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Welfare Reform Act (Northern Ireland) 2010

Part 2: Child maintenance

Section 31: Payments of child support maintenance

Article 29 of the Child Support (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 provides a general power to make regulations as to the payment of child support maintenance. These regulations allow the Department to specify the intervals at which payments are to be made, having regard to the circumstances and preferences indicated by the non-resident parent. Many non-resident parents prefer to pay calendar monthly, in line with when they receive earnings. Precisely matching payments to weekly liabilities may not be straightforward and may be unclear to parents.

Section 31 amends Article 29 of the Child Support (Northern Ireland) Order 1991, extending the provisions which may be made by regulations in relation to payments of child support maintenance. Subsection (2) allows for regulations making provision for determining the total amount of maintenance payments due in a reference period (a period of 52 weeks or, in some circumstances, a different period - see subsection (3)), and requiring payments to be made, by reference to that amount and that period, at prescribed intervals.

This will enable the notification of the maintenance calculation issued to each parent to show an annual rather than weekly amount. Where the payment interval is to be monthly, the schedule of payments due will show 12 equal monthly amounts. It will therefore be much easier for each parent to see what payments are due to be made, on what date, and how they relate to the maintenance liability. This will also facilitate the making of payments by regular direct debit because the amounts will be the same each month. Annual amounts will be adjusted if a relevant change in circumstances occurs during the year, requiring a new maintenance liability to be calculated.

Section 32: Child support maintenance: offences relating to information

Section 32 amends Article 16A of the Child Support (Northern Ireland) Order 1991, which deals with offences relating to the provision of information.

Article 16A(3A) of the Child Support (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 currently provides that a person commits an offence if he or she fails to notify the Department of a change of address. Section 32(2) substitutes a new paragraph (3A), which extends this offence to a failure to report other changes of circumstances. These other changes of circumstances will be specified in regulations made under the provisions of Article 16(1) of the Child Support (Northern Ireland) Order 1991.

Article 16A(2) of the Child Support (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 currently provides that it is an offence for a person to knowingly make a false statement or representation or knowingly provide, or cause or allow to be provided, a document or other information which is false. Section 32(3) adds a new paragraph (6) into Article 16A of the 1991 Order, setting the time limit for bringing such a case to 12 months from the date the false information was provided. Currently, Article 19(1)(a) of the Magistrates’ Courts (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 limits the time in which a prosecution can be brought to 6 months. The amendment brings the time limits broadly in line with those for benefit fraud, and increases the likelihood of successful prosecutions under Article 16A(2) of the Child Support (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 due to the increased time in which the offence can be discovered and investigated by the prosecutor.

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