Cost of living crisis: 155,000 children in Britain missing out on child maintenance payments – worst areas revealed

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As the cost of living crisis worsens across Britain, thousands of children are missing out on vital financial support from parents.

A “lax” child maintenance service has left almost 155,000 children financially unsupported as the cost of living crisis grips Britain, with almost 100,000 parents falling into arrears with payments, NationalWorld can reveal.

More than a third of parents due to pay money to government child maintenance collectors were paying absolutely nothing at all at the last count.

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The figures have prompted single parent charity Gingerbread to call on the Government to crack down on parents who shirk their financial responsibilities, and prevent children falling into poverty as a result.

In the three months to March, around 94,000 parents were in arrears to the Child Maintenance Service, of which 61,000 had paid nothing towards child support, according to the latest figures published by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

Thousands of children across Britain are missing out on vital child maintenance payments from parents.Thousands of children across Britain are missing out on vital child maintenance payments from parents.
Thousands of children across Britain are missing out on vital child maintenance payments from parents. | NationalWorld

The figures refer to parents on ‘collect and pay’, which is where the Child Maintenance Service arranges payments between parents who either cannot or do not want to arrange payments between themselves directly. Parents not on collect and pay could also be in arrears.

Parents on collect and pay who have paid more than 90% of what they owe are not counted as in arrears.

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The total number of parents in arrears has increased by over 42,000 in the last five years, rising from 51,500 in March 2017 to 94,000 in March 2022. However, proportionally the figure has dropped, with 64.8% behind on payments in 2017, compared to 57% in 2022.

The last two years has seen a rise in the proportion of parents in arrears with 54.6% behind on payments in March 2020, at the start of the Covid pandemic.

The proportion of parents paying absolutely nothing towards child maintenance has also dropped since 2017 with figures falling from 41.4% in 2017 to 36.9% in 2017. However during the pandemic the figure rose 4.6 percentage points, from 32.4% in March 2020.

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NationalWorld’s analysis comes as the UK faces the worst cost of living crisis in 40 years, with energy bills and inflation reaching record highs.

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Last month (July) the Government announced new enforcement plans for parents who do not pay, threatening curfews, passport and driving licence confiscation, and earnings deduction orders.

But single parent charity, Gingerbread, has accused the DWP of being disinterested in cracking down on non-paying parents.

Parents can avoid paying child maintenance through collect and pay if they cannot be contacted by Child Maintenance Service by having no declared fixed address or bank account. Parents can also avoid paying by having undeclared income.

How many parents are not paying child support in your area?

Regionally, the North West had the greatest number of non-paying parents with almost 8,000 paying nothing towards child support in the three months to March. This was followed by the South East with just over 7,500 and then London with just under 6,500.

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The North West also had the greatest total number of total parents in arrears with just over 12,200, followed by the South East with 11,500 and London with almost 10,000.

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Proportionally, London has the greatest percentage of parents in arrears with 18.5% behind on payments, followed by the North East with 18.1% and the North West with 18.0%.

At a local level, Birmingham had the greatest number of parents behind on child support, with more than 2,000 in arrears, affecting over 3,500 children.

Leeds had the second greatest number of parents in arrears to Child Maintenance. In total, 1,200 parents were behind on payments, affecting just over 2000 children.

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The map below will show you how many children are missing out on child maintenance in your local council and how many parents are in arrears.

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‘Children forced to live in poverty’

Victoria Benson, chief executive officer of Gingerbread, said parents have a legal and moral duty to contribute to their child’s upbringing and that the Government needs to do more to crackdown on non-paying parents.

Ms Benson said: “Child maintenance simply cannot be seen as optional. The Child Maintenance Service needs to use its powers to stamp out persistent non-payment and ensure that no child experiences hardship or poverty because their non-resident parent won’t support them financially.

"It’s about time this government and the DWP took the issue of unpaid maintenance seriously. It’s shameful that so many children are forced to live in poverty as a result of a lax Child Maintenance Service and a disinterested government department."

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An essential source of income

A government spokesperson said the Child Maintenance Service got a record £1 billion from separated parents last year. They said they recognise people are struggling with rising prices and are taking action to help.

They added: “Child maintenance is an essential source of income for many lone-parent families, helping to lift 140,000 children out of poverty on average each year. Child maintenance is calculated so it is reasonable and affordable according to a paying parent’s income. Giving children the best start in life is the service’s priority, so parents who can afford to pay more must do so.”

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