Recovery of child maintenance arrears - are the changes sufficient?
The Government has recently published its response to the Department for Work & Pensions’ consultation on plans to increase the recovery rate of child maintenance arrears. Currently, if a parent owes child maintenance, deductions to recover the debt can only be made from an account held in their sole name. However, some parents have been utilising this loop-hole by putting money into a joint account with a new partner, thus avoiding paying maintenance payments. It is therefore intended that new laws will be passed to allow a greater scope for deduction orders so that recovery of arrears can be made from joint bank accounts held by a non-resident parent as well as from an account held in their sole name.
There will be safeguards in place to protect the other holders of the joint account and only funds belonging to the non-resident partner will be targeted. This will involve the collection of data before such a deduction order is made to establish how much of the money in the account belongs to the non-resident parent, which will undoubtedly be a time-consuming task.
The Director of Policy at Gingerbread, a charity supporting single parents, has previously said:
“Up and down the country, loopholes in the child maintenance system are allowing parents to deny their children the essential support they need. Some are deliberately hiding their income, while others can perfectly lawfully escape with income or assets ignored; some are cash-in-hand labourers, while others are multi-millionaires. But in all these cases, single parents now have to collect evidence for a system that continually obstructs them. It’s not enough that they juggle being breadwinners and homemakers – they are now forced to become private detectives as well. Unless there is an urgent change, these injustices will continue indefinitely.”
Such changes to deduction orders, which are due to come into force in early 2018, are therefore welcomed and it has been claimed that the changes will assist in recovering an additional £390,000 in child maintenance. However, given that Gingerbread has previously estimated that arrears in the region of £4bn have accrued over the 23-year lifespan of the Child Support Agency (CSA), the move does not do enough to tackle the issue and stronger systems are still needed to confront the growing problem where too many parents believe it is optional, rather than mandatory, to support their children financially.