£23 million unpaid child maintenance owed to parents

There are calls for a zero tolerance approach to collecting unpaid maintenance,
There are calls for a zero tolerance approach to collecting unpaid maintenance,
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MORE than £23 million is owed to single parents across the Lothians in unpaid child maintenance, the Evening News can reveal.

Arrears date back 24 years, with fears much of it might be written off as responsibility for collecting payments switches to a new system.

Broken down by UK parliamentary constituency, Livingston has the most unpaid with £4.4m, while Edinburgh South the least with £1.6m.

Politicians said they had been asked to investigate lots of cases as campaigners blamed child support agencies for being too slow to use their enforcement powers.

Hannah Bardell, Livingston SNP MP, said she would raise the issue with the UK government.

She said: “We’ve had lots of cases of women whose ex-partners are failing in their child maintenance duty.

“One of the main issues is that parents’ income isn’t properly investigated.

“We’ve had cases of £1-a-month payments, which is incredible and absurd.

“But then child maintenance is failing people on both sides. We’ve had a number of cases of men who want to pay and pay the right amount but it takes literally months to set up.

“At the end of the day, it’s the children who suffer.”

Uncollected child maintenance figures reveal £23,779,000 outstanding in the nine Lothian constituencies.

Arrears include those owed since 1993 through the Child Support Agency (CSA) and its successor being gradually introduced since 2012, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).

Marion Davis, head of policy and strategy at One Parent Families Scotland, blamed uncollected maintenance on a lack of powers for agencies – and said historical arrears might be written off.

She called for a zero tolerance approach, with unpaid maintenance treated the same as tax avoidance and extra resources ploughed into debt collection work.

“They are big figures and reflect the fact the child maintenance not being collected is a historical problem,” said Ms Davis.

“Child maintenance, along with benefits, is a contribution to family income, particularly for single parents who are finding it difficult to survive and get by.

“As benefits have been frozen or cut, child maintenance has become more important and to not receive it amounts to income forgone.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson confirmed historical arrears are being transferred from the CSA to CMS and existing enforcement powers include taking deductions directly from earnings.

“We actively pursue those parents who are not meeting their financial responsibilities and in almost 90 per cent of cases, parents are paying the money owed,” added the spokesperson.

“We have measures in place to ensure that no client will get lost when debt is transferred from the old system.”

andy.shipley@jpress.co.uk