluded. You must still declare spousal maintenance and it will be included in means testing as normal.

If you are on a reduced payment because child maintenance is included in your ‘means’ as income, then, once it is removed, and provided all other circumstances remain the same, your weekly social welfare payment should increase.

After the legislation changes, a review will only result in an increase in your payment depending on how much child maintenance you receive and whether you are currently using a housing disregard to minimise how much maintenance was included in the initial means test. For example, if you receive and declared weekly child maintenance of €80 per week but you also have housing costs over €95 per week, then your payment may not have been reduced due to child maintenance and a review will not result in an increase. If you are not sure, then it is better to request a review of your means after the legislation has been changed.

We do not have a date for the change in the law which allows the Department of Social Protection to exclude child maintenance in the calculation of means. Once the change is made, the Department will then review all payments where maintenance was included in the means test but individuals can also request a review of their claim once the legislation has been changed. It is our understanding that any increase in your payment would be backdated to the date the law changed. Any child maintenance declared to the Department will continue to be assessed in the means test until the legislation changes but if you don’t declare child maintenance then you will not be asked to pursue the other parent in relation to this.

The Department is not requiring people who make a new application for One-Parent Family Payment or Jobseeker’s Transitional Payment to show evidence of having looked for maintenance from the other parent. They are no longer initiating follow up on ‘liable relatives’ (usually the non-resident parent) to recoup money they have paid out. If you are making a new claim, you are not required to provide details of having sought child maintenance from the other parent.

If you are making a new claim and you provide details of any child maintenance you receive it will be included in the means test until the legislation has been changed. However, you will not be asked to pursue maintenance payments from the other parent if no maintenance is declared on the application form. You must declare any spousal maintenance as this will continue to be included in means testing.

We do not have a date for the change in the law which allows the Department of Social Protection to exclude child maintenance in the calculation of means. Once the change is made, it is our understanding that any increase in your payment would be backdated to the date the law changed. The Department will then review all payments where maintenance was included in the means test but individuals can also request a review of their claim once the legislation has been changed. Any child maintenance declared to the Department will continue to be assessed in the means test until the legislation changes but if you don’t declare child maintenance then you will not be asked to pursue the other parent in relation to this.

We do not have a date for the change in the law which allows the Department of Social Protection to exclude child maintenance in the calculation of means. Once the change is made, the Department will then review all payments where maintenance was included in the means test but individuals can also request a review of their claim once the legislation has been changed. It is our understanding that any increase in your payment would be backdated to the date the law changed. Any child maintenance declared to the Department will continue to be assessed in the means test until the legislation changes but if you don’t declare child maintenance then you will not be asked to pursue the other parent in relation to this.

If there is a court order which requires you to pay child maintenance, you must continue to pay. If you do not, you are in breach of a court order which is an offence. Parents are responsible for the support and maintenance of their children, and this is not linked to whether the other parent is on a social welfare payment.

In Irish law, both parents are responsible for the support and maintenance of their children. This change does not change those obligations. It is hoped that it will improve the situation for children, not disimprove it.

The decision to remove child maintenance from the assessment of means applies to all social welfare payments and not just One-Parent Family Payment or Jobseeker’s Transitional Payment. If you are in receipt of Disability Allowance, Carer’s Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Working Family Payment etc. and your payment has been reduced because you receive child maintenance then you can request a review of your payment as explained above, once the legislation has been changed.

Yes, these changes will apply to you. Child maintenance will no longer be assessed as means or income for the purposes of any Department of Social Protection Social Assistance scheme or means tested payment, which includes Rent Supplement. If your Rent Supplement payment has been reduced because you receive child maintenance then you can request a review of your payment as explained above, once the legislation has been changed.

We suggest that you contact your local office with the information contained here and ask for a review of any decisions being made, once the legislation has been changed. You can also contact the askonefamily helpline on 01 6629212 or 0818 662212 and we would be happy to help. You can also email us at helpline@onefamily.ie.