Website To ‘Shame’ Absent Parents

Ministers are planning to publish on the internet the names of absent parents who refuse to pay maintenance for their children. Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton said he aimed to “come down like a ton of bricks” on absent parents. New enforcement powers to be outlined in a White Paper this week include the removal of passports, curfews and electronic tagging.

The Liberal Democrats have dismissed the plans as a “daft gimmick”.

The White Paper will include details of the smaller body which is to replace the troubled Child Support Agency (CSA), which has been dogged by problems and is owed £3.5bn.

Mr Hutton said the reforms would make the system simpler and more streamlined so the new agency “can get right in there quickly, end the delays, get the money into the families that need it most and make a contribution to supporting family life and tackling child poverty.”

Some critics say the new measures could cause hostility between partners at a difficult time in their relationship. But Mr Hutton told Andrew Marr on Sunday AM that life should be made “as uncomfortable as possible” for parents neglecting their responsibilities. “When they don’t pay, we have to pay, and that is not a proper thing to happen,” he said.

Liberal Democrat spokesman on work and pensions David Laws said the new plans would not work. “This is yet more daft ‘government by gimmick’ on the CSA,” he said. “Listing people’s names on a website is likely to be totally ineffective and could be seen by some people more as a badge of pride than a badge of shame.” He said the CSA’s existing powers to take away driving licences had been little used and were of little effect. Only wholesale reform and aggressive enforcement would make any difference, he said.

Labour MP, Frank Field, former minister for welfare reform, said he supported the plans but measures would need to be in place to ensure the information posted on the internet was accurate. He said no debts should be written off when a new system is brought in.

Nick Woodall of the Centre for Separated Families, a support group for families going through separation, said the government “unwittingly contributed” to conflict between parents. He told BBC Radio Five Live: “It seems like it’s just another attempt by the government to sound tough on parents, when really what it should be doing is creating services to help them.”

But Janet Allbeson from the charity One Parent Families said lone parents were desperate for the government to “put some welly” into the collection of unpaid maintenance. “We talk to lone parents all the time and they are desperate for the (Child Support Agency) to really take strong action against non-resident parents, to make sure they pay. And they’re incredibly angry that people who don’t pay child support, really, they’ve been treated a bit too lightly.”

On Saturday it emerged that the CSA had been increasingly using private companies to collect unpaid money, which had so far enabled it to recover about £320,000 which it would not otherwise have recovered.

However, some campaigners fear that more than £1bn owed to parents will be written off when the agency is replaced.