Gingerbread, the charity that supports single parents, believes that the UK’s current child maintenance system is contributing to a culture where too many parents think it’s optional, rather than obligatory, to support their children financially.
The Child Maintenance Service is responsible for calculating and ensuring payments are made to those parents who struggle to receive child support. But despite extensive reforms, many parents still aren’t getting the money they are entitled to receive. According to research conducted by the BBC, there is a UK backlog of more than £3.8bn in uncollected payments, with more than 1.2 million people currently owed child maintenance.
At present, if a parent owes child maintenance, deductions to recover the debt can only be made from a bank or building society account held in their sole name, and some parents have been avoiding supporting their children financially by putting money into a joint account with a new partner.
In a move designed to close this loophole, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced that new laws will be brought in to allow deductions to be made from joint accounts to recover child maintenance arrears.
There will be safeguards, including a provision that a deduction order will only be imposed on a joint account when the paying parent doesn’t have their own account, or where there are insufficient funds in their sole account. Only funds belonging to the paying partner will be targeted, and before a deduction order is made, data will be collected to establish how much of the money in the account belongs to the paying partner.
Reaction to the proposals
Critics of the proposals fear that they are only scratching the surface and won’t tackle the fundamental problems at the heart of the present system. Scrutinising joint accounts will be a time-consuming task for the DWP, and non-paying parents facing assessment may simply decide to transfer their money elsewhere.
However, this move does underline the government’s determination that parents should fulfil their responsibilities to their children. Charities like Gingerbread have long campaigned for more resources and stronger systems to be put behind tackling parents who attempt to avoid or minimise child support payments, and these proposals represent an important step along the way.