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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2006, 14:58 GMT
Tough new powers on child support
A child at play
The new agency is set to have more power than its predecessor
A new body to enforce child maintenance will be able to dock wages and withdraw the passports of absent parents.

The power to impose curfews and confiscate driving licences will also be given to the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission.

CMEC is replacing the failed Child Support Agency from 2008 but Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton said its 3.5bn of debt will not be written off.

The White Paper sets out the naming and shaming of some parents.

Those who have had successful court action taken against them will be displayed on a website.

Many couples will also be encouraged to make their own financial arrangements for their children.

Among the other controversial measures in the proposals is a plan to make it compulsory to have the father's name recorded on the birth certificate to help future enforcement.

The truth of the matter is, whatever reforms we have put into the Child Support Agency, they have not worked
Tony Blair

Mr Hutton said: "The commission will be given extra powers to recover maintenance from those who repeatedly fail to pay.

"This will include the imposition of new curfews and the surrendering of passports, piloting mandatory withholding of wages as the first means of collecting maintenance and exploring the financial services sector new powers to collect maintenance from accounts held by financial institutions.

"We will remove the requirement to apply to the courts for a liability order before taking enforcement action and we will take powers to recover debt from deceased estates.

"In future I expect CMEC will charge the non resident parent for its services and that we will publicise the names of non resident parents who are successfully prosecuted or have a successful application made against them in court".

Mr Hutton conceded that some debt - a sum not expected to exceed 50m - was "completely irrecoverable".

Huge backlog

It was announced in July that the CSA would be scrapped.

The agency oversees child maintenance payments between estranged parents.

Set up in 1993, the CSA has struggled to keep up with a huge backlog of payments and has been unable to force reluctant parents to pay up.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has said the new scheme will mean women on benefit will no longer have to go through the CSA for maintenance payments from absent fathers.

CMEC POWERS
Seize driving licences
Order curfews
Access money directly
Encourage parents to make own arrangements

"The truth of the matter is, whatever reforms we have put into the Child Support Agency, they have not worked," he said.

"It is extremely difficult when the agency is being asked to chase relatively small sums of money from people who don't want to pay in circumstances where the mother often doesn't want that to happen either."

The Conservatives said it would be 2010 before a new system was in place, leaving 1.4 million families to deal with the CSA and its problems for more than three years.

Tory spokesman Philip Hammond said: "The government can talk all it wants about enforcement, but unless it fixes the root cause of the problem, assessing an absent parent's income effectively, then it is simply building a house on sand."

The Liberal Democrat spokesman on work and pensions, David Laws, said the party would have liked the government to bring in the "fundamental reform" of incorporating the Child Support Agency with Revenue and Customs.

Campaigning group Fathers Direct, meanwhile, welcomed the plans.

"We particularly welcome the possibility of a new national telephone helpline for separating families," said Chief executive Duncan Fisher said.

"We support the increased focus on enforcement of child support, so that the goalposts are clear for parents from the start."


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SEE ALSO
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