Tuesday January 5, 2016

Changes to the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP)

Authored by: Jessica D. Chapman Posted in: Family Law

In 1996, the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) was established in order to allow for a government body to assist in the enforcement of existing court orders for spousal and child support. In establishing the MEP, the onus was shifted from the individual support recipient, acting at the time in the role of a judgment creditor, to the government with respect to the collection of support payments. The Program seeks to assist people who have maintenance orders to receive support payments in full, on time, and in accordance with the Maintenance Enforcement Act and Regulations. The MEP acts as a conduit through which payments can be made and recorded by a neutral body. However, since the conception of the MEP, there have been ongoing concerns regarding client service. In 2014, a review panel, the Maintenance Enforcement Review Committee, was assembled to assess the current state of the Program and what solutions can be sought to combat these issues surrounding client service.

The Maintenance Enforcement Review Committee conducted the necessary assessments, and compiled recommendations in five main areas to assist the Program in improving client service. These five areas are as follows:

Communication and Program Information

This area focuses mainly on the importance of creating and maintaining a strong line of communication between the staff and the stakeholders involved with the Program. Communication should be clear, timely, consistent, targeted and in some cases, repeated. In addition, there needs to be an understanding by the clients, of the services offered by the Program, as well as an appreciation by the staff of the unique, and often difficult circumstances faced by the client.

The recommendations made with respect to Communication and Program Information are as follows:

  1. Material be available to the public outlining the Program mandate, the purpose of support, the roles to be held by the parties involved, and the role of the Program
  2. Creation of plain language fact sheets outlining the key policies of the Program
  3. Creation of a more user-friendly website, including a section with information for all stakeholders
  4. Providing more continuous contact with the clients regarding their file
  5. Provision of targeted information to clients to coincide with the enforcement action taken at any given time
  6. Evolution of the client confidentiality policy to allow an exploration of benefits and risks of sharing limited client information to community partners for the provision of further support to clients
  7. Referral of clients to third parties regarding opportunities for financial assistance

Enforcement

One of the major issues with the current Program is that there is confusion regarding when the Program staff will take enforcement action, as well as a lack of information on the progress of the enforcement being made on a client’s file. These concerns may be addressed through the provision of additional information about enforcement action. The recommendations made to address these concerns are:

  1. Provision of ongoing training to staff to ensure they understand the options available to clients
  2. Staff monitoring of all files to ensure that all necessary enforcement options are exercised
  3. Creation and maintenance of a running log of all enforcement actions on a file and making this log available to the client
  4. Collaboration with the Registrar of Motor Vehicles for the implementation of new protocol for refusing the renewal of licenses and permits when a payor has not paid
  5. Assignment of specific categories of cases to staff members with specific skills to ensure that they have specialized knowledge of an issue

Court Orders

A lot of concern has stemmed from the frustration regarding the inability to enforce different kinds of orders. In particular, orders involving “special expenses” or adjustment of payment amounts due to changes in income, cause significant issues for recipients. In cases of special expenses, the order is not sufficiently clear in order for the MEP to enforce the order. In the instance of a change of income, the Program does not have the authority to alter the order to reflect the change.

In order to address these frustrations, the Committee recommended the following:

  1. Ensure those working with the Program have the adequate training and knowledge respecting the form of orders that can be effectively enforced
  2. Exploration of the inclusion of additional information necessary to access federal government assistance in court orders to aid in enforcement procedures
  3. Further consideration of the issue of enforcement of special expenses at the federal, provincial and territorial level to find an adequate solution for effective enforcement

Staffing Structures and Skills Sets

In an attempt to address the concerns of staff regarding the size of caseloads and to enhance continuous learning and targeted training of employees, the Review Committee makes the following recommendations:

  1. Creation of a permanent senior management position to focus on client relations and oversee the day-to-day management of enforcement staff
  2. Reorganization of current staff and the addition of resources to be able to ensure clients are able to directly contact staff in a timely manner
  3. Participation in training in empathy skills and skills to deescalate crisis situations to supplement existing training regarding telephone crisis management
  4. Development of policy for transitioning of files between stages and staff
  5. Completion of file review to determine which files are active in order to effectively distribute them to staff

Technology

Technology is constantly developing and changing. The Maintenance Enforcement Program wishes to take advantage of new opportunities to use existing technology in order to deliver more effective client service. To do this, the Review Committee recommended:

  1. Implementation of case management software, allowing staff to efficiently generate documents to expedite the file and for the Program to more closely measure effectiveness
  2. Encouragement of the use of an online payment system through active promotion of benefits
  3. Electronic notification to payors and recipients of payments received by the Program
  4. Movement towards the completion and submission of enrolment forms online
  5. Increase awareness about the website and MEP Online
  6. Explore opportunities to expand communication with clients via email and the use of cell phones for call backs
  7. Ensure staff members have the appropriate templates and other automated technologies to minimize administrative time and to reduce the potential for error with manually created correspondence

As seen above, the recommendations, made in each of the five focus areas are aimed at increasing awareness and knowledge amongst clients, staff, and others coming into contact with the Program in order to enhance client service.

The Minister of Justice, the Honourable Diana Whalen, acknowledges the concerns leading to the formation of the Maintenance Enforcement Review Committee, in that the Program requires greater improvements in order to ensure better service to clients. In response to the report of the Review Committee, the Minister released a statement indicating the acceptance of all of the recommendations put forward by the Committee, and indicated her commitment to the improvement of the Program, saying:

“We must communicate better with clients, we must make better use of staff skills and the available technologies, and we must make better use of the enforcement tools we have at our disposal.”

The Minister also indicated the commitment going forward to reviewing the legislation and making subsequent changes to strengthen enforcement opportunities and improve the ability of clients to connect with support in their communities.

With the recommendations of the Maintenance Enforcement Review Committee, strengthened by the support of the Minister of Justice, the changes to the Maintenance Enforcement Program will work towards providing greater support and better client service to payors, recipients, and other stakeholders. Connect with a member of our team today to schedule your free half hour consultation. To contact a member of our Family Law team call us at 902-469-9500 or 1-866-339-3400.

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