Separated parents are avoiding lodging tax returns — for up to a decade — a bid to shield themselves from paying thousands of dollars in child-support payments.
In his submission to the government’s current Child Support Inquiry, the Commonwealth Ombudsmen has catalogued a series of “systemic problems” in Australia’s child support system, some of which are leaving parents caring for children significantly out of pocket.
Worrying examples of clerical errors, computer system problems, failures by staff to act on information and botched administration are laid bare in a submission to the Abbott government’s parliamentary inquiry into the child support regime.
Commonwealth Ombudsman Colin Neave, who received 1700 complaints about the system last year alone, has told the government he is raising these examples to “highlight areas for potential improvement, rather than to suggest that there is any large scale failure in administration”.
His submission details more than 20 examples where the Child Support agency has let down Australian parents, including;
• A failure by the Child Support to “take an active role” in establishing the correct income of a father who owed child support but failed to submit his tax return for ten years, resulting in his partner receiving lower than appropriate payments.
• The agency’s failure to set up wage and salary deductions on the repeated request of a mother who was owed more than $5,000 in child support payments, despite being provided with information about where the her former partner worked and his pay slip number, until the Ombudsman intervened in the case.
• A clerical error by a Child Support staff member in misreading a file resulted in the agency failing to collect money on behalf of a mother who was owed $12,000 in child support payments and had informed the government repeatedly over the course of 18 months where her children’s father was working.
• A failure by Child Support staff to report for prosecution the case of an employer who was deducting child support payments from an employee but not transferring them in full to Child Support. More worryingly, the agency continued to keep the arrangements in place.
The report to Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews’ inquiry reveals the Ombudsman frequently receives complaints from recipients of child support payments that the figure used to assess their ex-partner’s income is too low, in some cases because parents are not submitting their tax returns.
While the submission notes that Child Support has no power to force a customer to lodge his or her tax return, it says, “we are concerned that Child Support does not appear to maintain an interest in the action that the Australian Tax Office takes in response to these referred cases.”
Mr Neave also wrote in his submission: “we consider that it is vital that Child Support is seen as effective, but fair in its efforts to assess and collect child support payments”.
“In our view, the integrity of the scheme will be undermined by community perceptions that people can readily avoid their responsibilities,” he says.
The number of complaints to the Child Support agency peaked at almost 3000 in 1996.
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