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MPs recommend child maintenance reforms

Date:4 JUL 2011

Big BenNon-resident parents should be required to pay child maintenance through direct deductions from their salaries or bank accounts, according to a report published yesterday by the Work and Pensions Select Committee.

The report, The Government's proposed child maintenance reforms, calls on the government to establish a more efficient way to administer the statutory child maintenance service, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission. It highlights that in 2009-10 it cost £572 million to administer its collection service but that only £1,141 million in maintenance payments reached children; a cost of 50 pence for every £1 collected.

The Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Dame Anne Begg, said: "The current system leaves many separated parents without adequate child maintenance arrangements, and many parents with care do not receive payments on a regular basis or receive no payments at all. Our report recommends a requirement for all non-resident parents to pay child maintenance through direct deductions from salaries or bank accounts. This would increase the number of families who receive payments in full and on time."

The report examines the government's proposed reforms of the child maintenance system, as set out in the Green Paper Strengthening families, promoting parental responsibility. The government's view is that parents should be encouraged and supported to make their own arrangements for the maintenance of their children, before deciding to use the statutory maintenance scheme. The proposals included introducing charges for parents who use the statutory child maintenance service and the establishment of a "gateway" process which would require parents to access advice and support services before they can apply to the statutory system. 

Dame Begg continued: "Successive governments have tried to reform and improve the child maintenance system without success, and the Child Support Agency continues to offer poor value for taxpayers' money. The government's proposal to introduce charges on parents is not cost-effective. We call on the government to explore ways to make the collection service more efficient.

"The proposed charges which parents will be required to pay if they use the statutory service are excessive, complex and fall too heavily on parents with care of children. We believe that, in cases where a parent with care has taken all reasonable steps to reach a voluntary agreement, the proposed charges should be paid by the non-resident parent."