1999 articles - 4th quarter
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Splitting up is as hard on your pockets as it is on your heart.
But a new insurance scheme might help.
By Jan Collie
A scheme to protect women from falling into a poverty trap during
or after divorce action has been set up by a new city firm. The
plan, the first to target non-payment of maintenance, provides finance
for the legal fees involved in fighting family and matrimonial cases.
A pioneer in its field, Divorce Maintenance Insurance (DMI) has
been set up to act as a safety net for the growing number of women
who depend on ex-partners to provide for themselves and their children.
Instead of turning to the state, they will have access to funds
or legal assistance should maintenance payments stop.
"The evidence shows that women and children are more at risk
of poverty after divorce than men and, on average, suffer quite
substantial declines in household income," says Howard Timmis
of Edward Howard Insurance Services, who originated DMI along with
Lloyds underwriters, the Kiln group. "The situation worsens
dramatically if the former husband suddenly can't, or simply won't,
pay the maintenance." Women whose ex-husbands suffer sickness,
redundancy or disability are forced onto state benefit unless or
until they are able to support themselves, Mr Timmis explains, as
are those whose ex-partners die. Women whose financial lifeline
is deliberately cut off are in the same pre- dicament, as well as
having to rely on legal aid to get their maintenance orders enforced.
"The economic consequences of divorce are little less than
disastrous for a large percentage of women," says Mr Timmis.
"The majority of wives are still at least partially dependant
on their husbands so they are bound to come off worst. And one of
the biggest problems is that when people split up, they initially
tend to have a loose verbal agreement about financial support. This
is all very well at the outset, but things can and do suddenly change:
perhaps because a new partner has arrived on the scene, or access
to the children is being made difficult. And then, of course, money
becomes a very effective weapon."
"The Lord Chancellor's Department is understandably interested
in DMI, as it should serve to reduce the tremendous burden on the
legal aid fund," says James Stewart, of Stephenson Harwood,
London, who helped draft the insurance policy. "The Access
to Justice Bill will have tremendous implications for Legal Aid.
In a system where the Legal Aid budget will be capped and the grant
of Legal Aid discretionary, a wife with the benefit of DMI is secure
in the knowledge that the costs of enforcing a maintenance order
against a husband who is wilfully refusing to pay will be met by
How can I survive on just £19 a week, Mr Brown?
By Emma Cook
BRYAN WALLIS has walked some 700 miles across Britain and now he's
hoping for answers. Nine weeks ago he set off from Iona Abbey in
Scotland with little but his rucksack, his placard and a generous
supply of corn plasters. Now he's reached London and tomorrow Gordon
Brown has agreed to meet him and fellow walkers at Downing Street.
"I'm going to ask him why do I and hundreds of other people
like me feel like I've been forgotten, overlooked, ignored by the
Government? Why am I forced to survive on less than £19 a
week? Why do more than 14 million of us rely on benefits?"
Divorced with three children, Bryan takes home £49 in benefits.
£20 goes on weekly gas and electricity bills and the CSA picks
up a further £7.50. He lives off a tuna sandwich a day during
the week and spends the rest on groceries when his three children
visit at weekends. "The last time I bought anything new for
myself was five years ago." If Bryan moved away to look for
work he would lose access to his children so now he's planning to
go back to college and study agriculture so he can run a community
The Secretary of State for Social Security, Alistair Darling, has
pledged that the minimum wage of £3.60 an hour would combine
with the new working families' tax credit to lift thousands of people
out of poverty. But not, unfortunately, single unemployed men like
Bryan. "What good is the family tax credit to me it
doesn't apply to men who are separated from their families, losing
their benefits to the CSA something that Labour condemned
but still they carry it on."
The Sunday Times
Family values: Graeme Martin's former wife continues to pay maintenance
for their sons Jimmy and Charlie
CSA chases 52,000 missing mothers
THE number of mothers who abandon their children and have to be
chased to help pay for their upkeep has almost trebled over the
past three years.
