Divorced fathers fight back over maintenance: MP calls for review as new child support rules take their toll on hard-pressed parents

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HUNDREDS of divorced and separated fathers are organising a national campaign against increased maintenance payments being imposed by the Government's new Child Support Agency, overruling previous court orders and amicable agreements with ex-partners.

A nation-wide network of groups to co-ordinate a campaign is being mobilised by an aggrieved father, Mike Pimblott, who has been contacted by 100 other men locally. He is also in contact with groups in Nottingham, Warrington, and Co Durham, all in fighting mood.

Mr Pimblott, from Lordswood, Southampton, decided to take action after the Child Support Agency increased his payments for his teenage daughter from the pounds 100 agreed by a court, to pounds 275 a month.

Up to 500,000 absent parents, mostly men, who were already paying maintenance face substantially increased assessments since the agency was set up in April. The Independent has reported cases in which fathers were commonly having to pay four or five times more and hand over one-third of their income. The Treasury claws back benefit to parents with care of the children and in some cases they are left worse off.

Citizens Advice Bureaux around the country have been inundated with complaints from angry fathers, ex-wives and new partners, whose income is taken into account when the agency decides whether the father can afford to pay the assessed amount. The CABs argue the formula is unfair because it fails to take into account outgoings such as travelling expenses and car loans.

When the agency was launched, ministers emphasised its purpose was to track down absent fathers who paid no maintenance, arguing it was wrong that the taxpayer should have to support the children of single mothers.

However, unemployed men on income support are exempt from having to pay maintenance and agency staff have been told to target middle-class families to help to meet the Government's target of saving pounds 530m this year. Parents who have court orders are the easiest to trace.

After 1996, all parents with care of the children, whether or not they are on income support or family credit, can apply to the agency to overturn previous settlements and agreements.

Many aggrieved fathers have written to their MP and Frank Field, Labour chairman of the all- party social security select committee, is to recommend an inquiry into the system when Parliament resumes.

Mr Field said: 'There are four ways in which the system is not working. Many fathers have been reduced to income support levels, and so why work? Where the wife is remarried, if she is on income support you are paying money to cover her costs, not just the child. In clean-break divorces, in which people have accepted debts and given the ex-partner the house in exchange for low maintenance payments, they are now having those payments overturned. And some fathers who have remarried are having to support step children whose natural father is on income support and therefore does not have to pay maintenance. The formula is urgently in need of review.'

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