As the cost of living crisis deepens across the UK, thousands of children are missing out on their parents’ vital financial support.
A ‘negligent’ child support service has left nearly 155,000 children financially unsupported as the cost-of-living crisis sweeps Britain and nearly 100,000 parents default on payments, Mazic News can show.
More than a third of parents who had to pay money to state child support agencies didn’t pay anything at last count.
The figures have prompted single parent charity Gingerbread to call on the government to crack down on parents who shy away from their financial responsibilities and prevent children from falling into poverty as a result.
In the three months to March, around 94,000 parents were in arrears with Child Maintenance Service, of whom 61,000 had failed to pay child maintenance, according to the latest figures from the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP).
The numbers refer to parents on Collect and Pay, where the Child Maintenance Service arranges payments between parents who cannot or do not want to arrange payments directly to each other. Parents who are not obliged to pay could also default on payments.
Collective paying parents who have paid more than 90% of their debt are not considered in arrears.
The total number of parents in arrears has increased by over 42,000 over the past five years, from 51,500 in March 2017 to 94,000 in March 2022. However, the number has declined proportionately, with 64.8% in arrears in 2017 compared to 57% in 2017 year 2022.
Over the past two years, the percentage of parents in arrears has increased, with 54.6% in arrears in March 2020, at the start of the Covid pandemic.
The proportion of parents paying absolutely nothing for child support has also fallen since 2017, with figures falling from 41.4% in 2017 to 36.9% in 2017. However, during the pandemic, the number increased by 4.6 percentage points from 32.4% in March 2020.
Mazic News’s analysis comes as Britain faces its worst cost-of-living crisis in 40 years, with energy bills and inflation hitting record highs.
Last month (July) the government announced new enforcement plans for parents who don’t pay, threatening curfews, passport and driver’s license confiscations, and income deduction orders.
But single parent charity Gingerbread has accused the DWP of being uninterested in cracking down on non-paying parents.
Parents can avoid paying child support by collecting and paying if they cannot be contacted by Child Maintenance Service because they do not have a permanent address or bank account. Parents can also avoid paying by having undeclared income.
How many parents in your area don’t pay child support?
Regionally, the Northwest had the largest number of non-paying parents with nearly 8,000 not paying child support in the three months through March. The South East followed with just over 7,500 and London with just under 6,500.
The North West also had the largest total number of parents behind at just over 12,200, followed by the South East at 11,500 and London at almost 10,000.
Relatively, London has the highest proportion of parents with arrears at 18.5%, followed by the North East at 18.1% and the North West at 18.0%.
At the local level, Birmingham had the largest number of parents in arrears with more than 2,000 arrears affecting over 3,500 children.
Leeds had the second largest number of parents in arrears with child support. A total of 1,200 parents were behind on payments, affecting just over 1,500 children.
The map below shows you how many children in your community are missing child support and how many parents are behind.
“Children must live in poverty”
Gingerbread Chief Executive Officer Victoria Benson said parents have a legal and moral duty to help raise their child and the government needs to do more to crack down on non-paying parents.
Ms Benson said: “Child support simply cannot be considered optional. The Child Maintenance Service must use its powers to eliminate permanent arrears and ensure that no child is left in need or poverty because their nonresident parent does not support them financially.
“It’s about time this government and the DWP took the problem of unpaid child support seriously. It is shameful that so many children are forced to live in poverty because of a lax child support service and a disinterested government department.”
A significant source of income
A government spokesman said the Child Maintenance Service received a record £1billion from separated parents last year. They said they recognize people are struggling as prices rise and are taking action to help.
They added: “Child maintenance is a key source of income for many single parents and helps lift an average of 140,000 children out of poverty each year. Child support is calculated to be reasonable and affordable based on the income of a paying parent. Giving children the best start in life is the priority of the service, so parents who can afford to pay more must do so.”