New figures from the Child Support Agency (CSA) show that since
1996, the number of absent mothers being targeted by the agency
has risen from 18,500 to 52,000. Many women are failing to make
any payments to support their children. Thousands more have disappeared
and are proving harder to track than absentee fathers. "When
women flee the nest they can be more difficult to trace because
many are not employed," said a spokesman for the CSA. "They
might have left with another man and are able to go to ground easily.
The numbers are rising rapidly."
Many men left caring for their children without maintenance payments
are living off benefit because they are unable to earn enough to
pay for childcare. Steve Johnson has looked after his son Dominic
for 18 years. His wife suffered from severe post-natal depression
and left when Dominic was six weeks old. Johnson, who lives in Plymouth,
Devon, has received no maintenance despite appealing to the CSA.
Families claiming benefit are legally obliged to go to the CSA to
have their maintenance payments assessed, although an increasing
number of people are going to the agency voluntarily. The 52,000
absent mothers being dealt with by the CSA are only the tip of the
iceberg, according to statisticians.
Gingerbread, the support group for single parents, is undertaking
a research project on the needs of lone fathers and the reasons
behind the rise in their number - now a fifth of members. Many report
that they are treated less sympathetically than single mothers.
Mistakes found in half of CSA cases
By Jon Hibbs, Political Correspondent
MISTAKES are being made in more than half of maintenance assessments
handled by the Child Support Agency following a 22 per cent increase
in cases over the past year. The annual report of the independent
Chief Child Support Officer yesterday praised modest improvements
in the troubled agency's record of decision-making but found that
as many as four in 10 awards were potentially incorrect in cash
However, the new procedures are not expected to come on stream
until 2001. Faith Boardman, CSA chief executive, said changing the
law should reduce errors but the agency was already streamlining
its procedures to speed up processing. She said: "I am aware
that a lot of hard work still needs to be done to raise standards
in all areas to an acceptable level."
RUNAWAY FATHERS MUST TAKE DNA TEST OR PAY
Runaway fathers who refuse to take a DNA test will have to pay
up for their children straight away. New legislation to be outlined
in the Queen's Speech will speed up payments to mothers in cases
of disputed paternity. In future, one refusal to take a test will
be treated as an admission of responsibility, and a legal order
will be made against the father to ensure payments start immediately.
The tests - which positively identify parenthood in 86 per cent
of cases - are expected to apply to up to 5,000 men a year.
Ministers want tighter rules in order to cut the £1.8 billion
annual cost of welfare payments to lone mothers.
So now, in Britain, a woman can point to any man and claim child
support from him. Even if he's not the father, she has a 14% (about
1 in 7) chance of success. At least the article doesn't hide the
fact that the Child Support Agency was set up to support mothers,
Tougher CSA rules on absent fathers
By Marie Woolf, Political Correspondent
ABSENT fathers who refuse a DNA test or deny their paternity will
face stiff penalties in a shake-up of the heavily-criticised Child
A Welfare Reform Bill, announced yesterday, will impose fines on
absent parents who try to delay the Child Support Agency assessing
their case. New powers will ensure that absent fathers cannot delay
the CSA by disputing paternity or refusing to accept the positive
outcome of a DNA test.
The Bill will also introduce a simpler system for determining maintenance
payments for children, based on the absent parent's net income.
Unmarried fathers to get new rights
BY FRANCES GIBB, LEGAL EDITOR
UNMARRIED fathers will have automatic joint parental rights with
mothers under reforms planned by the Government. It plans to amend
the Children Act 1989 so that unmarried fathers who register a child's
birth jointly with the mother will immediately acquire parental
responsibility. There is growing concern among some men that the
law discriminates against them as parents, either on the break-up
of a marriage or if they are unmarried fathers.
The Government is also reforming the way in which the Child Support
Agency works to encourage non-resident fathers to share the care
of their children.
