Single-parent plan 'will hit poor'

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The Government is being pressured to reconsider a plan to charge single parents fees to obtain child maintenance payments from ex-partners.

Cross-party criticism of the plan, included in the Welfare Reform Bill, is expected in the House of Lords, which resumes debate on the measure today. The Government aims to charge families £100, or £50 if they are on benefits, to access the government-run maintenance service and then fees of up to 12 per cent of every payment collected. In a report sent to peers, the charity Barnado's warns that the changes will hit the UK's poorest families, many of whom live on just over £5 per person per day.

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

She argued that a change of plan was even more pressing after the Government's own figures showed a further 100,000 children will be pushed into poverty as a result of the Chancellor's statement last week.

The Government admits the shake-up is designed to reduce the "huge drain" on taxpayers' money. But Maria Miller, the Work and Pensions Minister, said the changes will help hard-pressed single parents.

"By increasing the payments of non-resident parents on benefits and those on lower incomes, we will encourage more separated families to share financial responsibility for their children," the minister said.