Charities critical of child support reforms

A RECORD number of Welsh children are benefiting from maintenance payments collected or arranged by the Child Support Agency, according to official figures.

But the UK Government says the figures suggest many separated parents could be supporting their children without CSA intervention.

Ministers say reforms going through Parliament will see better help and support available for parents at the time they separate, so that the CSA is no longer the default option.

Charities said those reforms would deprive youngsters relying on the money of a crucial source of income.

The Government claims that the CSA “too often drives a wedge between parents, leading to further hostility and souring of relations”.

While the agency netted over £62m across Wales in the 12 months to July, many parents are still failing to pay for their children on time.

Work and Pensions Minister Maria Miller said: “Most separated parents want to support their children without interference from the state.

“But these figures show that there is still an irresponsible hardcore trying to avoid their legal duty.

“Our reforms will help and reward parents who make collaborative, family-based arrangements and free-up the state service to chase those who do not meet their financial responsibility to their children.”

There are currently 70,920 CSA cases in Wales – and in the coming years, all parents with CSA cases will be offered help to make their own arrangements.

If they are unable to do so, they will be able to apply to what the Government says will be “a new, simpler and more efficient” child maintenance service.

Charities yesterday criticised the Government’s plans saying thousands of children would lose vital child maintenance.

Fiona Weir, chief executive of the single parents’ charity, said: “Far from being the default option for separating parents, the Government’s own experts acknowledge that the Child Support Agency is used ‘only as a last resort’.

“It is of particular concern that the Government plans to impose ongoing charges where the CSA has to step in and collect maintenance forcibly, taking away money that is owed to children.

“The Government says it wants to help separated families, but CSA charges would rip money away from families who can’t manage without it.

“ The Government must drop the charging plan to give all children a fair chance of decent support from both parents after separation.”

She was backed by Neera Sharma, Barnardo’s assistant director of policy and research, who said: “The Government’s proposed charges are unjust and risk taking money away from those children who need it most.

“Small amounts of money make a big difference to families living below the breadline. Barnardo’s is calling for the Government to abandon its proposals to charge upfront and ongoing fees to families living on low incomes.”

Earlier this month, a committee of influential MPs said that absent parents should be forced to pay child maintenance by direct deductions from their salaries or bank accounts, to stop them ducking their responsibilities.

The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee urged ministers to establish a more effective way of administering the statutory maintenance system.

That report came after controversial comments by Prime Minister David Cameron, who said that absent fathers should be “stigmatised” by society in the same way as drink- drivers.

Mr Cameron said they should be made to feel the “full force of shame” for their actions.

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