PARENTS owe their ex-partners in Sussex more than £50 million in unpaid child maintenance, The Argus can reveal.

Sussex parents and their children are owed £54 million in child maintenance payments, with more than £9 million owing in Brighton and Hove alone, according to research by single-parent family charity Gingerbread.

Campaigners and MPs say the current system is not fit-for-purpose and have called for greater punishments for child maintenance avoiders.

Single mothers have told The Argus about their frustrating battle over the years to try and collect what is owed for their children from ex-partners.

Among those fighting for a change in the law is Brighton-based Charis Williams who says she is owed thousands of pounds dating back over more than five years by her former partner and TV personality Dan Hill.

Mr Hill is fighting Ms Williams’s claim against him (see his full statement below), but she has vowed “never to give up” until changes in the law are introduced to make payment “on time and in full” mandatory with far stricter penalties in line with the US and Sweden where maintenance avoiders can be jailed and charged interest on the arrears.

Campaigners want the Inland Revenue and Child Maintenance Service to work together to share data on the former partner’s companies and self-employed accounts and have called for greater resources, with just 33 full-time staff trying to locate millions of missed payments from thousands of offenders countrywide.

A recent report by Gingerbread reveals nearly half of non-resident parents using the child maintenance service owe unpaid maintenance and also indicates how valuable the payments are – one in five of the poorest families could be lifted out of poverty if they received all due payments.

Ms Williams said: “The government have let this issue slide for over 25 years and single parents families have suffered as a consequence – a whole generation of children have been let down.

“We will change millions of children’s lives for the better if we can finally make this system work.”

Hove MP Peter Kyle said he wrote to the then Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith MP in August 2015 calling on him to tighten-up procedures for making absent fathers support their families.

He added: “It’s clear the system needs to be made fit-for-purpose because this number is staggering, and it worries me that every pound in that figure is money that is needed to support a child.”

Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas, whose campaigning on this issue led to the launch of the child maintenance service parliamentary inquiry, said: “The £9 million owed to parents in Brighton and Hove means families having to find the money elsewhere.

The system clearly isn’t working.

“I’m demanding that the Child Maintenance Service sets up a bespoke service to help single parents navigate the most complicated cases – and get their children the money they deserve.”

A DWP spokeswoman said there were strong enforcement powers and department officials were able to take deductions directly from earnings and bank accounts as well as ordering the sale of property and applying to courts to remove non-compliant parents’ driving licences or commit them to prison.

She added: “We actively pursue parents who are not meeting their financial responsibilities and in almost 90 per cent of cases, parents are paying the money owed.”


Laura [not her real name] got married in the 1990s and within a year had given birth to her first son.

She had given up a successful job to run a pub with her husband.

But the wedded bliss did not last long and soon she had become the victim of two shocking acts of domestic abuse.

She was then thrown out on to the snow-covered streets in just silk trousers, a thin top and no shoes.

Within three years, the marriage had fallen apart and she was kicked out of the family home for good with her toddler.

Because the split had been so hostile, it meant trying to make her ex pay his maintenance was not easy.

Laura said: “After he threw us out, he would never allow us to speak to him.

“He wouldn’t let me phone him, he would block my phone number every single time.”

What made it more difficult to claim any due payments was that her ex-partner would plead poverty.

Laura said: “He basically had a double life.

“When it suited him he claimed he was earning £50,000 a year so he could get finance for a new car.

“But when it came to the CSA he would tell them he was not earning anything and could not pay.

“It’s only been in the last 18 months now that my son is 18 that he has started to pay.

“But even then it’s nothing like the full amount.

“He still owes about £4,000 of the £5,000 in total for the past 18 months.”

Laura knew that the life her ex-partner was very different to the kind of life he was describing to the CSA.

She knew that he had in fact moved in with a new girlfriend and was doing well at work but all the while making claims he was only able to pay £5 a week – payments he rarely made.

Laura said: “One time I phoned him and he didn’t hang up properly.

“I could hear him bragging about a holiday he had been on.

“I was listening to all this and I was thinking he has all this money for a skiing holiday but he hasn’t got any money for his child.

“He would go out sailing, which is not cheap, and all the while we wouldn’t have enough money to eat.

“Not long after he threw us out, he got a couple of dogs.

“He was paying more to feed his dogs than he was paying for his own child.”

Over the 15 years that the couple have been apart, the amount of money now owed and in all likelihood will never be collected is life-changing.

Laura said: “If you work back from £5,000 over the past 18 months, then I have got to be short of about £60,000 over the years.

“If he had paid everything he owed, we would still be living in our old house but we had to sell it off.

“Instead we’ve been moving around different places, we have been evicted a couple of times.

“My mum has basically looked after my son all the way through his life, she is the one who has had to pay for his school trips.”

Laura’s anger is as much aimed at the Child Support Agency as it is with her ex-partner.

