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Professor Nick Wikeley, School of Law, University of Southampton. The problems faced by the Child Support Agency (the Agency) in assessing, collecting and enforcing child support liabilities are all a matter of public record and have resulted in plans to redesign the entire system (see now Department for Work and Pensions, Recovering child support: routes to responsibility, Cm 6894 (TSO, 2006), the Henshaw Report). These difficulties are especially acute when dealing with self-employed non-resident parents. In the first place, assessing a self-employed parent's income is not as straightforward as establishing the earnings of an employed parent. The range of collection mechanisms is also more limited, for example, deductions from earnings orders are obviously inappropriate for the self-employed. Similarly, in practice the enforcement options available to the Agency may be less effective against the self-employed non-resident parent who is determined to resist payment. Sometimes it is this non-compliance which is the prime reason for the Agency's problems. But sometimes the root cause of these difficulties lies in systemic failures within the Agency. And sometimes the real problem is a failure of policy making, rather than at an operational level within the Agency, as demonstrated by the recent decision of the House of Lords in Smith v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  UKHL 35,  FLR (forthcoming). The article looks at the legal issue in Smith, the facts in the case, the hearings before the Commissioner, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords and the human rights dimension. See October  Fam Law 872 for the full article.
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