CSA will be able to dock absent fathers' wages

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The Independent Online

Absent fathers who miss a maintenance payment for their children will have their wages docked under radical legislation to be published this week, Alistair Darling confirmed yesterday.

Absent fathers who miss a maintenance payment for their children will have their wages docked under radical legislation to be published this week, Alistair Darling confirmed yesterday.

The Social Security Secretary said that the Child Support Agency (CSA) would be given the power to contact employers or Inland Revenue in order to deduct outstanding paymentsfrom absent fathers' incomes. "There are several sanctions we can impose if a parent can pay but won't pay. For example, the CSA can attach that person's wages so it can put that money into payment," Mr Darling told MPs during question time.

Under the measures, absent fathers could also face criminal sanctions or fines of up to £1,000 if they refuse to pay maintenance.

Of the 900,000 parents on the CSA's files, fewer than 400,000 pay full maintenance. But under the new legislation, a simplified system will be introduced and absent fathers will pay a flat rate of 15 per cent of their wages for a single child, 20 per cent for two and 25 per cent for three or more.

Mr Darling, however, admitted that current delays and problems would continue "for some time". He said ministers wanted to be satisfied that the CSA's computer system and staff could cope with the change. "Until the new system is brought in and becomes operational we have to operate under the existing system.

"Whilst we will do our best to ensure that it's improved week by week, month by month, some of the problems that all of us are very familiar with will continue for some time until we can bring in the new system," he said.

David Willetts, the shadow Social Security Secretary, warned that 350,000 parents would be £17 a week worse off as a result of the changes. "Will you confirm that about 350,000 parents with care whose non-resident parent is in paid work will have a lower maintenance assessment as a result of the new child support rates?" he asked.

Angela Eagle, the Social Security minister, replied "I do wish you would stop trying to play one parent off against the other and talk about gainers and losers. The people that gain from these changes are actually the children."

* A consultation document on the possible contracting out of the State Second Pension (SSP) has been published, Jeff Rooker, the Pensions Minister, announced yesterday.

The paper sets out proposals for the structure of National Insurance rebates when the State Earnings Related Pension is reformed through the introduction of the SSP.

Under the plans, the Government would provide a top-up to ensure that people onearnings under £9,500 would be better off in the state scheme rather than staying in one which was contracted out.

"We therefore propose that people on lower earnings should get a top-up via the state scheme on the difference between their actual earnings and £9,500," Mr Rooker said.

"The proposals also mean that we are putting in extra money to improve future pension provision for people on earnings up to £21,600."

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