Calls for agency to help lone parents

A group representing one-parent families is demanding a statutory maintenance agency after a survey showed that some families are owed as much as €6,000 per child.

Calls for agency to help lone parents

The survey, while small-scale, showed that almost three-quarters of the children involved are not receiving regular maintenance payments.

The survey was conducted by Spark Ireland. The results were revealed at its inaugural conference, ‘Crisis in Lone Parent Families’, in Dublin’s Liberty Hall.

The organisation said the current maintenance system is not succeeding in providing for families, many of whom are living in consistent poverty.

The survey of 85 families involved 155 children and found that 72 families have a maintenance award, affecting 136 children.

It says only 29 families, involving 42 children, are receiving regular maintenance payments — just 27% of the total number of children.

While 13 families have no maintenance award, the average award per child for maintenance as granted by the courts is €21.53 per week.

In addition, 43 families (94 children) are in arrears. The total outstanding arrears was €561,741, which worked out at €5,975.97 per child or €13,063.74 per family.

Spark Ireland said there is an urgent need to establish a statutory maintenance agency as recommended by the UN’s CEDAW periodical review of last March and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection last June.

Spokeswoman Louise Bayliss said cases should ideally stay out of courts as it is not a suitable setting in which to involve children.

She said the Department of Social Protection’s own maintenance recovery unit is “absolutely insufficient” as a means to secure the required level of financial support needed by many families.

Ms Bayliss called for an overhaul of existing arrangements, including a demand that legislation be introduced to ensure the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection can place an obligation on the ‘liable relative’ in maintenance cases to support their child beyond the age of seven.

Under current rules, the One Parent Family Payment is made to those with a child under the age of seven, but when the child reaches that milestone it switches to a jobseeker’s transitional payment.

Spark said this results in a letter being issued to the liable relative stating they no longer have to make payments directly to the department, if that was the arrangement in place.

“There is some protection in place when people are under seven,” said Ms Bayliss, adding that while altering this age level might help, “we would prefer to see a statutory maintenance agency in place and money diverted directly to children”.

Spark said the current housing crisis is also affecting one-parent families and that, according to Census 2016, lone parent families make up 19.9% of families with children, yet 65% of families in emergency homeless accommodation.

One of the speakers at yesterday’s conference, Fr Peter McVerry, said society needs to take note of the stress caused to children by the housing crisis, with some feeling left behind.

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