Lords steps up revolt on welfare reforms

Moves to charge single parents to use the Child Support Agency will come under fire in the Lords today as critics open a new front in their attack on the Government's welfare reform plans.

An attempt to scupper the measure will be led by the former Tory Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who was an architect of the CSA, and has the backing of peers of all parties.

Under the government plan, single parents would be charged a fee of £100 (or £50 for those on benefits) to use the CSA to force their ex-partners to pay maintenance for their children. In addition, up to 12 per cent of the money they receive would be deducted for the CSA's administrative charges.

Ministers say the moves are designed to encourage couples to reach amicable agreements over maintenance without resorting to government machinery. But opponents warn the measures will deter single parents from using the CSA. Fiona Weir, chief executive of the charity Gingerbread, said: "The risk is that parents with the greatest need will simply be unable to afford the charges... and children will end up paying the price for the non-resident's failure to meet his parental responsibilities."

She added: "Child maintenance charges will really hit parents with main care of children, already struggling with higher bills and diminishing incomes."

Anne Marie Carrie, chief executive of Barnardo's, said: "No family living on, or below, the breadline should have to sacrifice a single penny of child maintenance to pay for administrative charges."

Lord Mackay will table an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill vetoing any charges for single parents who have no alternative but to ask the agency to enforce maintenance payments.

He told The Independent: "I don't think it is fair because there is nothing more people can do in this situation."

A Tory-led defeat over the welfare reforms would be highly embarrassing for Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary. Yesterday the Government offered concessions, including the promise of an extra £20m to help separating parents to strike their own deal over maintenance payments, but the move failed to placate critics.

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