child maintenance payments to be excluded from social welfare means tests
requirement for Lone Parents to make efforts to seek maintenance as an eligibility condition for Social Welfare Payments to be removed
reforms to benefit around 16,000 lone parents at cost of €10 million per annum
Minister McEntee announces most significant ever reform of family courts system in Ireland making them more accessible and family friendly
Department of Justice to lead a review of enforcement of child maintenance orders
Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys, and Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, have today published the Report of the Child Maintenance Review Group.
The group was established by the government to examine a range of issues relating to child maintenance in Ireland. It was chaired by former Circuit Court Judge Catherine Murphy, and included policy, legal and academic professionals.
On foot of the report, the government has this week agreed to take a number of immediate actions to support lone parents.
In relation to the treatment of Child Maintenance within the Social Welfare system:
Lone Parents will no longer have child maintenance payments assessed against them in means tests for payments from the Department of Social Protection
the requirement for Lone Parents to seek maintenance (often through the Courts) as a condition of eligibility for payments such as One Parent Family Payment will be removed
In relation to Child Maintenance within the Courts System:
the Minister for Justice has today announced significant reforms to make the family courts system more accessible and family friendly
the Department of Justice will lead a review of enforcement of Child Maintenance Orders in the first half of 2023 and make proposals for reform if appropriate, such as strengthening attachment orders and examining the feasibility of introducing guidelines on child maintenance amounts
Announcing the changes today, Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys said:
“I am pleased today, along with Minister McEntee, to announce the publication of the Report of the Child Maintenance Review Group.
“I would like to sincerely thank the Chair, Judge Catherine Murphy, and the other members of the Group for their detailed work in relation to these important and complex issues.
“On foot of the report, I am pleased to say that the government has approved changes to implement all of the Group’s recommendations in respect of Child Maintenance within the Social Welfare system.
“The decision to disregard Child Maintenance Payments from the Social Welfare means test will support lone parents and will mean that many parents currently on reduced rates of payment will now see their payment increase.
“As part of the reforms, I am also removing the need for lone parents to seek maintenance as part of their claim. This often involved having to go to Court and so it will remove an additional stress on lone parents, some of whom have come through difficult relationship breakdowns. It will also help to reduce the burden on our courts system.”
Commenting on the Family Law measures announced today, the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee said:
“I am determined to overhaul the operation of the family justice system, to ensure we have a more efficient and user-friendly family court system that puts the family and children at the centre of its work. This is a key commitment in my Justice Plan 2022 and today marks an important milestone in that process.”
The Child Maintenance Review Group was tasked with considering and making recommendations on:
the current treatment of child maintenance payments in the Department of Social Protection;
the current provisions regarding liable relatives managed by the Department of Social Protection; and
the establishment of a Child Maintenance Agency in Ireland
As part of its work, the Group conducted an extensive public consultation process and examined international practice.
The Report, approved for publication by the government this week, sets out the recommendations of the Group.
In terms of social welfare changes, the Group recommended that:
child maintenance should no longer be assessed as means or income for the purposes of any Department of Social Protection Social Assistance scheme
the requirement to make efforts to seek maintenance as a condition for eligibility for One-Parent Family Payment and Jobseeker’s Transitional Payment should be removed
the ‘liable relative provisions’ should no longer apply, meaning that the Department of Social Protection would no longer seek to recoup a portion of claim costs from the non-resident parents
The government has this week accepted all of these recommendations and the Minister for Social Protection and her department will now start work on the necessary legislation to implement them.
On the question of the establishment of a Child Maintenance Agency, the Group did not reach a consensus:
four out of seven members recommended that a State Child Maintenance Body would be established to deal with standalone maintenance issues, (that is where maintenance is the only financial relief being sought). Three of these members favoured a body that does not deal with 'provision' cases (that is, cases involving divorce, judicial separation, civil marriage) and one favoured a body covering all cases
three out of seven members of the Group recommended that a State Child Maintenance Body would not be established but that a reformed Courts system would continue to deal with the issues of Child Maintenance
The government has approved major reform of the family courts system in Ireland. As part of these reforms which Minister McEntee has announced today, the Department of Justice will also undertake a review of Child Maintenance Orders to ensure they are effective. The department will also examine the feasibility of introducing guideline on Child Maintenance amounts.
UK Child Maintenance Service
There have been some calls for Ireland to introduce a similar style Child Maintenance Service to what is in place in the UK and Northern Ireland.
An independent report from the National Audit Office in the UK recently found that:
the estimated proportion of separated families without any child maintenance arrangement has increased from 25% in 2011-12 to 44% in 2019-20
the amount of unpaid maintenance owed to parents increased by more than £1 million per week to a total of £440 million as at October 2021
outstanding arrears will grow indefinitely and are forecast to reach £1 billion by March 2031 at current rates