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Child support changes 'don't go far enough'

By Fiona McIlwaine Biggins

Changes to the child support system unveiled by the government in a White Paper last week may not go far enough or fast enough to help those children let down by the current scheme, it was claimed yesterday.

Responding to plans announced in the Commons by Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton, Citizens Advice Bureaux's director of information services Paul Herink said: "The key test of any child support system is whether it reliably delivers money to children.

"We are not convinced that these reforms will transform the system in the way intended because they rely on most parents making a voluntary agreement to pay child support.

"The move to a voluntary approach is understandable but many of the problems with the existing child support system have been to do with non-cooperation.

"There should be a guarantee that the new commission will be ready to assess and enforce if an agreement between parents cannot be reached.

"It is extremely disappointing that the Government has delayed any commitment to raising the amount of child support mothers on very low incomes can keep until well into the future.

"It could be another seven years before mothers on low incomes are allowed to keep more than the current maximum £10 of the money paid to them in child support. Yet letting them keep as little as £30 or £40 of the amount paid over by fathers would make a huge difference, lifting 90,000 children out of poverty at a stroke.

"The White Paper should have done much more to address the legacy of failure that the CSA will leave behind. The whole history of the child support scheme has been defined by low rates of compliance.

"For example, a local CAB saw a mother with children who was owed £20,000 by their father. She has been told by the CSA that it is unlikely she will see most of that money, despite providing all the necessary information, and the CSA knowing who and where the father is, but failing to do enough to collect the money.

"Tougher enforcement is welcome, but this needs to be about more than threatening fathers. What Citizens Advice Bureaux see on a daily basis are families with children going without money that could make a real difference to their lives. We need an enforcement regime that means child support gets paid, and paid regularly.

"Whatever happens, parents will need access to clear advice and information about their position both now and in any future system. People will need to know which scheme they are in, what their options are, and whether they owe, or will ever receive, child support.

"Co-operation with the independent advice sector by the new commission will be essential."

Belfast Telegraph


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