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Child maintenance arrears: tougher sanctions to offer a ray of hope for out-of-pocket single parents?

Stephen Hunt - Law on the Web

  1. 14 April 2015
  2. Family
  3. 0 comments
Money in a jar

It was recently revealed that the UK had a national child maintenance debt of £3.9bn, £2.9bn of which was described by the Department for Work and Pensions as “uncollectable”.

This clearly suggests a problem with the collection of maintenance from absent parents.

The troubles of the CSA

The Child Support Agency, which was set up to calculate child maintenance and ensure that it was paid, has had its fair share of problems since its inception in 1993,  and in 2012 the Child Maintenance Service was introduced to take over the handling of new child maintenance cases.

The Child Maintenance Service brought in enforcement charges for non-payment in 2014, but does not consider dealing with the historic debts from the CSA days – owed to around 1.3m single parents – a priority.

The minister responsible for child maintenance, Steve Webb, said that these historic debts should be paid, but that cases where a child was still being brought up should be prioritised.

He said: "We are quite clear that just because money has been owed for a long time it does not mean it should be forgotten about. It should be paid.

"Of course everything cannot be a priority. We have been quite transparent… and we have made it clear that where there is a child still at school or being brought up - that is the first priority.

"But we are not writing off or ignoring old debt."

Plans for tougher sanctions from the Child Maintenance Service

Between April 2013 and March 2014, over 12,000 liability orders, whereby a parent is fined £300 for non-payment, were granted by the Child Maintenance Service, demonstrating that non-payment is still a problem under the new system.

For parents who have not been receiving the maintenance they are due under the Child Maintenance Service, there is hope in the shape of concrete plans from the government to impose even tougher sanctions, whereby a non-paying parent could be turned down for credit such as credit cards, mortgages and mobile phone contracts due to not paying child maintenance, in the same way as other debts.

Under the plans the Child Maintenance Service and the CSA (which still deals with older cases) will be able to share information on parents’ payment records with credit reference agencies, who will be able to use the information to decide whether to grant or deny credit, although this will only be permitted once a liability order has been issued.

Ministers say the measures will deal with a “hard core of non-resident parents” that refuse to pay child maintenance.

This threat should work as a significant deterrent and go a long way to eradicating the non-payment of child maintenance. The process of closing all CSA cases has already begun, and the DWP says that parents who received no child maintenance under the old system could have more luck once their case is closed – the DWP is writing to these parents to inform them of when their case is due to close and advising them on which steps to take.

To find out more about child maintenance, please see the free information in our Family Law section.

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