The figures come as Sinn Féin prepares to launch its proposal for a child maintenance service later today, based on the system in the North.
Under the proposals, which will be outlined by the party’s social affairs spokesman, Wicklow TD John Brady, lone parents would have three options, under which to pursue maintenance: Parental arrangements, direct pay, and collect-and-transfer. The latter option is a last resort in cases where the non-custodial parent refuses to pay child maintenance, with the parent also penalised through an added fee. Figures for 2017, provided by the Department of Social Protection, show that 9,011 cases were examined last year by the Maintenance Recovery Unit (MRU), resulting in determination orders being issued in 4,413 cases, or less than 50%.
In cases where a determination order was issued, the liable relative began paying the One-Parent Family Payment (OFP) recipient in 1,375 cases, and, in another 39 instances, the liable relative began paying the Department.
However, in 999 cases examined, the liable relative either lived outside the State or could not be traced. In 426 cases, the liable relative was unknown and no further action could be taken.
Even among the cases in which a determination order was made, in 673 the payment was deferred, due to the financial circumstances of the liable relative, and, in another 703 cases, no further action was possible, due to the “reported situation of the liable relative”.
Another 447 cases were still being examined at year-end.
Last year, Spark (Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids) called for the establishment of a statutory maintenance agency, claiming that the seeking of maintenance through the court system prolonged family discord and placed an unfair burden on the recipient to enforce any order handed down by a judge.
The organisation also pointed out that when the One-Parent Family Payment ceases for parents with children aged seven or older, the MRU no longer has the legal right to instruct the liable relative to make a contribution for their child and write to inform them of this.
Louise Bayliss of Spark said many of the issues surrounding maintenance could be navigated, if the age limit was increased from seven, as proposed by Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea last year, adding that, in some cases, liable relatives already making payments are unfairly scrutinised by the MRU, while other get away without making payments at all.
“There should be a statutory maintenance agency, which is fair for everybody, including fathers,” she said.
“Courts, by their very nature, are very contentious. There is always a winner and a loser.
“How much time is wasted in the courts, going in and out seeking enforcement?”
In addition to the Sinn Féin proposal launch, this afternoon, Mr O’Dea is bringing the Social Welfare (Payment Order) Amendment Bill to first stage in the Dáil today.
It would extend the liable relative condition to cover jobseekers’ transition, effectively meaning maintenance would be payable until a child reaches 14.