Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Child maintenance fraud laws move

Tough new measures to tackle child maintenance fraud should be made law, Margaret Ritchie said

Tough new measures to tackle child maintenance fraud should be made law, the Social Development Minister said.

The Welfare Reform Bill will create offences of failing to report changes in circumstances like moving home and increase the timescale allowing prosecution of those who provide false information, Margaret Ritchie said.

The second stage of the legislation was passed on Tuesday at Stormont.

Ms Ritchie said: "This Bill is designed to help us further along the road to a simpler, more personalised benefit system.

"It is a Bill to ensure that parents take full responsibility for their children's upbringing and it is a good and necessary Bill."

The number of absent parents paying child maintenance grew by a quarter since May 2007. In February 2009, 14,500 parents were paying what they owed for 21,000 children.

Ms Ritchie added: "Benefit fraud is at a low level but we are not complacent and will increase the sanctions for those who are found to have committed benefit fraud.

"Part of the Bill will assist with the administration of maintenance payments, extend the offences relating to information to include a failure to report other changes in circumstances, and increase the timescale for bringing prosecution action for providing false information."

Former auditor John Dowdall last year questioned the accuracy of child maintenance assessments.

He accepted managers at the CSA were committed to improvement. The CSA is now known as the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Division of the Department for Social Development.

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