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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 January 2006, 17:37 GMT
Non-paying parents may be tagged
A tagged offender
Could tagging be used to impose curfews on non-paying parents?
Parents who fail to pay child support money could be tagged, Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton said.

Mr Hutton said the idea was being examined as part of reforms of the powers of the Child Support Agency.

"I want to get tough with those dads who are not paying for their kids," he told BBC News.

A review of the Child Support Agency is under way after Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was "not properly suited" to its job.

Mr Hutton said he would make a statement to Parliament soon setting out how he plans to improve the CSA's performance.

Extra powers?

Mr Hutton's comments follow press reports suggesting his department was looking at imposing curfews backed by tagging to restrict the movements of absent parents.

Between April 2001 and last September, 27 absent parents were jailed for up to six weeks and 507 given suspended sentences over failed maintenance payments.

Existing powers to confiscate driving licences have been used only nine times in that time - mostly because of fears they could prevent people working.

We have got to enforce those responsibilities fairly and properly
John Hutton
Work and Pensions Secretary

Mr Hutton refused to go into details of how the tagging idea might work, but he said the government was looking at a range of options.

The CSA was already making more use of existing powers, he said.

He was now examining whether new powers were needed to ensure there was a "serious and credible threat for people who do not pay up that they will suffer an adverse consequence".

"We have got to enforce those responsibilities fairly and properly," said Mr Hutton.

"But the fundamental here is that the father or mother who has moved away from the family does not in that action of moving away then sever all of their ties.

"We have got to make sure that they meet their financial responsibility to their kids and if that means taking stronger powers then we are certainly prepared to look at that."

Double standards?

Matt O'Connor, founder of the Fathers 4 Justice campaign group, said parents should meet both their emotional and financial responsibilities to their children.

But he complained the tagging idea was part of a "gender apartheid" where mothers who failed to give reasonable access to children were treated with a "soft touch" while fathers were handled as "pariahs".

The government last year floated the idea of tagging parents who failed to comply with child access orders, but the suggestion was soon discarded.

Mr O'Connor said the latest tagging idea "shows once against we seem to have double standards with one rule for dads and another for mums".

Liberal Democrat work and pensions secretary David Laws dismissed the tagging idea as "a substitute for a real policy".

"The CSA is fatally flawed and further attempts to patch it up are again likely to fail," he argued.

"What the CSA needs is a not more tinkering with its powers, designed to court dramatic headlines, but fundamental reform to address its weaknesses."

Conservative shadow minister Philip Hammond said the idea was an attempt to distract attention from the CSA's real failures.

The agency's performance on administration had to be improved significantly so it had decisions it could enforce, he said.


SEE ALSO:
The troubled history of the CSA
17 Nov 04 |  UK Politics
CSA 'could close', says minister
26 Jan 05 |  UK Politics
'Basically, it doesn't work'
17 Nov 04 |  UK Politics


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