Absent parents across Fife and Tayside owe an astonishing £47 million towards the upkeep of their children, The Courier can reveal.
The staggering amount is just a fraction of the £3.8 billion in arrears due by mums and dads in the UK and has led to the Child Support Agency (CSA) being branded a “total disaster” by a local charity.
Lone parent organisation Fife Gingerbread claimed children were being used as pawns and said the introduction of the Westminster Government’s new Child Maintenance Options could in fact make matters even worse.
Manager Rhona Cunningham said absent parents who shirk their responsibilities should face real consequences.
“Organisations like Fife Gingerbread should not be hearing about children going hungry while the absent parent does not contribute,” she said.
The CSA was launched in 1993 to calculate the amount of maintenance a non-resident parent was due and to collect and transfer the money to the parent living with the children.
As of 2012 some 1.2 million cases were in arrears and 750,000 people had never paid a penny.
The CSA is being replaced this year by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), which will encourage splitting parents to reach their own agreement over financial support.
Failure to do so will see the parent left with care of the children charged a fee to use the service in order to pursue the absent partner.
Ms Cunningham claimed the new arrangement could result in further stress and hardship for the tens of thousands of lone parents across Courier Country the vast majority of whom are women.
She added that organisations such as Leven-based Gingerbread would also suffer as they struggled to cope with an increased demand for help and advice.
She called on the Government to invest the money collected through CMS fees in projects to help lone parents.
“Without question, it is becoming more and more acceptable in this country to shirk responsibility and, worryingly, children are often used as ammunition during a separation,” Ms Cunningham said.
“Too many absent parents are more than happy to walk away from their moral and legal responsibilities, both in terms of nurture and as provider.
“Every day we see lone parents struggle to cope both financially and emotionally, yet they are often a target for condemnation by some media outlets and painted as scroungers who are draining the state benefits system.
“One of the real problems for lone parents and their children who live in poverty is the non-payment of child maintenance.”
She added that urging separating parents to reach their own agreement was actually better than the existing system but many people would need help to do so.
“They are having to do this at a time in their lives when feelings and emotions are particularly raw,” she said.
“Parents need support to overcome this and realise that the benefits of both having ongoing relationships with their children is a healthy and beneficial situation.
“Organisations like ours are very thinly stretched reacting to the impact of welfare reform so we don’t have the capacity right now to take on this kind of work as well.
“My plea would be organisations like ours need funding in order to support parents to do this. The Government should help with this, rather than taking a slice of people’s child maintenance payments.”