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Child Support

Volume 516: debated on Monday 18 October 2010

10. What steps his Department is taking to enforce payment of child support by parents who refuse to pay. (17490)

The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission has a range of enforcement powers that it can deploy to secure payments from parents who refuse to pay. However, non-resident parents are given every chance to pay their child maintenance, and only when they are deliberately non-compliant will the commission use these powers.

I thank the Minister for that reply. All Members of this House will have constituents who are not receiving the child maintenance to which they are entitled because their former partners are giving the Child Support Agency the run-around by changing jobs or the self-employed are hiding their true earnings. The Government rightly do not allow these people to avoid paying tax. Surely, therefore, HMRC data could be used properly to assess child maintenance liability. Alongside the Government getting tough on tax avoidance, will they get tough on child maintenance avoidance?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She is absolutely right that this data can help particularly to ensure that individuals pay the money they are due to pay. Indeed, we will consider that under the planned revisions to the CSA’s IT system. I should like to reassure her that the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission is already putting in place a number of other measures to ensure that we increase enforcement actions. Indeed, as a result of those measures we have seen a significant increase in enforcement actions in the past 12 months.

Given that a significant cause of childhood deprivation is the failure of so-called absent parents—usually fathers, but sometimes mothers—to pay for their own children, and given that, to be blunt, both previous Governments, despite good efforts, found this a difficult nut to crack, will the Minister consider new measures to ensure that we do not just go after the easy targets, such as those on salaries and in the public services, but find new ways of getting to fathers, some of them serial fathers, who are determined to avoid paying for their own children and expect other mums and dads called taxpayers to do their job for them?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), a number of measures are in place to crack down on the very people he is talking about. We now have 400 members of staff who are chasing these sorts of historical arrears. It is also about embedding a culture change; that is why we put at the heart of our coalition agreement a commitment to shared parenting that will drive the sort of culture change that he is after.

Beyond the problem of recalcitrant parents, there is also a problem within the system. Last weekend, a constituent of mine said that she has waited two years to have an appeal in her favour sanctioned and moved forward. Every time, she simply gets a letter saying, “You’ll be allocated a number in 20 days’ time”, and it never happens.

I thank my hon. Friend for that case in point. If she wants to raise any issues with me, I will be glad to speak to her separately. She makes a good point about ensuring that there are timely assessments. One in four parents with a liability still do not make a payment. The previous Government did not put in place the necessary measures to change the situation, and we will be doing everything we can to do that.