As if single parents don't have enough on their plates, from today a new system of child maintenance will come into force – and children will suffer because of it, a charity has warned.
The Government has already introduced a £20 application fee for parents who need to use the new Child Maintenance Serves (CMS), which replaced the Child Support Agency (CSA).
But from today, ongoing charges will come into force for both parents who can't reach agreement with each other and therefore need to use the new system's collection service.
According to single parents' charity Gingerbread, on average the collection charges will see affected single parent families losing more than £70 a year, equivalent to a term of school dinners.
Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir said: "The Government's new charges will take money from children.
The charges are designed to act as a disincentive for parents to use the CMS as a means of transferring maintenance payments between them.
By making their own private arrangements instead, non-resident parents would avoid paying an extra 20 per cent charge on top; and the parents caring for the children would escape a 4 per cent deduction charge on the maintenance they would otherwise receive.
Parents can leave the collection service if the paying parent pays on time for a minimum period, and either parent requests to move to direct payments instead.
Only around half (52 per cent) of separated families have a child maintenance agreement in place and Gingerbread is concerned that the charges and impending case closure could mean even fewer children get the financial support they need.
The Government's own impact assessment predicts that 100,000 families will stop getting maintenance as a result of the changes.
Fiona Weir added: "It's really important that parents don't let the charges put them off getting a child maintenance arrangement in place.
"Lots of parents can and do sort out maintenance between them, but it's not always possible, and single parents shouldn't be put off asking for help when they need it."
Janet Allbeson, a social policy expert based at Gingerbread, said many parents were 'worried about charging, about having to start all over again'.
But despite this aspect, some elements in the new scheme have been welcomed.
For example, free online accounts – rather like online bank accounts – began to be set up for parents in the last few days. They show amounts due, payments made and other basic information.
• Gingerbread's website has the very latest on the changes to child maintenance. www.gingerbread.org.uk