Poverty fears as parents fail to cough up

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Nearly half the parents in Lancaster who have their child maintenance payments controlled by the government failed to pay in the first three months of this year.

Newly-released figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that around 260 parents were due to pay support through the Child Maintenance Service in Lancaster, but about 120 did not pay.

The DWP says that 48.5% failed to make their payments between January and March this year.

The proportion of parents failing to pay in Lancaster is down from 50.9% over the last quarter of 2017.

At the start of this year, the best performance was in the Shetland Islands, Scotland, where only 24.1% of parents failed to pay. The poorest record was in Rutland, East Midlands, where 55.3% of parents did not meet their obligations to their children.

Numbers provided by the government are rounded to the nearest 10. 
This payment service, called Collect & Pay, is part of the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), which was set up in 2012 to replace the Child Support Agency (CSA).

The Child Maintenance Service can calculate the amount of child support to be paid and parents can arrange the payments between themselves – a mechanism called Direct Pay.

In Lancaster, 540 parents made Direct Pay arrangements over the first three months of 2018.

But in the cases where parents cannot do this or there is a disagreement about payment, the Collect & Pay service can collect and manage the payments between the parents.

The CMS can take money from a parent’s earnings or their bank account if they try to avoid payments, or take a parent to court.

Over the three-month period to March 2018, about 790 paying parents required the intervention of the Child Maintenance Service.

The charity for single-parent families, Gingerbread, said the latest figures for parents with outstanding child support debts are “worryingly high”.

Sumi Rabindrakumar, Research Officer at Gingerbread, said: “Child maintenance alone lifts a fifth of low-income single parent families out of poverty.

“But sadly, we regularly hear from single parents whose children are not receiving the support they are owed even when using the Collect & Pay service.”

“With £200 million child maintenance debt already built up under this specific service, excluding any debts for the many who don’t use Collect & Pay, there’s a real danger of the government repeating the failings of the previous Child Support Agency unless they act now. The Child Maintenance Service must put in place stronger systems and resource to make sure that children do not go without the financial support they need.”

At the end of March 2018, two thirds of paying parents in the CMS were using Direct Pay and one third the Collect & Pay Service. Just 3% of paying parents used both services.