Belfast Telegraph

Over £87m owed in child maintenance to single parents

Over a quarter of children in Northern Ireland belonging to single parent families are not receiving child maintenance from absent fathers or mothers.

This amounts to some £87m being owed to families across the province with the worst affected families living in Belfast, Londonderry, Lisburn and Craigavon.

The child maintenance debt statistics were released by the Department of Social Development (DSD) to The Detail which stated that Belfast’s child maintenance debt stood at £13m while child maintenance arrears in Londonderry amounted to £5.9m.

These areas are also home to the highest percentage of children living in poverty the research stated.

The sum figure of £87m for all of Northern Ireland is an increase of £7m on 2010 and represents payments owed over the last three months of 2011.

Other statistics revealed that the departmental division responsible for collecting child maintenance debts only managed to recall £2.6m of the £80m owed between 2010/11.

Child Maintenance and Enforcement Division, which replaced the Child Support Agency, an organisation riddled with controversy, has been called upon to take more action to lower the debt.

Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey, chair of the DSD committee at Stormont, said: “On the basis of the figures given to The Detail I will be writing to CMED to ask them to explain the increase.

“This is an issue which is already on the committee’s agenda. We are anxious to keep a close eye on it and are looking out for signs of improvement.

"Getting the money to those who need it is of critical importance.”

There are 92,000 lone parents living in Northern Ireland with 150,000 children – over a quarter of who do not receive contributions from absent parents according to the figures revealed.

Speaking about the maintenance debt, single parent organisation Gingerbread’s director Marie Cavanagh said: “Maintenance arrears of £87m is a huge sum of money which is likely to be very much needed by the children it is owed to in Northern Ireland.

“Payment of maintenance is certainly not the panacea to eradicate child poverty but it does help to make people in need a bit better off and helps to relieve the impact of poverty.”

She added: “It is good that the amount of child maintenance received no longer impacts on families’ benefit entitlements but there are still some serious problems and errors made in the financial assessments for maintenance.”

Under the most common maintenance rate, non-resident parents with a weekly income of over £200 have to pay 15% of their net weekly income for one child, 20% for two and 25% for three or more.

Other factors that can affect the amount of child maintenance a non-resident parent has to pay include any overnight stays and the number of children living with them.

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