Crackdown planned for 'deadbeat dads'

A new crackdown on "deadbeat dads" who refuse to pay child maintenance goes before Parliament today.

It includes powers to strip them of driving licences and passports until they have paid up in full, without having to go to court.

The old Child Support Agency had the power to apply for a court order to confiscate the driving licences of parents who refused to pay for their children and Parliament last year passed an act to give the new Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission the same power with relation to passports.

Now the Welfare Reform Bill will enable CMEC to bypass the courts and order absent parents directly to give up their driving licences and passports until they have met their financial obligations.

The Department for Work and Pensions said the move would be a "last resort" after other means of securing cash for kids have failed.

Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell said: "We are supporting parents in these tough times, but for those who choose not to support their own kids, we will not stand by and do nothing. If a parent refuses to pay up then we will stop them travelling abroad or even using their car.

"We want fair rules for everybody and that means giving people the support they need, but in return expecting them to live up to their responsibilities."

The controversial Welfare Reform Bill also includes measures to require many single parents and people on incapacity benefit to seek work.

The Liberal Democrats said the child support system had been a shambles for more than a decade.

Work and pensions spokesman Steve Webb said: "The reaction of this Government to a failing policy is to try to sound tougher.

"Talk can never be a substitute for a coherent, effective policy that gets money to the children that need it."

And family law group Resolution called for an urgent rethink of what it called the "draconian punitive measures on child support".

Chair of Resolution's Child Support committee, Kim Fellowes, said: "We agree with the government's aim that all parents meet their pastoral and financial responsibilities toward their children.

"However, it is well known that the administration of child support in this country is riddled with errors and bureaucratic failures.

"Until the system is fixed, running smoothly and has public confidence there can be no justification for not allowing a right to challenge such draconian measures in the courts."

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