Non-custodial parents told child payments can stop

Yet Department of Social Protection tells custodial parents to seek maintenance

Lone-parent groups have asked the Department of Social Protection for “urgent clarification” of the situation. Photograph: iStock

Lone-parent groups have asked the Department of Social Protection for “urgent clarification” of the situation. Photograph: iStock

 

The Department of Social Protection has written to thousands of non-custodial parents telling them they are no longer liable to pay maintenance for their children.

However, the department has told custodial parents to seek maintenance or face having their welfare cut.

This has prompted lone parents groups to seek “urgent clarification” of the situation.

The apparent anomaly ocurred after recent changes to the One Parent Family payment (OFP). Under “activation measures” introduced by the last government, lone parents whose youngest child reaches the age of seven are no longer eligible for OFP.

At that point lone parents move to the Jobseeker’s Transitional (JST) payment – on which they can earn up to €90 a week without having their payment (€188) affected. They are entitled to JST until their youngest child is 14, and then to the Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Liability

If the liable relative was already subject to a court-ordered maintenance payment, this was assessed and the OFP to the mother was reduced accordingly and the department did not assess the non-custodial parent for a payment to it.

However, the legislation on “liable relatives” was not extended to the JST scheme, meaning the department has no legal right to demand liable relatives contribute.

Last October 13th, the department’s maintenance recovery unit wrote to all liable relatives, whose youngest child had reached seven, about the determination orders to them.

The letter said: “I am writing to you about the one-parent family payment previously awarded to . . . by this Department.

“As . . . is no longer receiving this payment you have no liability to the department. This does not affect any other maintenance arrangement you have in place with . . . ”

However, the department confirmed to The Irish Times: “The requirement to make efforts to seek maintenance from the liable relative is a condition of the JST scheme and, as such, individuals must meet this condition in order to qualify for the payment.”

‘Huge anxiety’

Louise Bayliss, co-founder of Spark (Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids), said the situation was causing “huge anxiety” for lone parents who have been told by department officials their JST payment will be cut if they do not seek maintenance.

“The department is putting it all on the mothers to sort their mess out,” she said.

The lone parent organisation One Family is also seeking clarification having had “anecdotal” reports of problems and threats of JST being cut.

A spokeswoman said the department was “reviewing the current legislation on liable relatives . . . including the option of expanding the provisions beyond OFP.This will require significant legislative and operational changes.”