Parents who fail to make their child maintenance payments are to be hit with fines running into hundreds of pounds.
Under Government plans announced yesterday, a £300 penalty will be imposed when a liability order has to be obtained from the courts.
A £200 surcharge will apply when money has to be taken directly from bank accounts using a deduction order.
The proposed penalties are part of a new child maintenance system designed by Ministers to encourage separated parents to come to their own payment arrangements after the abolition of the Child Support Agency (CSA).
Parents who cannot reach agreement will be able to apply to the new Child Maintenance Service but will have to pay an initial £20 collection fee plus collection fees thereafter.
The paying parent will be charged 20 per cent on top of each assessed payment; a further seven per cent will be deducted from the amount the receiving parent is given.
Alongside the financial incentives for parents to come to their own arrangements, the Government is to spend £20m on support services, including mediation, counselling and online advice.
Work and Pensions Minister Maria Miller said the new system would be fairer than the existing £500m-a-year arrangement which had failed children, parents and the taxpayer.
“The new system will place a greater emphasis on supporting parents to make their own arrangements which are in the best interests of the children,” she said. “We are investing in extra support services – including mediation and counselling – to make this happen.
“The statutory scheme will still be heavily subsidised for those who are unable to come to their own arrangements, but the changes we are proposing will offer greater fairness to the taxpayer and a financial incentive for parents to work together.”
Fiona Weir, chief executive of single parent charity Gingerbread, said: “Gingerbread is deeply concerned that the Government intends to force all parents who currently have maintenance cases with the Child Support Agency, including those where enforcement action is being taken, right back to square one. For the hundreds of thousands of single parents who have battled for months, often years, to get the financial support their child is entitled to, this is a cruel blow.
“We know that parents only approach the CSA as a last resort, so suggesting those already in the system should try again to reach their own agreement is plainly unrealistic.”