Guidelines set out terms for naming absent fathers

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Indy Politics
GUIDELINES on the circumstances in which mothers can be compelled to reveal the identity of absent fathers so that they can be forced to pay child maintainance were published yesterday.

They also contain details of when the mother - or occasionally father - will be allowed to withhold the information without losing welfare benefits. The guidelines will go to staff at the newly created Child Support Agency who will interview the parent claiming benefits.

Under the Child Support Act 1991, new rules designed to force more absent parents to contribute towards their children come into force on 5 April. On average they will be expected to pay pounds 25 a week in child maintenance.

The Department of Social Security hopes to save pounds 500m a year in benefits by increasing the number of absent parents who pay maintenance. At present 27 per cent of lone mothers on benefit receive payments. The Government is aiming to increase the proportion to at least 50 per cent.

All lone parents receiving state benefits must complete a maintenance application form which will ask for details of the name, date of birth and other information about the absent parent. The guidelines for agency staff state: 'The requirement to co-operate will be waived if there are reasonable grounds for believing there will be a risk of the parent with care (of the child) or any child living with her, suffering harm or undue stress as a result.'

Circumstances in which mothers would be allowed to conceal the partner's identity include cases where children were conceived as a result of rape, sexual abuse and incest, or where there is a real risk or fear of violence.

However, the guidelines list many other circumstances in which the mother may be compelled to co-operate or lose benefit. Refusal to co-operate would mean loss of pounds 8.80 from weekly benefit for the first six months, and pounds 4.40 for the next 12 months. A dispute will be decided on its merits but the father will be compelled to pay maintenance and the mother may be penalised for refusing to co-operate even if she wishes to sever all links with the absent partner, or becomes pregnant against the wishes or without the knowledge of the father, or the separated couple have reached a voluntary arrangement.

Pressure groups representing single parents criticised the requirement to reveal the absent parent's identity. Mary Honeyball, chief executive of Gingerbread, said: 'We already have evidence that one in three of our members has suffered or fears violence and that social security staff are putting unacceptable pressure on lone parents to reveal names. And there is an amazing lack of sensitivity about people who have been raped or victims of sexual abuse.'

Announcing the guidelines, Alistair Burt, a social security minister, said: 'There are a large number of taxpayers who are supporting other people's children where there is no need.'

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