Parents owe £3m in child maintenance across Mid-Ulster

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PARENTS living in Magherafelt and Cookstown owe almost £3 million in child maintenance, it has been revealed.

The figure is part of an £87 million hole in child maintenance payments currently owed by parents throughout Northern Ireland.

In Magherafelt parents owed a significant proportion more than those living within the Cookstown district.

In 2011 parents in the Magherafelt area owed a total of £1,684,365.77 whereas in Cookstown a recorded arrears total in maintenance payments amounted to £1,116,154.85.

Postcode breakdowns by The Detail website, which provides a detailed map of the figures, also reveals staggering statistics.

In the BT45 area, which covers areas such as Castledawson and Desertmartin, child maintenance payments of £1,298,263.03 was recorded as being owed last year. In the BT80 postcode district, which covers villages such as Coagh and Tullyhogue, £808,814.59 was detailed as being the arrears total owed to CMED.

Statistics obtained by The Detail website from the Department for Social Development’s Child Maintenance and Enforcement Division (CMED) also show how outstanding arrears have dramatically risen by £80.7 million in March 2010 to £87.1 million in December 2011.

In contrast, only £2.6m of debt was collected by the Department for Social Development’s Child Maintenance and Enforcement Division (CMED) during the 2010/11 financial year.

The news means that over a quarter (27%) of the 28,966 children entitled to receive maintenance payments through the child support system did not receive any money in the last three months of 2011.

CMED was established in April 2008 to replace the former much criticised Child Support Agency after the CSA was described as “one of the greatest public administration disasters of recent times” by Westminster’s Public Accounts Committee in 2007.

The role of CMED is to make sure that parents who live apart from their children contribute financially to their upkeep by paying child maintenance.

Parents should contribute to child maintenance while children are in full-time education or until the age of 19, whichever comes first. Since April 2010, the amount of child maintenance that the parent with care receives no longer affects income-related benefits.

There are three options for child maintenance – a family-based arrangement, a consent order (an official ruling made by a court) or an arrangement made through CMED’s statutory maintenance service.

Under the most common maintenance rate, non-resident parents with a weekly income of over £200 have to pay 15% of their net weekly income for one child, 20% for two and 25% for three or more. Other factors that can affect the amount of child maintenance a non-resident parent has to pay include any overnight stays and the number of children living with them. All parents with care are paid monthly.

In Northern Ireland there are nearly 92,000 lone parents with 150,000 children. Between 20% and 25% of all families are one-parent families.