THERESA May is being urged to scrap a “cruel” child maintenance processing charge which campaigners say penalises domestic violence survivors.

The levy was introduced almost four years ago for parents who receive financial support from a former partner through a government run and enforced scheme.

But the charge means every year the parent who receives the payment, often the mother, misses out on considerable amounts of money which could have helped her children.

The levy is imposed by the UK Government’s Child Maintenance Service (CMS) for its “collect and pay” service which allows payments to be worked out and made directly from one parent’s bank account into the other without the estranged couple having to co-operate.

The service has enforcement powers to ensure maintenance is paid on time and in full.

Parents receiving the child maintenance payments who have experienced domestic violence from their ex partner do not have to pay a one off £20 application fee to register for the service, but they do have to pay ongoing weekly charges, currently four per cent of each payment made.

For example, if a mother is due to receive £100 a week from her ex partner, £4 is deducted, meaning she receives just £96 a week. This works out as an annual charge of £208.

Parents can also use the CMS’s “direct pay” service for which there is no charge. However, this scheme is not enforceable and relies on the two sides cooperating and remaining in contact to ensure payments are correct and made on time.

Such a level of communication and trust often does not exist when domestic violence has been a feature of a relationship.

It is estimated up to 30 per cent of parents receiving payments through the charging “collect and pay” scheme have experienced domestic abuse.

Angela Crawley MP, the SNP’s spokeswomen for children, women and equalities, said the levy for the service leads to domestic abuse survivors being punished financially.

“The UK Government advises victims of domestic abuse that they should use the less safe “direct-pay” scheme, which has no powers of enforcement and allows continued communication through bank transfers,” she said.

“The Tories have shown a complete lack of compassion by introducing this charge and even worse, they risk putting the lives of domestic abuse victim-survivors and their children in real danger.”

Crawley has written to Home Secretary Amber Rudd to ask her to remove the “collect and pay” charge for people who have experienced domestic abuse in the UK Government’s forthcoming Domestic Abuse and Violence Bill.

“One of the biggest barriers to personal independence is financial control – that is why it is welcome that the £20 application fee for the ‘collect and pay’ scheme is waived for survivors of domestic abuse,” Crawley said in her letter.

“However, it begs the question that if the ‘collect and pay’ scheme is the most secure way for survivors of domestic abuse to access financial support from a former partner, and therefore free to apply, why is there an ongoing monthly charge for their safety?”

Crawley told The National: “The UK Government must look again at this unfair tax and listen to the cross-party calls to scrap it – ultimately, it will be the children that child maintenance payments are intended to support who will lose out.”

Organisations which support domestic abuse survivors including Women’s Aid, Engender and One Parent Families Scotland are backing Crawley’s demand.

The UK Government introduced fees and charges for parents using the 2012 statutory Child Maintenance Scheme (CMS) in August 2014.

Unveiling the scheme it said the charges would “encourage parents to reach their own agreement through a private family-based arrangement or, if they use the CMS, to pay each other directly through “direct pay.”” A waiver is also applied to the application fee if the parent receiving the money is under 19.

The parent paying child maintenance has to pay a 20 per cent fee each time a payment is collected. People using child maintenance services earned the UK Government more than £11 million between August 2014 and March 2016, most from the collect and pay service.

There are three charges: the £20 application fee, enforcement charges for non-payment, and the charge for the “collect and pay” service. The Department for Work and Pensions said the charges make up a fraction of the running cost.

Commenting last year, Crawley said: “This is a cruel and callous tax on child support and ultimately it is the children who will lose out on money intended to support them.”