Child Support (Enforcement) Bill Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Child Support (Enforcement) Bill

James Sunderland Excerpts
James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)
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We have heard much about the Bill already, so I do not want to go into the detail of it, but I do want to commend my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie), who is an outstanding MP and a fantastic champion for her constituency. What she has done in this place in the short time since 2019 for families and family law is amazing, so I congratulate and thank her.

This Bill is a no-brainer—it is an easy one to support, and I know that the Government are supporting it, so I will not talk for long, but I am delighted to support it. The bit that really interests me is that, where the Department for Work and Pensions agrees that a person has failed to pay an amount of child support maintenance and a deduction from earnings has not been possible or is not appropriate, the Bill will enable the DWP to make a liability order in respect of that amount against the person. There is an element of coercion that we have not seen before, and it is absolutely justified.

The bit of the Bill that really matters relates to direct pay. Where a parent does not pay their liability in full and on time, the so-called person with care should inform the Child Maintenance Service, which will take swift action to move the case to collect and pay to enforce payment. Without a court order, the Child Maintenance Service may collect arrears through a deduction from earnings order, a deduction from earnings request or a deduction order. The bit I really like is that, with a court-obtained liability order, the Child Maintenance Service may instruct bailiffs to take control of goods and apply to the court for an order of sale of an asset once it is registered with the court.

This is really important, because we have seen over the years so many cases of absent parents, errant parents and non-resident parents who have an obligation to provide for their children but do not. Constituents in Bracknell come to see me all the time for help in chasing these absent, errant or non-resident parents, and I feel their angst. I can now at least reassure them that the law is being tightened, that non-resident parents can now be held to account much more forcefully and that means now exist whereby they will be forced to make good. This is a step in the right direction. I commend my hon. Friend for all the work she is doing, and I fully support the Bill.

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Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. I do not personally know the answer, but I am happy to look at that point and write to him.

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland
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The Minister is talking eloquently about the need for courts to uphold and the need for parents to be chased for the money that they owe through the CMS. By the same token, although it is not within the scope of the Bill today, could she comment on the ongoing plight of those who do not have access to their children—those who are prevented from seeing them? We can all recall the plight of Fathers 4 Justice—Spiderman hanging from the gantries on the M25. It is important that we discuss, or at least raise today, the issue that it works both ways and that we also have to give deference in law to those seeking access to their children.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. He is right to say that. We have seen this in our constituency surgeries: there are always two sides to every story. It is right that we have processes that are able to respond to that and that parents are able to see and engage with their children. I reiterate that my hon. Friend in the other place, who has day-to-day policy responsibility for this matter, is very much focused on reducing parental conflict. Above all, this is about supporting children, getting them the best start and ongoing support to thrive in life.

Let me make some progress on the importance of today’s Bill. Child maintenance payments provide vital support to separated parents. Approximately 140,000 fewer children are growing up in poverty as a result of child maintenance payments. This includes payments through the family-based process and through the service. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud has already stated, in the past 12 months, more than £1 billion-worth of support was arranged and collected through the Child Maintenance Service. That exemplifies the intent of the service, which is to promote collaboration between separated parents and encourage parents to meet their responsibilities in providing for their children, meaning that youngsters get the financial support that they need for that good start in life.

Research shows that children tend to have better emotional wellbeing and higher academic attainment growing up with parents who, together or indeed separated, have that good-quality relationship and are able to manage conflict well. Child maintenance cases are managed by two processes, as we discussed earlier. The collect and pay caseloads are more challenging. That is where a collaborative arrangement has either failed or not been possible. Therefore, these parents are considered less likely to meet their payment responsibilities.

We know the difference that child maintenance can make in people’s day-to-day lives, so unpaid child maintenance should be paid immediately. We know that the vast majority of parents want to do the right thing to support their children financially. Where a parent fails to pay on time or in full, our strategy is to tackle payment breakdowns at the earliest opportunity and to take action to re-establish compliance and collect any unpaid amounts where they have been accrued.

The Child Maintenance Service is able to deduct £8.40 a week towards ongoing maintenance or arrears from certain prescribed benefits, as I have discussed. Where measures prove ineffective or inappropriate in collecting arrears, the CMS will apply to the court service or the sheriff court for the liability order.

The liability order enables the use of more stringent powers, as we have heard, and we are able to take more serious action. Since June 2022, the Child Maintenance Service has collected £2.7 million from paying parents with the court-based enforcement action in process. We regularly review processes and policies in line with best practice to deliver the best outcomes for parents and children, and I note the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes.