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Child Maintenance Arrears over £3,761 million

July 18th, 2010

Single parent charity Gingerbread recently published a nationwide league table of child maintenance debt showing a child maintenance ‘debt mountain’ of £3,761 million owed to children by non-resident parents, mostly fathers, across the country. Gingerbread’s Chief Executive Fiona Weir urged the ‘Child Support Agency has to do its job too in collecting debts and enforcing payment’.

The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission responded by ‘strongly cautioning’ that the quoted arrears figures do not represent money ‘owed to children’ by non-resident parents. Around 50% of the total outstanding arrears is owed back to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and not to ‘parents with care’. The press release goes on to outline the successes that the Commission is having in reducing arrears and in ‘using tough enforcement measures, including deducting money directly from bank accounts and the seizing of some 500 properties through Order for Sale action’.

This huge amount branded about by the charity is a culmination of the Child Support Agency's 17 years of operation with nothing written off and that half of the total represents income related benefits paid to parents with care. It is expected that a substantial element of the arrears which are likely to be adjusted significantly downwards when the estimates are proved incorrect when absent partners income details are provided.

It is very significant that these two (three??) organisations slugging it out in justifying their existence both fail to mention what is wrong in the system. What we do know is the system is broken as the mainly absent fathers try and point out to us through Father’s rights organisations. Until we socially accept The Changing Face Of Marriage and families and until we get past the strong bias to women in the system, this situation will never improve. You have to ask hard questions and forget political correctness in discussing:

  • What makes it so difficult to collect these payments?
  • Why does it get to the point that people are losing their homes ?
  • Are the high maintenance estimates made before proof of earnings encouraging the ‘ducking and diving’ avoidance?
  • Are the maintenance amounts reasonable – does it leave the absent partner enough to actually have a life?
  • Are women obviously and blatantly using the system to extort funds entitled to maintenance?
  • Are some absent parents with-holding payment due to the absence of child access rights?

And many more. Family break up is hard enough as it is and it would help for the blame game to stop and someone take the time to investigate the root causes of non-payment. We need a generally acceptable solution for the matter and until such time, we have to take the figures with a huge dose of salt.

[First published on my NotTheNews blog on specified date]