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CSA 2.0: defaulting dads to have travel, ID, life switched off

And get to buy their own bullets?

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The Department of Work and Pensions' latest bid to salvage a viable system from the Child Support Agency catastrophe, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC), adds several extra and potentially draconian sticks to beat recalcitrant parents with. We have a 'name and shame' web site, credit blacklisting,* monitored curfews (possible including tagging), and confiscation of passport and/or ID card.

Which is a particularly interesting one, from a joined-up government point of view. The Child Maintenance & Other Payments Bill, published this week, includes powers for the CMEC to disqualify an individual from "holding or obtaining travel authorisation", with a travel authorisation being defined as a UK passport or as "an ID card... that... has been issued to a British citizen." The definition itself is taken from the ID Cards Act.

Register readers are bound to have already spotted the loopholes here that will allow defaulting parents who happen not to be British citizens and/or who are members of the armed forces to carry on clubbing in Ibiza. And no doubt the government (and possibly the Daily Mail will spot these in the fullness of time. But you'll also have spotted the snag with confiscating an ID card simply in order to block overseas travel; an ID card will be used, the government tells us, "in daily life" - it will "simplify the process of proving your identity, making day-to-day transactions easier and safer". And it will also be pretty well compulsory for a broad range of day to day activities if the government gets its way, not least of these being getting health care.

So although this is by no means the first instance of the government blocking travel as punishment/coercion (CMEC will also have powers to remove driving licences), it will probably be one of the first examples of the government switching your life off as part of the deal. In some cases this will probably be deliberate, but in this case it's more likely collateral damage.

The Bill is also notable for the extent to which it attempts to claw back the costs of the enforcement from the defaulter. There are numerous provisions governing this at the various stages of enforcement, the ones governing curfews being a particularly interesting example. Here, a regime of a similar look and feel to a tagged/monitored community sentence or early release would be financed by the target individual, and the government is in a sense following the innovative lead of China by making the victim 'buy their own bullets'. This quite possibly will not work, however, given that if one is being punished for not paying child support, one might as well not pay for the punishment while one's about it.

Back on the joined up government front, if it is the case that the government's planned secure borders programme actually works, keeping a tally of everybody who's coming into the country and everybody who's leaving, confiscation of the "travel authorisation" is entirely unnecessary, because the system knows that the target individual has had his or her right to travel withdrawn. Right? The Home Office this week showed similarly thunderous confidence in its own roadmaps by announcing plans for a 'sex-offenders style register' for convicted terrorists. Aside from being a big help to tabloid editors short of an outraged headline ('Poison bomb fiend housed yards from school gate!), and to pitchfork-toting mobs strapped for recreational activity, this list is intended to make it possible to block travel after the individual has been released from prison. But if e-borders works, then you don't need this list either, do you?

We assume the terrorist offender list will not cover Northern Ireland retrospectively, and therefore is unlikely to bear a disturbing resemblance to the Stormont internal phone directory.

* According to Work & Pensions Secretary John Hutton, "If you're not paying maintenance for your kids as you should be doing, it's going to affect your credit rating so you won't get the credit card, you won't get the loan, you're not going to find it easy to get the mortgage." The connection between the CMEC and your credit rating is not however as direct as the spin might be understood to mean. Effectively the individual's credit rating would be affected by an adverse County Court Judgment (as is already the case), and failure to pay to CMEC would commence a process which could result in a CCJ. There is some wording in the Bill that appears to be intended to make this process somewhat easier for CMEC, but essentially the regime appears one that today's habitual debtor/bankrupt will be entirely familiar with. ®

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