School truants' parents face cuts to child benefits

 

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Parents who fail to ensure their children attend school will face increased fines that are automatically deducted from their child benefit if they fail to pay, under proposals announced today.

The controversial changes form part of a review of school attendance led by the Government's "behaviour tsar", Charlie Taylor.

They were immediately condemned by children's charities, who said such a "punitive" system would hurt vulnerable families. Mr Taylor, who has worked in some of London's toughest schools, was commissioned by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to look at the issue of school attendance in the wake of the riots last August.

Announcing his findings today, he will say: "We know that some parents simply allow their children to miss lessons and then refuse to pay the fine. It means the penalty has no effect and children continue to lose vital days of education they can never recover. Recouping the fines through child benefit, along with other changes to the overall system, will strengthen and simplify the system."

Under the proposals, schools will be allowed to impose a fine of £60 – which is £10 more than the current penalty – on parents who allow their children to be absent too often without a valid reason. If the parents fail to pay within 28 days, the fine would double to £120 and the money would be recovered automatically from their child benefit.

Parents who do not receive child benefit and fail to pay fines would face the county courts. More than 32,600 penalty notices for school absence were issued to parents last year and more than 127,000 have been issued since the policy was introduced in 2004. Around half went unpaid or were withdrawn.

Imran Hussain, head of policy at the Child Poverty Action Group, said: "It is simplistic and wrong to claim that taking away child benefit will force parents who cannot or will not fulfil their responsibilities to do so."

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