Page last updated at 16:49 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 17:49 UK

Agency claims maintenance success

Reevel Alderson
BBC Scotland Social Affairs Correspondent

Mother and child
The CSA said it hoped recover all of the money still owed to children

The Child Support Agency has recovered more than £13m of maintenance arrears for Scottish children over the year to June 2009.

According to figures seen by BBC Scotland, it has come at the end of a three-year programme to improve the performance of the agency.

But absent parents in Scotland still owe more than £300m.

The agency said new powers it had recently been granted will help it recover even more cash.

The main Scottish office of the Child Support Agency (CSA) is in Falkirk, and from there case workers are in regular touch with parents - both those who live with their children and those who are "non-resident".

CSA PAYMENTS IN SCOTLAND
Maintenance paid: £91.3m
Arrears recovered: £13m
Still owed: £308m
Source: CSA

More than 65,000 children in Scotland benefit from CSA-arranged maintenance payments, 14,000 more than a year ago.

The agency has completed a three-year improvement programme, following a string of bad news stories.

There were complaints it was treating absent parents unfairly, failing to recover maintenance payments and had an unreliable computer system.

Now it has enhanced powers to arrest the earnings of a non-resident parent, check credit ratings and even prevent goods such as cars or houses being sold before maintenance arrears are settled.

In the Highlands, Anne is one client who has benefitted, with an arrears payment of £20,000 recently secured following a 10-year struggle to get her ex-partner to pay up.

CASE STUDY 1

A non-resident parent had, over a number of years, only paid child maintenance arrears when his case was taken to court after 15 previous actions to recover maintenance for a 17-year-old boy had failed.

Non-payment continued, but as the 16th court action was being prepared, it was discovered the non-resident parent owned two Bentley cars.

The Agency applied for an order to prevent sale or disposal of the vehicles, and when the non-resident parent received a copy of its application he contacted his caseworker to arrange repayment.

The full amount of almost £3,300 was paid.

"It was only really in the last maybe two years, I think their powers increased, and legislation was brought through whereby they had increased means to pursue outstanding monies due to parents with care," she said.

"There was, I think, yes, a sense of injustice. You do get angry because you do wonder whether some parents forget their responsibilities and it does make you quite angry when you're the one basically providing children with everything."

For her 17-year-old son, the fact that his father has now paid up, brings an end to an unsettling period.

"My dad was saying to me he was paying and my mum was saying to me that he wasn't paying," he said.

"It was hard: I'm glad now to find a sense of financial security and it's all over and done with."

The CSA's Scottish manager, Linda Brown, said it was important for all involved - whether parents or her staff - to remember that the cash being collected was for the children of a former relationship.

CASE STUDY 2

A non-resident parent who moved to New Zealand was still traced by the Agency for arrears of more than £13,500.

The full amount was collected for their children - now aged 16 and 20 - as a result of eight years of work and determination by an Agency caseworker.

The Agency used a reciprocal agreement within New Zealand's legal system to register an order against the non-resident parent's property in that country.

"All the money that the Child Support Agency collects is destined to support the children for whom it's intended," she said.

"And that's why we are determined to not only set up ongoing maintenance arrangements, but also to recover arrears that are owed."

Jim Edgar, the CSA's legal enforcement director, said the agency was not legally entitled to write off any of the £308m in arrears owed by Scottish parents since it was established more than 15 years ago.

"That sum of money is recoverable, and we will be taking action to recover it," he said. "That will include our enhanced powers.

"We did secure £13m in the last year, of a total of £91m we recovered in terms of child maintenance payments, so we will be seeking to recover the whole £308m as long as it needs to take us to do so."

The agency hopes a new maintenance recovery scheme to come into force in 18 months' time will help it improve its success still further.



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SEE ALSO
Child maintenance pay tops 1bn
01 May 08 |  Business
Unpaid child maintenance targeted
23 Sep 07 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West
Child support reform 'a disaster'
05 Jul 07 |  UK Politics

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