UK – Up to £300m of child maintenance debts to be written off

A father had £108,000 forcibly taken from his bank in a record child support payment seizure.
Maria Miller, the minister responsible for child maintenance. Photo: REX

More than £300million worth of historic child maintenance debts is to be written off, in a new move by ministers.

Some absent fathers will be allowed to pay back a fraction of the money they owe to the failed Child Support Agency, and then see their cases closed, in order to get them off the books.

In other cases where there is no hope of the cash being paid, such as where parents have died or the Government had sent unrealistic bills, debts will simply be erased.

It is expected that in total about 10 per cent will be wiped off the £3.8billion arrears currently on the books of the CSA’s successor, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission.

In a separate move, a loophole will be closed that means absent parents are not charged child maintenance on income from part-time jobs such as serving in the Territorial Army or as a local councillor.

It comes after plans were announced to target separated parents who lie about their income or fail to contribute to their children’s upbringing, by looking at their tax codes or cutting their benefits.

Maria Miller, the Pensions Minister, said in a statement this week: “The Government are committed to tackling the legacy of £3.8 billion in child maintenance arrears owed by non-resident parents. They are determined to pursue every penny which can be collected, and the Child Support Agency is pursuing a range of initiatives and deploying its enforcement powers more effectively to pursue those parents who refuse to pay.

“We have, however, to be mindful of the fact that not all of the arrears that are owed can realistically be collected; and indeed, not all arrears are actually wanted by the relevant parents with care.

“I am therefore today publishing a consultation document on commencing powers contained within the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 to write off arrears of child maintenance in certain, limited circumstances and to accept a part payment of child maintenance in full and final satisfaction of the total amount due.”

The Child Support Agency was set up by the last Conservative government in the early 1990s as a way to ensure that the growing number of children brought up by single parents did not suffer financially.

But it struggled to calculate how much money it should claim from absent parents and officers were plagued by problems with its computer systems, meaning that much of the maintenance cash went uncollected.

A new agency, CMEC, was set up in 2008 with a new approach to give Britain’s estimated 2.5million separate couples more choice about how to make financial arrangements.

It wants parents to agree to maintenance between themselves, while also threatening tougher penalties to those who do not pay their way.

But all of the money unpaid during the CSA’s troubled history remains on its successor’s books, so ministers have drafted new regulations that will allow them to write off some bad debts.

This would likely take place where the parent looking after the children has died, or has agreed they no longer need the money, or where the absent parent was given an estimate of how much they might have to pay in the early days of the CSA.

The regulations, now out for consultation, would also allow some absent parents to settle their accounts with part-payments if they are unlikely ever to have enough money to pay all that they owe.

At the same time, an unusual exemption from maintenance liability for part-time public servants, such as reservists and lifeboat personnel, will be scrapped.


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