Four Queensland children have written to their local Member of Parliament claiming the Child Support Agency ‘ stole’ their life savings to help pay their father’s $43,000 child-support debt.
The children, aged between nine and 15 years, said in the letter $2099.32 had been seized on Christmas Eve from a bank savings account their father operated as trustee for them.
They had been collecting loose change and pocket money for the past five years and depositing it into the account with the intention of one day investing it in the share market.
The children’s MP, Liberal Gary Hardgrave, said, ‘ On first blush . . . it strikes me as completely wrong that the children’s money is being taken by the CSA.’
The agency had shown in the past it would go to extraordinary lengths to get money back.
‘ The Child Support Agency have proved to have been a law unto themselves on umpteen occasions. [It] says the money was taken from the children because the bank account was controlled by the father, who they said had been in child-support arrears since September 1996.
The director of public affairs at the agency, Robin Poke, said, ‘ We do know that he has sole control of the account being discussed, and the money is in his name, not his children’s. He has been making regular payments, but based on his idea of how it should be structured.’
The agency was concerned that in some cases parents used their children to approach it. It also had cases where the non-custodial parent rearranged financial affairs to lower payments.
The children’s father said the agency had accumulated his ”phantom debt” made up of $35,019 unpaid child support and $8278.17 late-payment penalties for 10 months after he notified them he had been terminated from his job in September 1996.
He had been paying $1583.33 child support a month before his job termination, but continued to pay about $230 a month while setting up his own business paying amounts he said had been specified on monthly CSA invoices.
‘ The fact of the matter is there is no complaint from me whatsoever about paying child support. It is to do with the debt that they created after I was terminated,’ he said. He stressed that the complaint had nothing to do with the children’s mother, rather, ‘ sloppy administration’ on CSA’s behalf.
Mr Poke said the agency obtained money from bank accounts to offset maintenance costs as a ‘ last resort exercise’ and it ‘ tried to avoid legal proceedings if it can rely on the good faith of parents to meet their responsibilities’ .
He did not know where the children’s $2000 had gone, but ‘ assumed it was with the payee in this case the child’s mother’ .
Meanwhile, the four children have asked for the CSA to ‘ leave dad and us alone’ .
The father said, ‘ If they think they can steal $2000 from the children, and not have something said about it, that’s pretty pathetic.’ He had lodged a 500-page submission about his case to the Commissioner for Taxation and Child Support Registrar and was awaiting a response.
Mr Hardgrave said he was reluctant to comment on the case before his office had received a response from the minister.
‘ I dubbed [the CSA] a few years ago the ‘custodial parents revenge agency’.
They have allowed themselves too often to be used as a tool of revenge for the other partner.’
It struck him as extraordinary that the CSA would let $40,000 accumulate. ”It doesn’t materialise overnight.’
He had been working to ‘ bring back a bit of fairness back into the system’ where both the custodial and non-custodial parents’ circumstances were taken into account.