UK Politics

Non-resident parents 'should pay direct out of wages'

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Media captionA group of MPs have called for absent parents to make child maintenance payments taken directly from their salaries or bank accounts

Non-resident parents should make their child maintenance payments directly from their salaries or bank accounts, a committee of MPs has recommended.

They found the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission cost 50p for every £1 it collected and had failed to collect £3.8bn in payments due.

The Work and Pensions Committee called on the government to make the child support system more efficient.

The commission replaced the much-criticised Child Support Agency.

The committee found that many separated parents did not receive regular maintenance for their children and in some cases did not get payments at all.

Officials can take money directly from those who fall behind but the committee said direct payments from bank accounts or salaries should be required in all cases.

The government has said it wants to encourage separated parents to come to their own voluntary arrangements.

But its plans to charge a fee and call in officials to collect the payments of couples who cannot reach such an agreement were criticised by the MPs.

They also said the new agency still had operational weaknesses.


Committee chairman Anne Begg said the current system could easily be improved.

She told the BBC: "There are many non-resident parents who already set up a mechanism, usually direct debit, to make sure their children get the money that they're entitled to.

"What we want to see is this widened so that everyone has an obligation to make sure there is some payment in process which is regular."

The Work and Pensions Committee is also calling on the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) to be given the power to remove the passports and driving licences of absent parents who persistently avoid making child maintenance payments.

"The date hasn't been set as to when those powers come into effect, and we just say they should make sure they do come into effect," said Ms Begg.

"Not that they should be used regularly, but we think if CMEC is going to be able to chase down runaway dads then they have to have all the powers necessary."

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman acknowledged the agency was not working well enough for children and said the government would give its full response in due course.

Fiona Weir, the chief executive of single parent charity Gingerbread, said she supported the committee's recommendations.

"This report provides a timely and comprehensive critique of the government's proposals, and we expect ministers to heed its recommendations as they finalise future plans for child maintenance," she said.

Last month, Prime Minister David Cameron said absent fathers should be "stigmatised" by society in the same way as drink-drivers.

However, he was criticised by Gingerbread, which said government proposals to charge people in need of state help to obtain child maintenance payments would make life harder for single parents.

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