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Family Law Associate Duncan Ranton discusses the Child Support Agency - CSA

For almost as long as it has been in existence, one of the biggest bugbears for parents who rely on the Child Support Agency (CSA) to collect maintenance payments has been its lacklustre performance when it comes to collecting arrears. But there are signs that change is afoot…  By way of brief background, the CSA works by identifying which of a child’s parents has day-to-day care. It does this by looking at the time the child spends with each parent. If the child’s time is divided equally between parents, the CSA treats the parent who receives Child Benefit as the parent with day-to-day care.

The other parent is called theNon-Resident Parent (NRP) by the CSA scheme.Once the NRP has been identified, the CSA applies a formula to the NRP’s net income to calculate the child maintenance obligation (the maintenance liability).  In April 2012, the Government Minister in charge of the CSA promised “intensive action” against NRPs who failed to support their children. This was against the backdrop of data showing that more than 5,000 NRPs were over £50,000 in arrears in paying their maintenance liability. Those who had previous experience of the CSA might have perceived that pledge to be a little hollow – the CSA’s track-record on pursuing arrears, certainly historically, might charitably be described as flaccid. The Times on Friday last week featured a story of an NRP who has had a shareholding worth £40,000 frozen and sold, to clear down his maintenance liability arrears stretching back 10 years. The case is believed to be the first of its kind using new powers given to CSA to give it some bite. Investigators working for the CSA traced the shareholding through bank transactions, and then moved in to freeze, seize and sell them.The Work and Pensions minister is quoted as saying: “Those who think they can somehow sidestep paying for their children are getting a rude awakening. This case sadly demonstrates the lengths a minority of parents will go to, to shirk their duties to their own Children."

Other steps the CSA can take to extract money from recalcitrant NRPs include deducting funds direct from bank accounts (Deduction Orders) or imposing driving disqualifications. Deduction Orders have trebled since 2009, with £13.5 million having been secured or authorised to be taken out of NRP’s bank accounts. Driving disqualifications for non-payment have risen eightfold since 2008. So, parents on both sides of CSA cases take note! The statistically small number of NRPs who ignore theirFinancial Responsibilities can no longer do so with impunity. Those parents who depend on financial help from the CSA to provide for children might actually get it. Over twenty years since its creation, the CSA is inching towards the point where it might start to be fit for purpose. Previously just a paper tiger with no bite, at long last the Agency has been given at least a few of the teeth it needs to help families.

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