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Threat of curfews and tagging for absent fathers

London Telegraph / George Jones | July 25 2006

Young men who father children outside marriage may be compelled to put their names on the birth certificate under Government plans unveiled yesterday to reform the chaotic system for child support.

Those who refuse to pay, or build up huge arrears, could be "named and shamed", as well as having their passports taken away, fitted with a electronic "tag" and subjected to a night-time and weekend curfew.

John Hutton, the Work and Pensions Secretary, told MPs he wanted to "come down like a ton of bricks" on absent parents who were not discharging their duties "legally or morally" in supporting their children.

Announcing the effective scrapping of the much-criticised Child Support Agency, Mr Hutton admitted that it had built up a backlog of 300,000 cases and debts of more than £3 billion, but thousands of lone parents would not receive the money because there were "limited prospects of recovery".

Mr Hutton said the Government was consulting on how to improve parental responsibility from birth, including the possibility of compulsory registration for fathers.

According to Sir David Henshaw, who drew up the redesigned child support system, one in five of children coming within the scope of the CSA did not have their father's name on their birth certificate. In some cases, this meant that parentage was disputed, and in others tracing the parent and getting maintenance was proving impossible.

Where parents are married when a child is conceived or born, both are included on the birth register.

This is not always the case for unmarried parents, though some countries, such as Australia, expect all parents to register births jointly, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Sir David said it would give children the security of "knowing and being acknowledged by both parents" and it might encourage both parents to be active in their children's lives.

Mr Hutton told MPs that the CSA had fallen well short of expectations and a radical overhaul was needed. Only a minority of cases handled by the agency received any maintenance, and there was a net cost to the taxpayer of £200 million a year.

There would be a "clean break" with the past, with a new slimmed-down organisation responsible for delivering child support.

But there would be no automatic conversion of cases from the CSA's existing schemes to the redesigned system.

Parents wishing to use the new system would be able to re-apply. There would be a separate "residuary body" to enforce old debts accumulated by absent parents.

Philip Hammond, the Conservative work and pensions spokesman, said the Government's proposals were a "rebranding exercise" that would disappoint 1.5 million families "trapped in the shambles" of the CSA.

They had wanted to hear a timetable for moving on to the new system of assessment, but were faced with another delay for further reports and consultation.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrats spokesman, said the announcement only offered "further delay and more gimmicks, when what is needed is immediate action".

"We are now in our 10th year of CSA incompetence under Labour, and all we have is further uncertainty, which could make absent parents even less likely to pay up," he said.




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