She said: “When I try and talk to the CSA, they treat me as if I have committed a murder, even though I am the one that is owed the money.

“The CSA needs to stop treating the damaged party like they are the ones to blame.

“And they need to have more bite.

“He’s on Facebook so they could see what he spends his money on.

“But instead they let him make verbal representations. They should be making him show documents about his earnings and really find out what is going on.”

Laura wished to remain anonymous when telling her story.


Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas’s campaigning on this issue led to the launch of the child maintenance service Parliamentary inquiry.

Her testimony to the inquiry said: “I’m pleased that this inquiry recognises that for these single parents, in the words of a constituent, ‘there is an absent parent somewhere who should support their child’.

From my constituency casework on this issue it is clear to me that the reforms to the child maintenance system introduced in 2012 did not go far enough.

There remains a pressing need for a system that ensures – in the words of Brighton parent Charis Williams – that ‘our children receive the financial support they deserve, on time, every time’.

The issue of evidence gathering and proof is one on which I hope the committee can spend some time.

One constituent said: ‘I have told them about his income, every time I speak to them.

‘The problem is that they always want me to play detective and give them all the info.’ I believe that it is unfair and inefficient to expect the parent with care to gather evidence on the non-resident parent.

I have been far from reassured by the minister’s replies to date to my Parliamentary questions about the level of investigation into maintenance avoidance.

For example, given the number of families affected by this and the potential impact on tens of thousands of children, I was somewhat surprised to learn in February that there were just 33 FTE staff in the financial investigations unit.

In particular, it seems there is an issue with maintenance avoidance by self-employed non-resident parents.

In the words of another constituent: ‘I’m sure he’s diverting assets into his business… but how can I prove it?’ As you will be aware, a DWP study of the attitudes and behaviours of self-employed non-resident parents (DWP research study 980) noted that the category ‘may contain some individuals who are less disposed to comply overall and are actively seeking to reduce their liability by declaring themselves self-employed’.

This echoes what I have heard from constituents, one of whom highlighted to me that a non-resident parent might avoid paying their full due because HMRC data doesn’t show their true wealth.

My understanding is that income from an ISA doesn’t show up and, similarly, people can put significant sums into a pension (to be accessed once the children have grown up) thus helping them ensure that their registered income for child maintenance payments is artificially low.

A number of constituents have raised with me the concern that penalties for non-payment are weak.

One said: ‘I feel if the punishment for not paying was more severe then we would get [the payment] every week or month.’ Another said: ‘I’m at my wits’ end with it. My ex has not paid the bailiffs for two months now and they are doing nothing. They say there’s not much else they can do now.’ A non-resident parent should be treated as clearly in the wrong if s/he doesn’t pay, particularly as this can have quite insidious consequences.

For example, one of my constituents has described non-payment as part of a cycle of abuse. This is because power over the parent with everyday care is exercised when payments are withheld.

As such, it can be a route for an abusive ex-partner to enact controlling behaviour.

Of course this isn’t the intention in all cases of non-payment but it’s a point that I would like the committee to consider.

Overall, the non-payment of a legally enforceable charge should at least be considered a criminal act.”


TV presenter Dan Hill has hit back at claims he has isn't supporting his children and says the current system penalises hard working fathers.

The Storage Hunters UK personality was branded Britain’s most indulgent dad by the national press after he revealed how he and his current wife spent £100,000 on their twins.

But Mr Hill’s former partner, Charis Williams, has accused him of owing thousands of pounds in child maintenance for his daughter Tiger, nine, and son Ely, six, over the past six years.

Brighton-based Ms Williams told The Argus he was "making a mockery of the system", adding: "Being in the media, not paying maintenance and flaunting the way he wastes money should be a wake-up call to the Child Support Agency (CSA). Countless others get away with it – and it’s the children who are suffering."

But Mr Hill said yesterday he was disputing the claims from his ex-partner and hit out at the current system which he says is unfair to separated fathers.

He said that when he and Ms Williams split up, they agreed that he would leave her the contents of the family home, a car and a lump sum of money.

Mr Hill, who now lives in Essex, said it was only when he began to do well in his career and when he met his new partner and now wife Louise, Ms Williams started to pursue him through the CSA.

Mr Hill said: "Since leaving Charis I have had to overcome many issues including becoming homeless. But I’ve worked very hard to get my life back on track. Now after all of my hard work, I am expected to pick up the tab for my ex partner's lifestyle.

"The harder I work the less work she needs to do.

"The CSA needs to be reformed at the moment as it penalises hard working fathers."

Mr Hill disputed that he hadn't supported his children, adding: "I think more fathers would be happy to pay child maintenance if they knew 100% of the money they were giving was going to their children."

Ms Williams told The Argus last night there was never an agreement between herself and Mr Hill and disputed that he had left her a sum of money.