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Child Support Agency: Absent Parents

Work and Pensions written question – answered on 20th July 2011.

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Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Chair, Committee of Selection

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what powers the Child Support Agency has to pursue self-employed absent parents (a) in and (b) outside the UK; and what assessment he has made of the adequacy of such powers.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission is responsible for the child maintenance system. I have asked the Child Maintenance Commissioner to write to the hon. Member with the information requested and I have seen the response.

Letter from Noel Shanahan

In reply to your recent Parliamentary Question about the Child Support Agency, the Secretary of State promised a substantive reply from the Child Maintenance Commissioner as the Child Support Agency is now the responsibility of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission.

You asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what powers the Child Support Agency has to pursue self-employed absent parents (a) in and (b) outside the UK; and what assessment he has made of the adequacy of such powers.

The Commission has jurisdiction to make a maintenance calculation and collect child support maintenance only when the parent with care, the non-resident parent and the qualifying child are all habitually resident in the UK. Habitual residence is a legal concept which means more than simply ‘where you live'. A person can habitually reside in more than one country or in none. Habitual residence can continue during an absence from UK.

The Commission retains the power to pursue a self-employed non-resident parent that lives in the UK; or who has moved overseas, for ongoing maintenance payments, but only where the non-resident parent in question is regarded as being habitually resident in the UK. The criteria for establishing jurisdiction when a non-resident parent leaves the UK is described at Section 44 of the Child Support Act 1991. There is no distinction made between an EU state and a non-EU state.

If the non-resident parent ceases to be habitually resident, the Commission can no longer seek ongoing maintenance. We can only enforce child maintenance arrears directly if the self-employed non-resident parent holds assets within the UK, such as savings or property, which would fall within the jurisdiction of the UK courts. Since 3 August 2009, the Commission has had the power to make deductions from current or savings accounts held within the UK without the consent of the non-resident parent.

The Commission may take action to prevent the non-resident parent disposing of his assets, from which the Commission could recover the arrears. The Commission may apply to the High Court (England and Wales) or the Court of Session (Scotland) If a non-resident parent has arrears of child support; and have disposed of, or is about to dispose of, assets with the intention of avoiding child support.

From 18 June 2011, the Commission will have some ability under the new European legislation EC 04/2009 to enforce certain arrears of maintenance that accrued while both parents were resident in the UK where the non-resident parent now resides in another jurisdiction within the European Union. It can also assist parents with care in the process of obtaining a court order for ongoing maintenance which can then be enforced via an application to the Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Orders (REMO) unit at the Office of the Official Solicitor and Public Trustee in England and Wales, and via an equivalent legal mechanism in Scotland. The new European legislation also allows the Commission to make enquiries about assets a non-resident parent may own in another EU member state for the purposes of enforcing child maintenance arrears owed in the UK.

The government recognises that it can be difficult to secure child maintenance in circumstances where the non-resident parent is self-employed and will not willingly accept financial responsibility for their child. Supporting their, children is something parents should manage for themselves and we are taking steps to support them in doing so. However, for the limited number of cases where this proves impossible, we have plans to introduce a new, more automated system for managing child maintenance cases which should make enforcement action quicker and more effective, including against the self-employed.

The Commission has not made any formal assessment of the full effectiveness of the powers that will be deployed to secure maintenance on the future scheme, as some of these are fairly new and others are yet to be commenced.

I hope you find this answer helpful.

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