Almost one in five liable relatives in cases examined by the Department of Social Protection’s maintenance recovery unit (MRU) last year either could not be traced or their identity was unknown.
Figures from the department show an increase in the number of cases examined last year by the MRU, the job of which is to recover some or all of the maintenance money owed by a liable relative. In every case where a one-parent family payment is made, the MRU seeks to trace the liable relative to check if they can make a contribution — an assessment based on net income and with certain allowances deducted.
Anyone earning more than €13,450 a year comes under the terms of the assessment process, although some liable relatives are not pursued, due to personal circumstances or low incomes.
The MRU examined 9,543 liable relatives last year, up from 8,063 in 2014, but found that 1,205 liable relatives were either living outside the country or could not be traced. Another 575 liable relatives were classified as unknown.
After the examination of the 9,543 cases, determination orders were issued in 2,974 cases to liable relatives who had an apparent ability to pay maintenance.
Ultimately, 746 liable relatives began making maintenance payments to the lone parent — averaging €46.85 a week — while another 55 started paying the department directly, which is another option, an average of €67.03 a week.
The department estimates that the work of the MRU resulted in savings of around €3.3m in 2015.
The figures come after the Government last week announced landmark changes to family law which allow unmarried fathers rights of guardianship.
The reform is part of the Children and Family Relationship Act.
It means an unmarried father who lives with the child’s mother for 12 months, including three months following the child’s birth, will automatically become a guardian.
It also means a parent’s spouse or civil partner, provided they were together for at least three years, can apply for custody where he or she has shared parenting of a child for two years.
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