The promise of fairer child-support rules has been dashed by an unfair and restrictive regulation enforced by the Child Support Agency, according to the Men’s Rights Agency.
The law was changed last year to, among other things, allow paying parents to divert up to 25 per cent of their child support into benefits or services provided directly to their children.
But, by restricting payments to just eight approved categories, the Child Support Agency has been accused of undermining the will of Parliament and perpetuating the unfairness in the system.
Director of the Men’s Rights Agency Sue Price said the rule change was brought about to give paying parents a feeling that at least some of the money they were paying was going to their child or for issues they were concerned about.
“Restricting the payments is to thwart the will of Parliament,” she said. Mrs Price said many more paying parents would be able to claim relief under the 25 per cent rule if the list was expanded “as it should be”.
Attention was drawn to the restrictions when a 36-year old school principal in country NSW had the medical insurance he paid for his three children refused as part of the 25 per cent.
The approved list includes only school or pre-school fees, essential medical and dental fees, child care and an ex-partner’s rent, rates, mortgage, utilities and motor-vehicle expenses.
The father, whose children spend two weeks a month with him complained that almost none of the costs of supporting them were allowed as credits against the $800 a month he was forced to pay as child support.
“I can’t claim anything in kind,” the man said, despite meeting his children’s school uniforms, schoolbags, sporting fees, food and clothing and needing to maintain a complete household for them.
“I can’t see how this system is benefiting the kids.”
Sue Price said the CSA’s limited list of approved payments contrasted starkly with the long list of non-cash maintenance payments used by Centrelink to calculate reductions in family allowance. She said these were the same payments, made between the same parents for the same children, but were being treated totally differently within the same department.
“Centrelink has a huge list that could encompass any item you’re going to spend on a child.”
She accused the Government of taking all non-cash payments into account to reduce the family allowance “to save itself money” but of restricting child -support entitlements to a few because it “doesn’t want to save the paying parent any money”.
Robin Poke, of the Child Support Agency, defended the differences in the lists of allowable payments saying they were used for different purposes.
“The social-security list is centred around working out a person’s entitlement to family payment and the CSA list is specified in child-support regulations,” he said. Mr Poke said if parents agreed, any non-cash payments whatsoever could be taken into account by the CSA and could be up to 100 per cent of the liability.
Commentary from MRA:
Some of the child support reforms brought in last year, were supposed to relieve a little of the financial pressure on paying parents and ensure they had some input into how the maintenance was spent by allowing them to claim up to 25% of the periodic maintenance as direct payments to a third party for the benefit of their children.
These amounts claimed did not need the approval of the other parent.
The change was welcomed, but we are now seeing the unfair limitations that the Child Support Agency have imposed by regulation on the number of items that can be claimed.
According to their website at http://www.csa.gov.au/legal/page4.htm the list includes the following items:
- fees charged at the school or pre-school of the eligible child
- essential medical and dental fees
- payee rent, including bond
- payee rates, including body corporate charges
- payee mortgage
- payee utilities
- payee child care costs and
- payee motor vehicle costs including registration, insurance, service, tyres, repairs and panel beating.
One could be forgiven for thinking this regulation has become more of an effort to support the payee parent than the children directly.
We find it strange that the the Department of Social Security Policy and Legislation guidelines show a far more extensive list than that allowed under the CSA.
DSS uses the list to calculate non-cash payments given to a parent . The monetary value is then used to reduce the amount the government has to pay in ‘family allowance’. So it is obviously acceptable to have a large extensive list, when it saves the government money, but not so when the paying parent might find some relief. Yet the same ‘family allowance’ that is reduced under the DSS list is the same one that is reduced according to the amount paid by the paying parent .
List of items that may be used as non-cash maintenance for the purpose of reducing family allowance payments, according to DSS.
- household items
- mortgage payments
- free lodging
- health insurance
- medical expenses
- loan repayments
- credit card and store account repayments
- child care fees
- school and tuition fees
- general expenses
- sporting club fees
- sporting costs including, equipment, associated travel and accommodation costs, coaching fees
- travel or holiday expenses
- utility bills, ie electricity, gas telephone, heating
- rates, ie council, water, sewerage
- motor vehicle expenses; and
- household repairs.
We have it on good authority that Robin Poke, the spokesperson for CSA, who was quoted in the Canberra Times article was quite put out and said that if he known “he was dealing with MRA then he would have given different answers”. Really!
We’ll be fascinated to find out the answers he would have given and why!