4 March 2008
Child support: pay up or lose welfare
By Stephanie Peatling
Parents who fail to make child support payments will have the amount docked from government benefits as part of tough new compliance rules.
From July 1 all parents paying or receiving child support will have their payments adjusted according to a formula based on the cost of raising children.
To give them time to prepare for the changes, the Child Support Agency will start sending letters to 1.5 million parents from today.
"The last thing we want is for parents to all come to us on July 1 and say their payments are wrong," said Trevor Sutton, the agency's deputy general manager.
The agency is anticipating 30,000 calls a week from parents asking about the changes. An extra 450 staff have been employed to help the agency cope with the expected deluge of calls.
As part of the changes to child support, the agency has beefed up compliance rules.
Parents who are not paying will face having payments such as unemployment and disability benefits and veterans' and parliamentary pensions garnisheed.
The agency already has the power to stop people owing child support from leaving the country.
The new system allows the agency to ask parents for more detailed information about income and financial assets to make sure they do not pay less than they should.
The July 1 changes are the third and final stage of the biggest overhaul of the child-support scheme since 1988.
The Howard government was prompted to make the changes after a parliamentary review found the scheme was inequitable and had failed to keep pace with increased government payments to families.
Under the changes, payments will no longer be based on a percentage of the taxable income of the child support payer.
Instead, they will be based on the parents' combined income.
Assessments will include children from other relationships.
The formula takes into account the cost of raising children, who will be assessed in two age groups - up to 12 years and 13 to 17 years.
The changes will recognise the time each parent spends caring for a child. For example, a non-residential parent who looks after the children for at least 14 per cent of nights each year is likely to pay less child support in recognition of the costs involved.