Social Security Questions: new rules for reformed CSA
Absent fathers will be forced to pay
BY MELISSA KITE
FATHERS who refuse to pay child maintenance could have the money
taken from their wages under new rules, ministers confirmed yesterday.
Alistair Darling, the Social Security Secretary, told MPs that in
future the reformed Child Support Agency would use "every possible
means to make sure fathers who won't pay do pay". He said:
"There are several sanctions which can be brought against a
parent who can pay but will not pay. For example, the CSA can immediately
attach that parents wages."
He assured MPs that for those parents who paid willingly, the new
system, included in a welfare Bill due before Parliament, would
be easier to use. It would not be brought in until ministers were
satisfied that the CSA could cope with the change, he said, adding:
"Whilst we will do our best to ensure that it is improved week
by week, month by month, some of the problems that all of us are
very familiar with will continue for some time until we can bring
in the new system."
CSA will be able to dock absent fathers' wages
By Sarah Schaefer, Political Reporter
Absent fathers who miss a maintenance payment for their children
will have their wages docked under radical legislation to be published
this week, Alistair Darling confirmed yesterday. The Social Security
Secretary said that the Child Support Agency (CSA) would be given
the power to contact employers or Inland Revenue in order to deduct
outstanding paymentsfrom absent fathers' incomes. "There are
several sanctions we can impose if a parent can pay but won't pay.
For example, the CSA can attach that person's wages so it can put
that money into payment," Mr Darling told MPs during question
Mr Darling, however, admitted that current delays and problems
would continue "for some time". He said ministers wanted
to be satisfied that the CSA's computer system and staff could cope
with the change. "Until the new system is brought in and becomes
operational we have to operate under the existing system. "Whilst
we will do our best to ensure that it's improved week by week, month
by month, some of the problems that all of us are very familiar
with will continue for some time until we can bring in the new system,"
DNA defaulters face benefits cut
By Rachel Sylvester
MOTHERS will lose benefits if they refuse to take a DNA test demanded
by the Child Support Agency, under Government proposals to be announced
tomorrow. Alistair Darling, the Social Security Secretary, will
unveil plans to cut welfare payments for carers who do not agree
to a blood test in order to help identify the father of their child
through genetic fingerprinting. The Government has announced plans
to insist on DNA tests for absent fathers but it now intends to
extend this requirement to mothers too in order to have absolute
proof of the child's parents. Paternity is only 70 per cent certain
if only one parent gives a blood sample.
The proposal, which will be included in the Government's legislation
reforming the CSA, will further anger Labour's welfare rebels, who
are certain to argue that poor children will suffer if their mother's
income support and other payments are cut. However Mr Darling said:
"If a mother says somebody is a father we can compel the father
to give blood but we can only be 70 per cent right unless we get
the mother's blood too. If we are going to have tough penalties
on the father then we want to be sure he is the father."
Absent parents who give false information to the agency will face
fines of up to £1,000 and payments could be deducted directly
from the bank accounts of fathers who refuse to co-operate. The
CSA will also be given new access to the tax files of absent parents
in order to check that they are declaring all their income. And
fathers who are late in paying their contributions could be fined
up to 25 per cent of the amount they owe.
Single mothers could face DNA tests
The government is considering cutting the benefits of mothers who
refuse to take a DNA test demanded by the CSA. The Daily Telegraph
reports that among the proposals there will be a move to reduce
the benefits of mothers who will not submit DNA samples to the CSA.
The government has already announced plans for DNA tests on absent
fathers but it is now believed this could be extended to mothers
as well. The DNA tests will be used to establish paternity, which
is only 70% certain if only one parent gives a blood sample.
(Birmingham) Evening Mail
"Would you believe it?"
Norfolk mum Lesley Wood, who has spent seven years battling to
get child maintenance from her estranged husband, has received her
first payment - 2p. Now she's considering legal action against the
Child Support Agency.
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