Open letter to the Work and Pensions Committee reviewing Child Maintenance

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Good afternoon

I have been reading the written submissions and watching the hearings via Parliament website with interest.

The wheresmydad.org.uk™ Charitable Organisation (#wco) provides practical information, support and assistance to Non-Resident Parents (NRP) that have lost contact with their children because the Parent with Care (PwC) has arbitrarily decided to stop access or the “authorities” are not fulfilling their duty of care to the child and for both parents.

We believe that Child Maintenance and Contact are both part of a bigger picture that should be taken into account where parents do not live together, for whatever reason.

I was pleased that Dame Anne Begg raised the issue that within her own constituency surgeries a significant number of NRP’s are forced into paying maintenance through the CSA/CMEC route but have no recourse to enforce Court Orders or contact arrangements that may be in force.  As you can appreciate, this is a major issue for NRP’s.

Looking at the submissions, I see CM02 from the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group indicates there may be problems relying on the HMRC data.  We’d like to point out that there are some simple ways to alleviate this fear:

  • place more responsibility on the tax payer to ensure their information is correct and up to date
  • effective transparency and sharing of fiscal data between central and local government, and where appropriate the banking sector
  • use HMRC as the gateway to a persons fiscal data, perhaps providing an “end of year” statement showing tax/ni collected, benefits received (including local government) etc thereby providing a “single version of the truth”
  • ensure improved collection rates of Child Maintenance (and fines) by always having this collected using the soon to be HMRC Real Time Information system

 Dr CM Davies, within CM03, provides good examples of where the current system of calculation does not take into account the circumstances of the NRP and therefore causes great hardship and distress.  In addition, an NRP needs to provide adequate accommodation to their child(ren) and the “system” needs to take this into account – including that additional bedrooms may be needed.  Adrienne Burgess made a good point that the “system” should treat NRP’s as a Family where they have 14% of residence.  This would ensure the NRP gets all the systematic support that is currently only afforded to the PWC – including lower cost social housing and other passport benefits.

Ms Burgess also made a valid point that the way maintenance calculations are performed currently precludes benefit payments, however were the parents living together their joint income would be used.  In addition, there are basic living expenses that should be taken into account, eg housing costs and travel to work etc .. without this, the NRP simply would not be able to afford to pay the maintenance imposed and therefore creates arrears that simply cannot be realistically paid.

Overall, I am pleased the issue of Child Maintenance is being reviewed although disappointed that it has taken so long.  We agree that both parents should shoulder responsibility for their children, and this includes fair access to the child(ren) and fair payment by both.

This is a complicated issue; however, I strongly believe that Child Maintenance should not have its own agency.  The payments issue should be resolved via mediation & subsequent court approval – taking into account all circumstances of both parents.  The concept of shared or co-parenting should be enshrined in law, with all the support that this should afford being mandated to be provided by the relevant agencies and bodies.

Perhaps the committee should encourage the interaction on this subject between Sir Alan Beith of the Justice Committee, Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith of the Social Justice Committee, Graham Stuart of the Education Committee, Rt Hon David Cameron of the Childhood and Families Taskforce and David Norgrove of the Family Justice Review Panel.  Not forgetting to take into account the valuable work of Rt Hon Frank Field and the Review on Poverty and Life Chances.

As a final comment, where parents do not live together, the PWC should not have a significant improvement in living standards at the expense of the NRP.  Their living standards should reflect their own income bracket.  If the parents could not afford to look after a child together – they should not be having a child!

May I congratulate you on your work and wish you well in your endeavours.

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