CAFCASS CYMRU Advisory Committee

Gwenda Thomas, Deputy Minister for Social Services, announced on 9 March 2010, her decisions following a review of the role of the CAFCASS CYMRU Advisory Committee. The Committee will continue in its existing role of providing advice and support to the Chief Executive and Senior Managers of CAFCASS CYMRU. Some amendments will be made to the membership of the Committee.

Accepted the conclusions of the report, and based on those conclusions, agreed to the following six recommendations:

a)  the terms of reference of the CAFCASS CYMRU Advisory Committee be continued

b)  the role of the Committee in advising and assisting the Chief Executive be unchanged

c)  the development of information to the Advisory Committee be continued by the Chief Executive

d)  the relationship of the Committee to Welsh Ministers should not be changed, in that the Chair of the Committee can directly contact the Deputy Minister in very exceptional circumstances

e)  the membership of the Advisory Committee should be changed to that set out in the attached document

f)  agreed to the draft letter to be sent to the Chair of the HWLG Committee as follow up to the recommendations of the Committee inquiry into the working of CAFCASS CYMRU

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Re-appointment of Chair of CAFCASS CYMRU Advisory Committee

This submission seeks the consideration of the Deputy Minister Health and Social Services to the re-appointment of the Chair of CAFCASS CYMRU Advisory Committee for a further two years.

The first Chair of the CAFCASS CYMRU Advisory Committee, Ms Catriona Williams (Chief Executive of Children in Wales) was appointed from January 2007.

The arrangements for appointment of a Chair from within the membership of the Committee were agreed in 2006.  The appointment was made by the Minister for Social Justice and Regeneration.  The appointment was for an initial period of three years, renewable subject to satisfactory review up to a maximum of 6 years.  The Chair, as with other members of the Committee, are not remunerated but are reimbursed travel, subsistence and childcare expenses incurred in attending meetings.  The Committee meets 4 times per year.

Although appointments to the CAFCASS CYMRU Advisory Committee do not come within the remit of the Commissioner for Public Appointments this re-appointment is being made using a process which takes into account the Commissioner’s Code of Practice as best practice.

The Government of Wales Act 2006 section 71 provides power for Welsh Ministers to do anything which is calculated to facilitate or is conducive or incidental to, the exercise of any of their other functions.

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New powers to stop parents dodging maintenance arrears

The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission has begun using tough new powers to halt or reverse the sale and transfer of assets by parents attempting to dodge financial responsibility for their children.

In the first case of its kind, a father in the northwest of England has been prevented from selling a house he was advertising on a popular property website. The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, owes over £78,000 in unpaid maintenance. He has paid nothing to his former partner for almost twelve years while failing to respond to letters or phone calls from the Child Support Agency- now part of the Commission.

The Commission applied for a ‘freezing order’ after the man put his house on the market, raising fears he would try to put the proceeds beyond the Agency’s reach. The particulars of sale for the four-bedroom property boasted of numerous costly improvements, including a luxury fitted kitchen and home cinema. It noted there was “no chain” to hold up a quick sale.

In the first case to be brought under powers introduced by the latest child maintenance legislation, the High Court has now imposed an order preventing the sale. The reforms also allow the courts to reverse the sale or transfer of property by parents who have unpaid maintenance arrears. These ‘setting aside’ orders are designed to stop parents putting valuable assets in the names of new partners and relatives in order to evade both the CSA and their duty to provide for their children.

This case sends a clear message to all parents who have run up substantial maintenance arrears,

said Dame Janet Paraskeva, Chair of the Child Maintenance Commission.

Step-by-step the Commission is closing the escape routes for parents who think they can cheat their children out of money from which they are entitled to benefit. No longer can houses, cars and other valuable assets be sold off quickly to prevent the CSA taking possession of them. Those who cynically transfer the legal ownership of property into the names of their new partners risk having those transactions reversed.

James Pirrie, Chair of the Child Maintenance Committee of Resolution, the family lawyers’ association, welcomed the new measures. Although not involved in this case, Resolution has long campaigned for a more effective child maintenance system.

Our 5500 members are committed to putting children first in any financial settlement when parents part, so when the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill was before parliament we worked hard with MPs to ensure that the Bill had powers to deal effectively with those who sought to evade their financial commitments to their children.

The sooner people realise that payment of their child maintenance obligations is non-negotiable the better. Everyone can then focus on making sure that the calculation of how much has to be paid is accurate and appropriate, said James Pirrie.

