Child maintenance update

An increasing number of fathers are going to prison due to missing child maintenance payments. This is a political and practical hot potato – on the one hand, if no action is taken, this send out a message that it is acceptable not to financially support children. On the other hand, if a father is in prison, this removes his ability to pay and possibly in the future and deprives the children of contact with their father.

The figures suggest that the number of fathers imprisoned has tripled over 3 years to the current number of more than 50. In the period from April 2007 to March 2008, 25 people were imprisoned for missed payments and 480 had suspended sentences. The increase is demonstrated by the fact that from April to October 2010 35 parents went to prison and 635 were given suspended sentences: the final tally is expected to be at least 50 and 900 respectively. Apparently, average sentences for debts are 48 days.

There remains a huge underlying problem with collection of payments by the CSA. Since 1993 it has fallen short by a huge £3.8bn in the amount of money it should have collected and the system remains very hit and miss, as evidenced by the fact that the CSA sought to send to prison one father who owes £700 but many  are not pursued adequately or at all despite owing thousands.

The CSA stated that “It is highly unusual for anyone to be sent to prison .. magistrates must be satisfied that a parent has wilfully refused or culpably neglected to meet their financial responsibilities.”