Take child payments direct from fathers' accounts, say MPs

New body meant to beef up maintenance system spends 50p to collect each £1 as £4bn goes unpaid

All separated parents ordered to pay child maintenance should have the money taken directly from their bank accounts, a committee of MPs demands today amid new evidence that hundreds of thousands of youngsters are still being let down by the Child Support Agency.

Three years after a major overhaul of the agency, nearly £4bn in payments to families remains uncollected, a report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee says.

The recommendation, if implemented, would catch 142,300 absent parents who repeatedly refuse to pay maintenance for their children – a figure that has actually increased since the agency was given tougher collection powers.

But it would also ensure that many more youngsters who are short-changed because of weak financial arrangements do receive money. Half the three million children in separated families do not have effective financial arrangements in place.

The select committee says this problem could be solved by forcing all non-resident parents – research shows that nine out of 10 of them are male – to pay maintenance directly from salaries or bank accounts.

The agency was reformed in 2008, with a new body, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, given the job of chasing up payments and overseeing the CSA. The overhaul also encouraged parents who were on amicable terms to set up voluntary arrangements.

The commission was given tough new powers to penalise absent parents who repeatedly failed to pay, including taking money from bank accounts, seizing property and even prison sentences. A string of other powers – including curfew orders and seizure of passports and driving licences – has not yet been introduced, the report says.

It concludes: "The lack of a child maintenance agreement or failure to make due payments have severe financial consequences for families, producing a devastating impact on children's wellbeing.

"The most important aspect of any system is to guarantee that maintenance is paid in full and on time. Evidence shows that this would best be achieved if all non-resident parents were required to pay child maintenance through direct deductions from salaries or bank accounts."

Ministers, however, have warned that such deductions would place an extra burden on employers, making it more likely that the money would be drawn directly from bank accounts. This is likely to concern civil liberties groups because it would be applied to all non-resident parents, including the majority who pay on time.

A damning report five years ago found the agency was spending billions on administration, including heavily criticised computer technology. Today, the select committee says fundamental problems remain: while £1.1bn in maintenance reaches children every year, the new commission spends £572m on administering its collection service – a cost of 50p for every £1 collected.

Some £3.8bn owed by absent parents has gone uncollected: £2.8bn is unlikely ever to be traced because cases were more than 10 years old, individuals had died or parents no longer wanted the money.

Dame Anne Begg, the Labour chairman of the committee, said: "Successive governments have tried to reform and improve the child maintenance system without success."

The coalition government plans further reforms: a Green Paper this year proposes charges for using the agency to encourage parents to reach private arrangements. But the select committee, backed by Gingerbread, the charity that supports single parents, and the National Association for Child Support Action, is worried that charging would be punitive for families on low incomes because research shows they are less likely to reach such private arrangements.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Sport
Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his goal for Real Madrid against Juventus
football
Voices
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
election 2015Armando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)
film
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
Fans take a selfie with Ed Miliband in Kempston, near Bedford, on Tuesday
election 2015
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds This i...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power