More than two in five Sheffield parents failing to pay compulsory child support
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Charity Gingerbread, which supports single parent families, says children who could be lifted out of poverty by the money are being failed.
And it says the figures are likely to rocket as a Department for Work and Pensions overstretched by the pandemic is not chasing owed cash.
A separated parent can be forced to provide child maintenance through a collect-and-pay service if they cannot arrange payments with their former partner.
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But DWP data shows parents in Sheffield failed to pay into such schemes on 647 occasions between January and March.
That was 43 per cent of such arrangements – although still below the 44 per cent average across Great Britain.
The figures include ‘arrears-only cases’, for which no ongoing child maintenance was due in the three months.
Joe Richardson, Gingerbread research and policy officer, said the national figure is ‘evidence of a government service continuing to fail the children it is supposed to protect’.
He said: “We expect the next set of figures to show arrears have skyrocketed when they include the full effect of the DWP’s decision to not investigate any reductions to maintenance payments made by a non-resident parent due to the pandemic.
“Research has shown that for those owed maintenance and living in poverty, being paid the maintenance they are due would lift about 60 per cent of them out of the poverty trap.
“Child poverty is unacceptable in any circumstances, but more so when a government department has the powers to prevent it.”
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The Child Maintenance Service scheme is meant to help with the everyday living costs of looking after children.
Some mums and dads are able to agree on payments privately. When this is not possible, one of them can apply to the Child Maintenance Service, which will say how much cash should be handed over.
This can be done through a direct-pay service – 2,278 were in place in Sheffield between January and March.
If a sum still cannot be agreed, or if someone does not keep up payment, the CMS can switch to collect and pay.
The CMS is supposed to take money directly from someone’s earnings or their bank account if they try to avoid payment and can eventually take them to court.
Across Great Britain, parents failed to put cash into about 83,600 collect-and-pay arrangements between January and March.
A total of £354 million in child maintenance was owed by the end of March.
Mr Richardson said this 'dwarfs’ the little more than £30m collected through enforcement actions between January and March.
Gingerbread is supporting four women to seek a Judicial Review – a process in which a judge reviews public body decisions – of the CMS over failure to collect maintenance payments.
A DWP spokesman said: “Parents using this time as an excuse to avoid paying what they owe are denying their children the best start in life.
“We will consider appropriate enforcement action on a case-by-case basis for any parent found to be abusing the system.
“We have introduced tough powers to ensure children receive the financial support they deserve, with 70 per cent of child maintenance due in the collect-and-pay service successfully collected in the three months to March.”