An inspector calls
One non-resident parent, a businessman with a listed net worth of £18 million in 2006, avoided paying over £35,000 in child maintenance.
The man avoided all contact with us so we asked one of our specialist team of inspectors to look into his case. Our inspector used her wealth of experience, and the range of powers available to her, to successfully establish details of the man's personal income and bank accounts. She also tracked down details of his accountant and personal solicitor, as well as other relevant business dealings in this country.
It then appeared that the man had emigrated to Dubai, which would make it even more difficult for us to get any child maintenance. But the inspector continued her investigations and obtained enough evidence to prove that he was actually living in the UK.
The man lived in Scotland and we took the case to the sheriff, who granted us liability orders totalling around £38,000. This allowed us to take legal action to get him to pay his child maintenance.
First we registered the liability orders against the man, in the form of letters of inhibition. These stopped him selling or transferring 'heritable property', such as houses, garages, business premises and land.
Our solicitors then instructed sheriff's officers to carry out an arrestment, which freezes money belonging to a non-resident parent, including stopping them from being able to use their bank, building society or Post Office account. Following this, we began discussing the case with the man's solicitor and eventually received a cheque for nearly £39,000 in settlement.
We are continuing with our efforts to obtain regular child maintenance from the man
Keeping it in the family
Everyone relies on their relatives for support from time to time but in one case this went a step further, with a relative of a non-resident parent taking on the role of a collusive employer. When contacted by the Child Support Agency, the employer categorically and consistently denied that the non-resident parent was an employee. However, following further investigation by the CSA, including face to face interviews, a deductions from earnings order was issued which secured the first payment. Since then regular payments have been made.
We are getting tougher on parents who avoid their financial responsibilities for their children and are increasing the use of deduction from earnings orders. Every year more than 72,000 employers are ordered to take the money directly from non-payers wages. If an employer fails to do this they could be prosecuted.
The more the merrier?
However, consider the web which unwinds when there are multiple parents with care and children involved. Take one case where a parent with care has six children. She has five cases with the Child Support Agency (CSA) as the parent with care, but in the sixth case she is the non-resident parent, as while one of two children she had with a partner live with her, the other lives with the father. The other four children have different fathers making four other non-resident parents.
Matters are complicated even more when you consider that those non-resident fathers also have other children they have CSA cases for. In total there are fourteen cases that link this group of people together - making the chain an extremely complex one and one which requires considerable time investment from us.
We are moving more than 1300 people into roles where they are working directly on clients' cases. We are also moving our most experienced caseworkers into roles where they focus on resolving the most complex cases. This is pivotal in meeting the needs of clients whose circumstances need more specialist attention.
The long and winding road
Some non-resident parents never tire of trying to avoid us. Take the case of one non-resident parent in Liverpool we have been pursuing since 2003.
Over the years we sent him a number of letters, which we had returned to us marked "addressee unknown". We sent bailiffs to see him but their visit proved fruitless - the non-parent claimed he lived with his mother and the house was being sold as she was going to live in a nursing home. Employees at his business helped him shelter from us and fielded his calls. He also failed to turn up at court.
Using the powers available to us, we traced the non-resident parent through the DVLA who confirmed that the non-resident parent and his mother still lived at the original address. Despite his car being parked outside, his mother denied knowledge of his whereabouts and she also seemed far from in need of nursing home care. With a confirmed address, we have now issued a warrant for his arrest.
We are taking quicker and firmer action against parents who fail to pay child maintenance. We are also looking into thousands of cases where parents have avoided paying what they owe for their children over many years.
Already over the last year, there has been a marked increase in the number of enforcement actions taken. For example between November 2005 and October 2006 we were granted around 13,700 liability orders, up from 11,245 between April 2005 and March 2006.
(A liability order shows that the law recognises that there's a debt to be paid and gives the authority of the court to take action to get the money owed.)
Nowhere to run
When the net is closing in, some non-resident parents would rather move to another Continent that face up to their responsibilities. In 2000, a non-resident parent agreed to pay child maintenance for his child. However, payments lapsed and despite repeated action over the years, including issuing an arrestment which freezes money in a bank or building society account on a given date (and gives the CSA the power to ask for any money available up to the amount on the liability order to be set aside and held), the CSA was unable to collect all the arrears. Finally, using their powers available, the CSA took the evader to court.
During the court process, the evader emigrated to New Zealand in order to avoid paying. A warrant has been issued for his arrest which has been passed on to the CSA in New Zealand to pursue.
Despite action taken by the CSA, there are limits to what they can achieve. Over the next three years, an additional £120million will be invested in the Agency in order to improve the service it provides to its clients and, wherever possible, the Agency will use the tools available to pursue non-payers in order to get more money to children
Safe as houses?
Getting non-resident parents to take responsibility for child maintenance often takes a lot more than a phone call and letter and, in some cases, involves piecing together a jigsaw of evidence. In one case, a non-resident parent claimed he was living in Southern Ireland (outside of our jurisdiction). Whilst his mother did indeed live in Southern Ireland, and the non-payer's name was on utility bills at the property, it was clear that he was resident in the UK.
We conducted a range of checks to establish his address. These ranged from checking out land registry, asking the local water company who was registered at his UK property, checking out local newspapers for references to him and speaking to a building society about his re-mortgage plans. All checks pointed to the fact that the address in Southern Ireland was one of convenience and the non-resident parent has business interests in the UK, owns property in the UK, and sends his child to school in the UK. The CSA continues to pursue the case.
To track down non-resident parents who continue to try to avoid finacially supporting their children we are also using the expertise of private debt-collection agencies and specialist trace companies.
