NOTES ON CHANGES IN 1994/5
This chapter reflects the position on the Child Support Act as it was in autumn 1994. However, important concessions were made by the government in December 1994 and early in 1995. Briefly, these changes were, first, that action would be deferred on certain categories of cases (where parents had not co-operated or supplied enough information, where they were receiving income support— without change in their claim—before April 1993, or where they were not on benefit at all). This was said to be a ‘reprieve’ for about 300,000 absent fathers (Guardian, 21 December 1994). Second, no absent parent would have to pay more than 30 per cent of his or her net income in maintenance and the maximum maintenance amount would be reduced; absent parents would be able to apply to a Tribunal for a departure from the formula in exceptional circumstances, such as high expenses connected with travel to work or disability; some allowance would be made for clean-break settlements where property or capital was involved; and some allowance would be made for the absent parent’s stepchildren’s and new partner’s housing costs. Most of these changes favoured absent parents. However, a ‘back to work bonus’ was offered to parents with care on benefit who found employment; parents with care would also be able to appeal the maintenance assessment; and where their maintenance payments decreased as a result of the changes, certain means-tested benefits (family credit and disability working allowance) would be adjusted partially (but only partially) in the short term (as well as fully in the long term), to take account of this (Wylie 1995). A White Paper, Improving Child Support, set out the proposals. The changes were to be phased in gradually. The concessions to absent parents on the whole reduce fathers’ liabilities to maintain, and therefore possibly mothers’ incomes, depending on their benefit situation. However, the much more limited concessions to parents with care might offset this. At this stage it is not possible to judge the overall effects of the changes, but the emergence of more ‘loopholes’ may weaken any attempted restoration of private patriarchy through the Child Support Act.