Child support proposals likely to carry forward failings without major rethink

15 Mar 2007

Resolution welcomes calls by the Work and Pensions Select Committee in its report published today, for the Government to allow Courts to deal with Child Maintenance payments.

“The Work and Pensions Select Committee shares our concern that present plans to overhaul the Child Support system are likely to carry forward many of the failings of the old system. In particular the government’s refusal to allow the courts to calculate child maintenance payments where they are already dealing with other aspects of a divorcing couples’ finances is simply absurd.

“Where the courts are already studying detailed evidence of a family’s finances, it would be cheaper and simpler to allow them to apply the fixed percentage formula for child support. Why on earth insist that parents make an entirely separate application to another agency?” said Kim Fellowes, Chair of Resolution’s CSA committee and who gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee.

“The White Paper proposals for a new system of child maintenance do not go far enough, nor quickly enough to deliver real help to the thousands of children failed by the present Child Support Agency. The White Paper lacks detail in so many areas that it actually raises more questions about future plans than it answers,” said Ms Fellowes.

The Government’s White Paper has nothing to say on the question of “shared care” and what changes, if any, are planned to the present approach where overnight stays count against the amount of maintenance paid. This introduces a financial incentive for a parent with care to restrict contact. Resolution supports the Select Committee’s call for a move away from this system.

“It is bizarre that only the State can take action where maintenance is not being paid. This position must be changed and parents be permitted to take their own enforcement action. This right should be retrospective across all the various Child Support schemes and in addition to being extremely cost effective – this could help reduce the ‘debt mountain’ of 3.5 billion.

“Similarly the rationale behind introducing some of the more draconian enforcement powers is difficult to follow. One of the main difficulties with enforcement to date has been the failure of the Child Support Agency to actually use the powers it has,” said Ms Fellowes.

“The Select Committee is absolutely right to say that there are many pitfalls in the present proposals. Too many children have been failed by for too long. There are a large number of cases where the CSA have failed to obtain money owed to parents over such a long time that the debts can no longer be enforced under the law.

“These debts are worth at least 760 million. These parents have been completely failed by the system and the government must set out clearly how it plans to compensate them,” Ms Fellowes concluded.

Notes to editors:
1. In addition to heading up Resolution’s CSA task force, Kim Fellowes is a practising family solicitor dealing with family law and CSA cases. She gave evidence to the Select Committee on the 24th January 2007 on the Governments proposals and is available for comment on the full Government proposals, including:
No review of payments inside a 25% change of financial circumstances
Benefit disregard
Need for appeals process

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact:
Teresa Richardson
Head of Communications
Resolution - first for family law
Direct line: 020 7357 9215
Mobile: 07894 981 020

Kim Fellowes
Chair CSA Committee
Tel: 0191 279 9287