The arrival of these orders is part of a stepped-up enforcement effort that has seen the Commission commence Order for Sale proceedings against almost 500 properties around Britain. These actions are proving particularly effective at persuading indebted parents to settle their arrears. Well over £2 million in arrears has been recovered so far but fewer than 15 properties have had to be taken into possession and sold off.

Lump Sum Deduction Orders forcing banks to hand over money held in the accounts of indebted parents have also been introduced. More than 400 orders have been imposed with sums of up to £40,000 being deducted in some cases.

Freezing Injunction?

What is a Freezing Injunction?

A Freezing Injunction, more commonly known as a Freezing Order, effectively freezes the defendant’s assets until the claimant’s action comes to trial.

When can a Freezing Injunction be sought?

Claimants can apply for a Freezing Injunction where there is a risk that the defendant will dispose of his property or move his assets out of the jurisdiction in order to prevent a Court Order being enforced.

Such an injunction is usually restricted to the defendant’s property / assets within the jurisdiction and will be limited to the likely value of the judgment amount.

What is the effect of a Freezing Injunction?

If a Freezing Injunction is granted, the defendant will be prohibited from dealing with his property / assets. However, the defendant will be allowed a specific weekly amount to meet his day-to-day living expenses. The defendant will also be able to claim a specified weekly sum to pay for business expenses and legal costs. If the defendant is a smaller business, the Order will usually allow the defendant sufficient monies to discharge trade debts.

What are the penalties for breaching the Injunction?

Anyone who has been notified of the Injunction will be in contempt of court if he helps the defendant to break it.

What steps can a defendant take?

A defendant may apply to set-aside or vary the Injunction. If the Injunction is set aside, the claimant could be ordered to pay compensation under the claimant’s cross undertaking.

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Child support dodgers face repossession in new crackdown

Middle-class parents who dodge child support payments risk losing their homes under a new government crackdown to recoup outstanding debts.

The Child Support Agency is targeting 950 parents and said it wants to ‘explode the myth’ that only those on lower wages were dodging their parental duties.

In cases where homes are required to be repossessed, the government plans to sell the property and use the proceeds to cover parents’ child maintenance debts. It is reported that as part of a clampdown in the last three months, around £2millio

has been taken out of the bank accounts of absent parents.

Many parents who dodge payments are earning above average incomes, according to the CSA, which reports that more than 90,000 of the 1.2million people on its register earn over £30,000 a year. And of the 6,000 who earn more than £80,000 a year, 1,000 are refusing to pay up. The average salary is £26,500. Ministers are also drawing up plans to make them pay court costs and other fees for taking action against them.

The CSA and minsters hope the crackdown will deter parents from dodging their payments and be fairer on taxpayers who currently pay 40p for every pound recovered because the cost of recovering money from absent parents is so high.

Irresponsible parents
Work and Pensions Minister Maria Miller said: “Most 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 to support their children.”

The Daily Mail reports that a source at the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Many of these are people on middle and upper incomes who wilfully withhold from their children money they can well afford.

“Some people will do all they can to avoid paying for their own children and chasing after them is expensive and time consuming. Our reforms will introduce a fine so if we have to spend time and money coming after you, you will be charged some of the cost.”

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DWP overpays £3.3bn on benefits

The Department for Work and Pensions overpaid some £3.3bn on benefits last year due to fraud and error, its 2010/11 accounts show.

The accounts – qualified by the head of the National Audit Office, the Comptroller and Auditor General – revealed this amount represents 2.1% of the department’s total £156.3bn spent on benefits administered throughout the year.

The amount overpaid breaks down into about £1.2bn lost to fraud, £1.2bn to customer error, and £800m to official error.

It also represented a £200m increase on the previous year – 2009/10 – when £3.1bn was spent but this amount constituted the same proportion of overall benefit expenditure of 2.1%.

Meanwhile, total underpayments in 2010/11 are estimated to be £1.3bn.

The National Audit Office said some benefits are prone to error and the department faces significant challenges in administering a complex benefits system in a cost effective way.

However, it added the government’s proposal to introduce a Universal Credit to replace some of the existing working-age benefits – benefits which have historically suffered from the highest rates of fraud and error – is an opportunity to improve.

National Audit Office head Amyas Morse said: “Ever since the Department for Work and Pensions began measuring fraud and error, rates have consistently remained at a high level. This has been most notable in the case of means tested benefits where evidence of entitlement can be difficult to verify or easy to get wrong.

“No system to administer benefits can ever be perfect but I believe that there is scope for the department to reduce fraud and error levels significantly. I therefore welcome its commitment to do so, as shown by the refreshed approach it intends to take to driving down incorrect payments.”

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