The government has classified £2.9 billon of £3.9 billion in child maintenance arrears as “uncollectable”, Radio 5 Live reports.
The arrears relate to family cases handled by the soon-to-be-phased-out Child Support Agency (CSA). The huge sum came to light parliamentary accounts prepared by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which insisted that these arrears said the huge sum would not be “forgotten”. But it was, minister claimed, currently focused on cases which still involved dependent children, rather than on older cases in which the affected children had grown up.
Janet Allbeson of single parent charity Gingerbread urged the government to actively pursue older debts. She told the BBC:
“If they do manage to get the money, even if it is years late, it can really make a difference to a child’s life. It allows, for instance, to help with the cost of going to college, perhaps paying off a student loan, or helping a child learn to drive.”
Meanwhile, the number of parents paying child maintenance via the CSA is at a record high, the government has claimed.
Nine out of ten paying parents whose cases are still handled by the agency are now paying up, the DWP announced in a new press release.
The department cites a total of £1.2 billion in collections over the last 12 months, “thanks to tougher enforcement action against parents who previously refused to pay, as well as vastly improved processes.”
More than 184,000 ‘deduction from earnings’ orders brought in £330 million, the DWP states. Such orders allow maintenance to be deducted directly from the salaries of paying parents.
Liberal Democrat MP Steve Webb is Child Maintenance Minister said the CSA had been “in chaos” when the coalition government assumed power in 2010.
“We’ve managed to turn this super-tanker around thanks to smarter processes and procedures, and tougher enforcement action against parents who refuse to recognise their responsibilities.”
The government began the process of phasing out the CSA in 2012. The successor agency Child Maintenance Options has handled all new cases since November 2013.
Listen to the Radio 5 Live investigation here.