Real progress on child maintenance defaulters - Geordin Hill-Lewis

DA MP says there have been several developments that will make a significant difference in holding defaulters to account

Real progress on child maintenance defaulters 

06 August 2014

Note to Editors: The following remarks were delivered by DA Shadow Minister of Trade and Industry Geordin Hill-Lewis MP, DA Shadow Minister of Women in the Presidency and DA Women's Network (DAWN) Leader Denise Robinson MP and DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Women in the Presidency Nomsa Marchesi MP, at a press conference in Parliament today.

We are pleased to be able to report real progress in the effort to hold child maintenance defaulters accountable in law. 

For the last six weeks the DA has been working closely with government agencies, departments and the major credit bureaux to find a way to increase the pressure on parents to fulfil their financial responsibilities to their children. 

In the last few days there have been several developments that we believe will make a significant difference.

This is an issue that every South African should be concerned about. The DA would like to see all parents voluntarily and mutually committing to take financial responsibility for their children after a break up. This is much better for parent and child alike. However, there are still far too many parents who don't think like that. 

The number of children raised without both parents is staggering. According to a report published by the South African Institute of Race Relations in 2011, an estimated 9 million children are growing up in South Africa in single parent households, the vast majority of those households headed by mothers. Almost half the children in South Africa (48%) are raised with only one parent. 

Raising children as a single parent is difficult enough, but doing so without any financial support from the other parent has devastating consequences for the children, and for society.

Research by the OECD's Development Centre has shown that divorce is one of the main reasons that middle-class families' fall back into poverty in developing countries.

Maintenance payments are a lifeline for single parent families struggling to make ends meet. It helps parents to cover the basic necessities that all children need - food, clothes, school fees, after school care, medicine.

That is why this issue is so important. If we can up the pressure on parents to honour their financial responsibilities to their children, we can improve the life chances of millions of South African children. 

We have the following progress to report: 

Last Friday the National Credit Regulator gazetted new "affordability assessment" guidelines for the credit industry. Following our engagements with the Regulator over the last month, the draft regulations now provide that: 

Maintenance defaults will stay on a person's credit record for 5 years, or until the court rescinds the default judgment, whichever occurs sooner. [Section 17(1)(8)];

Maintenance payments will be included in ALL affordability assessments completed when applying for new loans. [23(A)(10)(c)]; and

Clients are required to declare if they have any maintenance default judgments [Section 3.7 of the new prescribed form]

This is significant. It means that maintenance defaulters will now have their credit records impaired, for the first time. This will stop defaulters accessing new credit while ignoring their maintenance responsibilities. 

Our engagement with the major credit bureaux have shown them to be eager to assist, provided the legislation is amended to enable them to uplift maintenance default judgments from courts around the country. 

The format of maintenance judgments will be changed to ensure that the details of minors is not included, which will then enable these judgments to be uploaded to the credit bureaux.

The Department of Justice has already drafted a Bill to amend the Maintenance Act to make this a reality. This Bill will go even further, enlisting the assistance of credit bureaux in tracking down defaulters who can't be found. We are told the Bill will go before Cabinet within the next six weeks, and will be tabled thereafter. 

We urge the public to participate by commenting on the amended legislation when it is published, and by supporting the gazetted regulations.

This is a major victory for children in single parent households across South Africa.

Child maintenance is a legally binding agreement to pay regularly and on time, and failure to do so should carry real consequences.

The bipartisan progress that we have made in recent weeks means that the prospects of maintenance defaulters abdicating their responsibility is reduced. 

There is a lot of work still to be done. The Maintenance Courts are not functioning properly, and many parents and children do not get justice in the family courts. 

The DA will continue to work with everyone who is as passionate as we are about improving the life chances of South Africa's children. 

A copy of the new "affordability assessment" guidelines for the credit industry can be found here

Statement issued by Geordin Hill-Lewis MP, DA Shadow Minister of Trade and Industry, August 6 2014

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