MPs back new sanctions against parents failing to meet child support obligations

The Child Support (Enforcement) Bill received an unopposed second reading.

MPs back new sanctions against parents failing to meet child support obligations

Parents who fail to pay child maintenance could face swifter punishments under plans backed by MPs.

The Child Support (Enforcement) Bill received an unopposed second reading and work and pensions minister Mims Davies confirmed the Government would support the proposals.

Conservative MP Siobhan Baillie, who sponsored the Private Member’s Bill, explained how it would repeal the need for court orders to carry out serious punishments for payment arrears.

Business Questions
Conservative MP Siobhan Baillie (House of Commons/PA)

The Stroud MP told the Commons: “Under current legislation the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) must apply to the magistrates or the sheriff courts to obtain a liability order before the enforcement powers, such as instructing enforcement agents or sheriff officers, to get the use of the more stringent court-based enforcement actions.

“There is an extra step to get over to get this stage of enforcement. For example the enforcements can include disqualification for driving, or disqualification from holding a UK passport, and to commit a non-compliant parent to prison, so really serious stuff.

“Obtaining a liability order through the courts is time-consuming. The website at the moment is saying to parents that it can take anything from a few weeks to a few months and we know there is an awful lot of delays in the courts so I imagine that it has been even more difficult to obtain these things recently and there was a pause through the pandemic as well when we had the courts closed.”

She claimed the powers contained in her Bill, once enacted, would “allow enforcement measures to be used more quickly against parents who have failed to meet their obligation”.

Ms Baillie also insisted parents currently have “no trust” that child maintenance arrears will be paid due to enforcement issues.

Speaking in support of the Bill, Tory MP for Newbury Laura Farris said “the non-payment of child maintenance is an issue that disproportionately affects women who are more than 90% of single parents”, adding: “But more importantly it is a principal driver in child poverty.”

She cited research by the charity Gingerbread which showed that “60% of single parent families who live in poverty are not receiving child maintenance”, adding “If they were, they would be able to escape the poverty trap.”

“Parents have a legal and moral duty to contribute to their child’s upbringing whether they live with them or not, and when this money isn’t paid willingly CMS needs to step in”, Ms Farris said.

Shadow justice minister Alex Cunningham said that Labour supports the “principles behind the Bill”, but added: “The purpose of the Bill as I understand it, is to make changes to powers introduced in the 2008 Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act.

“But it seems as though some of those powers have not actually been used by the Government and these are the powers which allow the Secretary of State or indeed the Department to make an order without having to go to the courts. I would like to ask the minister to stress this point.”

Work and pensions minister Ms Davies told Mr Cunningham she would write to him, before adding: “This Bill is of great importance for Child Maintenance Service for making sure we make those necessary improvements we have heard today in terms of the enforcement process, and above all, get the money more quickly to children.”

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