Tough times ahead for absent parents


Absent parents who fail to pay child support could have their passports and driving licences seized without a court order.

Proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill have come under scrutiny during its 2nd reading after it was revealed that the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) (previously known as the Child Support Agency (CSA)) could be given the right to seize passports and driving licences of absent parents without having to obtain a prior court order.

This will mean any parent choosing not to support their own children could see these documents confiscated until they pay the money due in full.

The plan will be tested in certain areas of the UK after results for similar schemes in the US and Australia has proved encouraging with rises in obtaining payments.

The CMEC already has the right to take money from a bank account without going through the courts; apply for a curfew; or to recover money from a dead person's estate.

Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell said: "We are supporting parents in these tough times, but for those who choose not to support their own kids, we will not stand by and do nothing."

Under the new rules any parent failing to pay child support will simply receive notification from the CMEC that they could no longer drive or go abroad. The Department for Work and Pensions has stated that this method will only be used as a last resort.

But, this has done little to placate the opponents who are worried that civil liberties are being breached by giving bureaucrats the ability to take away passports and driving licences.

LibDem work and pensions spokesman Steve Webb said: "In court, a judge decided whether something is justified, looks at the evidence and allows all sides to have their say."

The Lord's constitution committee commented in Dec 2007, that "Travel to and from one's country is a right of great significance and should only be curtailed after a rigorous decision process."

Battle lines are being drawn over this controversial change and only time will tell how things will pan out.

Download a copy of the Welfare Reform Bill here.

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