Using our powers
A non-resident parent from Bristol avoided paying child maintenance for his three children and owed over £13,000. Without our agreement, he started to pay £50 per month; however it would have taken him over 25 years to pay the amount if we allowed him to continue paying at this rate.
Although the man was assessed to pay a low amount of child maintenance due to his income, our investigations found he had other assets and savings he could use to pay what he owed.
We took a range of action including passing the case to bailiffs and recording his debt on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines. We then obtained a charging order and registered this against one of the rental properties the man owned. This meant we could recover the money owed as child maintenance if he sold the property.
In addition we identified a bank account belonging to the man and placed a third party debt order on it. This stopped him taking money out of the account and we were able to take a total of £12,892.39 towards the child maintenance he owed.
The man now continues to pay £50 per month to make sure that the outstanding debt of £248.39 is cleared.
Fat Cat or Fat of the Land?
A non-resident parent from Kent told us he lived a thrifty lifestyle, but the only thing he was being economical with was the truth. Although he didn't deny being the father of his 18-month-old son, he claimed he couldn't pay child maintenance because he had no income, lived in a caravan and ate rabbits and other food he found in the local countryside.
However, using a combination of the trace tools available to us we discovered the man was a director of three different companies. A specialist section within our enforcement team is now taking further action to get the man to pay what he owes for his child.
No hiding place
A non-resident parent from Somerset owed over £4,500 in unpaid child maintenance, dating back to October 2002. Even though a court had agreed that he owed this money and granted us a liability order, we couldn't get him to pay because we couldn't track him down.
In October 2006 we began using a new tool that lets us search information from credit-reference agencies to find out the addresses and employers of parents we've previously been unable to trace. It locates parents with financial arrangements such as insurance policies, mobile phone contracts, store cards and mortgages. We used it to find this non-resident parent.
Having traced his address, we also discovered that he owned his home and we took this information to the courts. They agreed to let us to put a charging order on the house, meaning that if he sold the property, we could collect the money he owed in child maintenance. We also warned him that we were going to register his debt on the Register of Judgements, Orders and Fines.
This proved enough to persuade the man to get in touch with us and he has agreed to pay what he owes over a 2-year period - which works out to be £45 per week.
Time to consider financial responsibility
A non-resident parent from Somerset persistently avoided paying child maintenance for his two children, who lived with separate parents with care. He had two separate child maintenance debts, of £13,902 and £7,940.
He continually ignored letters from us reminding him of what he owed and warning him that we intended to pass his case to the courts. We tried a number of times to get him to pay by taking money straight from his wages but he repeatedly changed his job.
The man was summoned to a court hearing to take place in July 2006. At the hearing the magistrate gave the man a one-year suspended driving licence ban, and ordered him to pay £150 per month towards the child maintenance he owed.
He failed to make these payments and a review of his case was arranged with the court in December 2006. The man didn't turn up to the hearing so a warrant for arrest without bail was issued.
He finally attended a review in March 2007 and the magistrate sent him to prison for 42 days.
Law and order
The man, who lived in Plymouth, never denied being the father of his three children but despite being in full-time employment, he consistently avoided paying child maintenance.
We made several attempts to try to get money for his children by taking it straight from his wages through a deduction from earnings order (DEO). However, after saying he would start paying child maintenance, he regularly changed jobs, which kept stopping the DEO process.
Even though the father stopped working we continued to pursue him for the money he owed, at a rate he would be able to afford. We referred the case to a local magistrates court where he was ordered to pay £15 a week to his children until his situation changed; at which point his payments would be assessed again. Despite the court order the man still didn't pay any maintenance for his children.
We then applied for a Committal/Disqualification of Driving Licence. This was granted, but again he failed to pay the child maintenance he had agreed to.
Finally we proceeded with a legal case and the man was sentenced to serve six weeks in prison. He served 14 days of the sentence before his new partner settled the debt of nearly £5000 in full, meaning that he could be released. All the money recovered went directly to his children.
A firm foundation for the future
Helping a non-resident parent understand our powers was enough to secure a substantial sum which will benefit two children in years to come...
A non-resident parent from Southampton consistently refused to pay any child maintenance for four years. We continually chased him for payment and decided to let him know we were going to force him to sell his property, to help recover what he owed.
Following this we acted as a broker between the two parents and successfully secured an agreement on the case.
This action persuaded the man to hand over the property to his ex-partner as an investment for his children's future. The value of the property significantly exceeded the £57,000 he owed in unpaid child maintenance.
Speaking from experience?
A man, who lived in Cheshire, should have been paying child maintenance for his two children for six years. However, he used a range of tactics to delay our work and avoid facing his financial responsibilities to his children.
He was a registered company director and appeared to use his self-employed status so he could avoid paying child maintenance from his wages.
We told him that we would ask bailiffs to seize and sell his belongings and record his debt on the Register of Judgements, Orders and Fines. As a result he agreed to pay a lump sum of £12,459 which went to his children. He is now keeping up regular child maintenance payments.
As he is a registered financial advisor, a record against him on the Register could have seriously impacted on his career and future membership of professional
However, for one parent it provided an ideal opportunity to evade his child maintenance responsibilities, with his new partner informing the CSA that he had died in the disaster. The CSA followed up the case and discovered the parent alive, well and working. A deductions from earnings order (DEO) was issued which obliges the employer to take the child maintenance payments plus an extra amount if there are arrears from their earnings. Having issued the DEO, the parent left employment and the CSA was no longer able to trace him.
As a result of the CSA's work with specialist trace agencies, it will now be more difficult for non-payers to 'disappear'.