Millions in child support remains unpaid in P.E.I.

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on March 17, 2016

Auditor General Jane MacAdam answers questions following the release of her 2016 annual report in Charlottetown on Wednesday.

©HEATHER TAWEEL/THE GUARDIAN

Close to $11 million in unpaid child support payments is currently owed to parents across P.E.I., but the organization responsible for enforcement is not doing everything it could to ensure parents and children receive their payments.

These were the findings of Auditor General Jane MacAdam in her 2016 annual report, released Wednesday.

“These payments directly impact the well-being of Island children, and a large percentage of these cases are in arrears,” MacAdam says in her report.

“Without this child support, some families may end up struggling financially and may need to turn to government financial assistance programs to provide for their children.”

MacAdam audited 19 case files within the Maintenance Enforcement Program, which is tasked with enforcement actions when payments to spouses and/or children ordered by the courts have fallen into arrears.

Over $7 million in court-ordered payments are processed by the office every year and 96 per cent of these cases are for child support.

But MacAdam found a significant amount in support payments is not being made – to the tune of $10.9 million. This represents close to 70 per cent of the total case files.

And yet, MacAdam found there are no written guidelines for staff on how to deal with parents who do not honour their child support orders, which has resulted in inconsistencies in the way these orders are enforced. 

She also found the various methods available for maintenance enforcement officers to force deadbeat moms and dads to pay up are used inconsistently and some methods are not used at all.

For example, officers have the ability to cancel driver’s licences, garnish bank balances and wages and place liens on properties. They can also have federal intercept abilities, which means they can also garnish income tax refunds, employment insurance payments and GST/HST rebates. They can also report payors to credit agencies as a method of enforcement.

But MacAdam found some officers either do not use certain enforcements at all or use them only in rare or specific circumstances. Other enforcements are not used at all, including the option to report to credit agencies.

“Enforcement officers typically decide independently when and what enforcement actions to take. They also calculate adjustments to payment orders and arrears balances,” MacAdam says in her report.

“Without a review process, errors, inconsistencies and inadequate enforcement action can go undetected.”

More oversight over the trust account that holds these support payments is also needed, she said.

Additionally, she found the trust account currently contains $74,000 unassigned to any active cases, likely from overpayments or payments owing to unknown beneficiaries.

The auditor general made eight recommendations for improvement, including a call for more defined policies and procedures to guide enforcement officers in administering and enforcing court orders and agreements. She also recommended better internal controls to safeguard the payment trust account.