Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Annex B


  Fifty eight cases were heard by a Magistrates court in the 12 months to 31 March 2002. Very few are resolved at the first hearing, and reasons for adjournment vary from failure to attend to obtaining legal representation. The average length of adjournment ranges between four to six weeks.

  Magistrates have a range of sanctions available to them. They can:

    —  grant a liability order. A Liability Order is legal recognition that a debt exists before any method of enforcement can be used. In the year to 31 March 2002, 1,251 liability orders were granted.

  The Agency cannot take any enforcement action until a Liability Order has been granted. Once granted the Agency can then take the following actions:
Year to 31 March 2002

  —  Bailiffs
1,885 referrals
  —  County Court Judgements 311 obtained
  —  Third Party Debt Order (Garnishee) 314 applications
  —  Charging Order326 applications
  —  Committal or disqualification of an individual from holding
or obtaining a driving licence

  Disqualify an individual from holding or obtaining a driving licence. In the year to 31 March 2002 magistrates considered this option on five occasions. In all but one of those they suspended the imposition of the disqualification and a satisfactory payment arrangement was made by the court for the parent with care. In one case a disqualification was imposed.

  Commit to prison for a maximum period of 42 days. In the year to 31 March 2002 no individuals were committed to a prison term. However, 15 cases were considered all of which were suspended, which is a preferable outcome to committal. As a pre-condition of suspension a payment arrangement is imposed by the court. Failure to comply with the payment arrangement results in a further hearing.

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