$74m unpaid in child support

By Brendan Manning

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More than $74 million is owed in child support payments in Northland, leaving some local families with crippling levels of debt.


Figures released under the Official Information Act show outstanding payments are owed by 5141 parents in the region, equating to $14,000 each on average. There are 6002 children in the region currently receiving the financial support.


Kaitaia's Te Huarahi Ora Tonu Trust service manager Eliza Waenga said the budget advice service often saw both sides of the picture - fathers heavily in debt due to lapsed child support payments and penalties, and women who were struggling to raise their families without the money.


"I've actually had both parents in here as clients - one is the payer of the child support and the other is the receiver."

Ms Waenga said the parents didn't know the other was using the service.


"The other person's [the father] gone to Australia now and she's trying to chase her money from there."


More than $2.5 billion in child support payments is overdue nationally. The total number of liable parents in debt was 129,572 at the end of November.


A gender breakdown for the debtors was not available.


Child Poverty Action Group economics spokeswoman Susan St John said it was extremely difficult for a parent to raise a child on their own.

 


''They're very reliant on the contribution from the father - in most instances. It can be very serious and very disruptive to the stability of the family when the money doesn't come.''


Ms St John said non-custodial parents receiving a benefit were not able to skip payments, as the money was automatically deducted. But she wanted the Government to guarantee payments from those parents in paid work who failed to meet their child support obligations - making officials responsible for chasing payments arrears.


Father and Child support worker Cliff Shepherd said the payments were hard for some fathers to manage.


''And it's the anomalies that really frustrate and anger them.


''For example, we will have mum being paid money out of dad's benefit from Winz and yet dad may be looking after the kids five days a week. [Yet] there's no money coming out of mum's benefit to pay dad.''


A report into the scheme conducted by the auditor-general in 2010 found more needed to be done to prevent liable parents getting into arrears. More than 96 per cent of liable parents have paid a penalty while in the scheme.


Figures previously released under the Official Information Act showed at least 10 New Zealand fathers owe $1.3 million or more each. A request for details surrounding the largest outstanding payment owed was refused by Inland Revenue, which cited privacy obligations.


Meanwhile, Inland Revenue is unable to find thousands of parents who owe child support payments. Many are believed to be living overseas. Over 15,500 non-custodial parents living in Australia collectively owe $529 million - 20 per cent of the total debt.


The auditor-general's report also found the scheme was hard for newly liable parents to understand. Parents who understood the scheme were more likely to make voluntary payments

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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