Memorandum submitted by Dr P A Howarth (CM 6)
Submission to the Public Bill Committee, Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill
1. As the 'pretty exercised' academic mentioned by Mr. Andrew Selous on October 9th (Column number 185), I am making this submission because, not having given him the full details of my own personal circumstances, I wish to provide some clarification to the Committee. The example I gave Mr. Selous was a hypothetical one, and is not a reflection of my own situation, (nor indeed of my own academic speciality).
2. Almost all of the complaints about the Child Support Agency which are aired publicly refer to personal grievances about the application of the financial principles - and indeed submission CM5 to this Committee comes into this category. However, the issue I raised is different, inasmuch as it is the principle itself which is unfair.
3. My concern is that there is an injustice present in the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill, and that a failure to recognise, and correct this, will perpetuate animosity between parents, produce a continued public perception of unfairness, and result in a law which is ripe for challenge, e.g. in the European courts.
The example I provided to Mr. Selous was one in which parental animosity has led to the involvement of the courts and the CSA, resulting in the following circumstances:
(i) the two separated parents, both of whom are working, share the costs of bringing up their children equally,
(ii) the children spend equal amounts of time in each parent's home
(iii) the Family Court has recognised the equality of the rights and responsibilities of the parents by making a Shared Residence Order,
The amount that can be claimed by the 'parent with care' from the 'absent parent' in these circumstances is not insubstantial - for two children the CSA will take 10% (less £7 per child) of their net income from one parent to give to the other. Hence, one parent has almost 20% more disposable income than the other, even though both have identical costs and expenses in relation to their children.
4. That is not the end of the story, however, as that individual could also be receiving Child Tax Credits AND Child Benefit, upping the disparity further, possibly to well over 30% depending upon the state of affairs.
5. In the situation described, in which there is animosity between the parents, the injustice will act to inflame matters, to the detriment of the children. In these particular circumstances, there is no cost to the Treasury of correcting the injustice, so who is harmed by so doing? Of course, the individual who loses out on this windfall will be upset - but on what possible grounds can the Committee forward this as an adequate reason for the perpetuation of the injustice?
6. The above is a manufactured example, but surely the Committee cannot deny that it illustrates an injustice in a principle which the Bill not only fails to correct, but indeed perpetuates. The principle, and the injustice, applies just as much in real cases (including those where care is shared, but there is a minor inequality in the number of nights slept at each parent's house) as it does in this hypothetical one, to the detriment of the very children that the Bill should be helping.