HC Deb 11 July 2000 vol 353 cc487-8W
Mr. Ruane

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many non-resident parents who have not co-operated with the Child Support Agency have(a) been processed through Child Support Agency enforcement procedures, (b) been made to pay maintenance, (c) had arrest warrants issued against them and (d) been imprisoned. [129249]

Angela Eagle

The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the Chief Executive, Mrs. Faith Boardman. She will write my the hon. Friend.

Letter from Mike Isaac to Mr. Chris Ruane, dated 10 July 2000: I am replying to your Parliamentary Question to the Secretary of State for Social Security about enforcement action taken by the Child Support Agency. Mrs. Boardman is unavailable and therefore I am writing to you on her behalf. The information that I have provided is applicable to England and Wales. Different arrangements apply to Scotland though the underlying principles are similar. The Government believes that non-resident parents should pay maintenance for their children if they can afford to do so and we will continue to pursue non-resident parents who persistently seek to avoid their responsibilities. The Agency's policy is that, if necessary, it will use the powers given to it by Parliament to enforce payment of child maintenance. Where normal collection arrangements fail and arrears of child maintenance build up, the Agency will initiate enforcement action if the non-resident parent does not make an acceptable offer to pay. However, each case is considered on its merits and the Agency will take account of the likely effect of enforcement action on the welfare of any children involved. The full range of powers available will be considered. Where an uncooperative non-resident parent is employed a deduction from earnings order can be imposed. This is an effective, value for money method of collecting maintenance and arrears without resorting to the court system. It is a criminal offence for an employer to fail to act on a deduction from earnings order. Where an employer does fail to act they may be prosecuted. During 1999–2000 the Agency prosecuted 5 such cases. Where a deduction from earnings order cannot be issued, e.g. the non-resident parent is self-employed, and no agreement can be reached to pay maintenance, a Liability Order is made. This means the debt is registered with the Magistrates Court and a County Court Judgement will then be considered making it difficult for a non-resident parent to obtain credit, mortgage, loans etc. During 1999–2000 Liability Orders were granted on 2,169 cases and County Court Judgements sought on 563 cases. By taking this action it is hoped that the non-resident parent will start to cooperate, however, if this proves ineffective, Bailiff action is taken to seize goods to the value of the debt or, alternatively, a Garnishee or Charging order is imposed. A Garnishee Order freezes the non-resident parent's bank account. A Charging order freezes the non-resident parent's property that could be sold, for example, a car or house that may be up for sale at the time of the order. During 1999–2000 the Agency applied for 130 Garnishee Orders, 69 Charging Orders and took Bailiff action on 1,916 cases. The final sanction is committal to prison, although this does not discharge the debt. During 1999–2000 a total of 22 applications for committal to prison were made. Of these 18 were successful, 11 of which were suspended sentences. By making positive telephone or face to face contact with a non-resident parent early on in the assessment process the Agency aims to obtain full compliance and reduce the number of parents who refuse to cooperate. Non-resident parents are encouraged to make regular payments, preferably by direct debt, standing order or a deduction from earnings order. The Government believes that child maintenance should not be seen as an optional expense to be paid or not as personal circumstances dictate. New legislation, which will support the Child Support Reforms means that maintenance assessments will be simpler to calculate and easier for both parents to understand. This should encourage more parents to co-operate. It will allow the Agency to use more of its resources to deal with those parents who refuse to pay their assessed liability. Additional penalties such as the removal of driving licences are also being considered, though the Agency's aim will remain to ensure the proper flow of maintenance without the use of penalties. I hope this is helpful.