NEARLY £4 billion in child maintenance has gone unpaid to parents across the country.
Latest figures from the Child Support Agency show that £3.802bn was left outstanding between March and June of this year.
During the same three month period the number of uncleared cases rose by 16% to 2,200.
Critics say the CSA’s figures show that there is a real need for an overhaul of the system that has left parents single parents “stranded”.
Fiona Weir, chief executive of single-parent charity Gingerbread, said: “The latest figures from the Child Support Agency give a glimpse of the extent of unpaid child maintenance.
“We regularly hear from single parents who feel they have been left stranded by the CSA.
“At a time of real economic hardship for many families this money is badly needed.”
Ms Weir also believes the CSA should do more to track down absent parents.
She added: “We are calling on the Child Support Agency to make greater use of its armoury of enforcement powers and keep parents who are owed maintenance informed of the steps being taken to recover it.”
Dr Samantha Callan of the Centre for Social Justice said: “Arrears of just under £4bn are eye-wateringly high given that there are 7,700 full-time equivalent staff – half a million pounds for each staff member.
“But this also exposes yet again the UK’s enormous neglected problem of family breakdown.
“Half of all children born today will not grow up living with both of their parents.
“The Government should send a message that children need stability – hundreds of thousands of children are caught up in the conflict that follows separation every year.”
One single mum, Debbie Andrews, was left £15,000 out of pocket after the CSA failed to track down her husband who walked away from his fatherly duties to three kids when he fled toAustraliain 2009.
Debbie said: “It took two years for the CSA to establish that he had definitely gone.
“They ended up writing off £9,000 and say the outstanding amount is £4,600.”
Although her husband now contributes to child maintenance through the Australian CSA, Debbie said she won’t get the outstanding £9k until he returns.
She added: “I asked how they would know he had returned and they said ‘Only if you tell us’ – but I’d have no way of knowing.
“At times I’ve had three jobs and we’ve had no money, but we’ve survived and the children have done quite well I think.
“If [my husband] were a criminal they would do everything possible to track him down.
“But in my eyes he is a criminal because he had the responsibility for three children and decided he’d had enough.”
A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions, who is responsible for the CSA, acknowledged that there is a problem.
The spokeswoman said: “Despite an improvement in the CSA’s performance, we still face the problem of half of children living in separated families not benefiting from an effective child maintenance arrangement.
“And there is little support for parents to work together and for reluctant parents to take their responsibilities seriously.
“That is why the government is reforming the child maintenance system with a greater emphasis on supporting parents to make their own arrangements which are in the best interests of the children.
“We are investing an extra £20million in support services.”