Fathers who refuse to pay up may be named and shamed

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The Independent Online

Absent fathers who refuse to pay maintenance for their children could be "named and shamed" on a website and in the local press under new enforcement measures.

It could also be compulsory to register the name of the baby's father when it is born. In one in five child support cases, the father's name is not known.

Ministers said yesterday that the Child Support Agency (CSA) would be scrapped after running up a backlog of more than 300,000 cases and debts of more than £3bn. Although debt collectors will continue to chase unpaid maintenance, much of itwill never reach the children and will be written off.

John Hutton, the Work and Pensions Secretary, announced changes to the system following a review of the CSA by Sir David Henshaw. He recommended that passports be confiscated from parents who did not meet their obligations, and promised to impose night curfews on so-called "deadbeat dads'', enforced by electronic tags.

Fathers could be charged for using the organisation that will handle new cases, as an incentive to reach a private arrangement on maintenance with their child's mother. Lone parents on benefits will no longer make claims through the new body and will keep "substantially more" than the current £10 a week of income support when maintenance is paid.

Sir David said that the number of children receiving maintenance could rise from 1.1 million to 1.75 million through tougher enforcement.

Opposition parties warned that 1.5 million families were in danger of being left behind because they would not automatically transfer to the new system likely to take effect in 2008. They said £500m had been wasted trying to correct mistakes since the CSA started in 1993.

Philip Hammond, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: "Today's substance free statement will come as a huge disappointment to the 1.5 million families who are stuck in the current CSA system and were expecting action to be taken by the Government to ease their plight."

David Laws, work and pensions spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, accused ministers of "rebranding, further delay and more gimmicks". "The Government is talking tough about tagging absent fathers, but it said the same things about taking away people's driving licences a few years ago, yet only 11 driving licences have been removed in five years," he said.

The charity One Parent Families welcomed plans for tougher enforcement and the proposal to enable lone parents on income support to keep more of the child maintenance they received, but warned that voluntary arrangements would not be appropriate or workable for all lone parents.

Chris Pond, the group's chief executive, said: "The big question concerns existing cases. How long will current cases, mired in the mess of the current scheme, have to wait for substantive change?"