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Recovering Child Maintenance Arrears

The Department of Work and Pensions has recently launched a consultation exercise over plans to implement existing powers to make deduction orders to recover child maintenance arrears from joint bank accounts held by a non-resident parent.

Child Maintenance Systems

The consultation document explains that the statutory child maintenance system operates three schemes under legislation that determines how cases are managed:

  • 1993 and 2003 schemes, which are operated by the Child Support Agency (CSA). No new applications can be made to the CSA and all existing CSA cases are expected to close by the end of 2017.
  • 2012 Scheme, which is operated by Child Maintenance Service (CMS) and opened to all new applicants from November 2013.

The Secretary of State for the DWP has various powers in relation to the collection and enforcement of child maintenance under the above statutory schemes set out in the Child Support Act 1991(CSA 1991).

These powers enable the Secretary of State to make a Regular Deduction Order, taking a sum every week/month, or a Lump Sum Deduction Order, taking a lump sum in a single deduction to enforce child maintenance owed by a non-resident parent where arrears have arisen.

Deduction Orders Against Joint Accounts

As part of its wider strategy to maximise collection of child maintenance, DWP intends to make regulations allowing deduction orders to be made against joint accounts, where one of the account holders is a non-resident parent. This will require amendments to the Collection and Enforcement Regulations. A similar civil enforcement power is already in use in Scotland (bank arrestment, which is administered by the Sheriff Officers) in relation to joint accounts.

Allowing deduction orders to be made against joint accounts will stop non-resident parents from preventing the CMS or CSA from accessing funds that could be used to pay maintenance for children, simply by placing these funds into a joint account, for example with a new partner.

Unpaid Maintenance Arrears

The consultation exercise launch comes shortly after new research by single parent charity Gingerbread revealed that almost £4bn of unpaid maintenance arrears has accumulated over the 23-year lifespan of the Child Support Agency (CSA). Gingerbread also claims that Government estimates indicate that only around 12% of this amount is ever likely to be recovered.

Gingerbread says that the average CSA maintenance debt owed to more than a million families is £2,067, which is money that could make a huge difference to children's lives.

"Britain's child maintenance system is contributing to a culture where too many parents think it's optional, rather than obligatory, to pay their child's maintenance," commented Gingerbread Chief Executive Fiona Weir.

"The accumulated level of CSA arrears is staggering and completely unacceptable," she added. "With analysis showing that one-in-five families are lifted out of poverty by child maintenance payments, this is vital money that parents, and their children can't do without."

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

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