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Four years after auditor general report, child support arrears collection in P.E.I. more consistent

Clare Henderson, director of family law and court services, told a standing committee that P.E.I.'s maintenance enforcement orders has implemented all recommendations of a 2016 auditor general's report.
Clare Henderson, director of family law and court services, told a standing committee that P.E.I.'s maintenance enforcement orders has implemented all recommendations of a 2016 auditor general's report. - Stu Neatby
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

The director of P.E.I.’s maintenance enforcement program, the public body in charge of enforcing court-ordered child support payments, says all eight recommendations from a 2016 audit of the program have been fully implemented.

Speaking before a meeting of P.E.I.’s standing committee on public accounts on Tuesday, Clare Henderson, director of family law and court services, says staff in her office have spent “thousands of hours” on implementing recommendations from a 2016 auditor general's report. 

P.E.I.’s auditor general has not yet confirmed that these recommendations have been fully implemented.

Maintenance enforcement staff can enforce collection of child support arrears through bank garnishments, suspending a driver’s license, seizing assets owing from federal payments such as EI or CPP.

However, the 2016 report found that enforcement measures related to collecting child support payments were inconsistently applied by staff. Then-auditor general Jane MacAdam found that two of the four enforcement officers at the time did not use bank garnishments regularly. 

Former auditor general Jane MacAdam
Former auditor general Jane MacAdam

 

On Tuesday, Henderson said these enforcement tools are now applied consistently by maintenance enforcement staff, based on the specifics of individual cases.

"Will the consideration of the application of the enforcement tools be consistent throughout all of the enforcement officers? Absolutely," Henderson told The Guardian. "There would have to be a reason why a particular enforcement action isn't taken. The presumption is, if there's arrears, you're getting a federal interception. If you haven't paid, you're getting a notice that your driver's licence is being suspended."

Henderson told the standing committee that enforcement action has increased by 200 per cent in the last two years. She said this was partly due to updates of the program’s policies and partly due to the increase in staffing within the office.

“I am confident we are maximizing the enforcement that we are able to do under the legislation,” Henderson told the committee.


What is the maintenance enforcement program?

  • Responsible for enforcement of court orders for payment of child support for children and/or spouses
  • Currently dealing with around 1,700 files.
  • As of February, 300 files accounted for 80 per cent of arrears
  • As of October, 30-50 files accounted for over half of arrears
  • Between 2016-2019, the office suspended 194 driver's licences and revoked 110 passports due to non-payment of arrears. 

About $10.4 million is owed in arrears to the maintenance enforcement program. About 30-50 files account for the majority of this amount, Henderson told the committee. These files amount to a small percentage of the roughly 1,700 files the office is currently dealing with. 

Henderson added that the office is a neutral party and acts to ensure court ordered child support arrangements are paid. She also said her staff are looking to update the province’s Maintenance Enforcement Act, which governs the actions of the office.

She said she would like to see the legislation changed to expand the authority of a director to enforce collection of arrears. 

"My biggest interest presently is setting up a mechanism whereby we can authorize the impounding of vehicles where people have not paid their enforcement,” Henderson said. “We watch with interest the increase in payment of parking tickets to the city police when they started impounding vehicles."

Henderson also said her department considers all recommendations from the 2017 auditor general report about the Office of the Public Trustee and the recommendations form the 2018 auditor general report related to the Office of the Public Guardian to be fully implemented.

The Office of the Public Trustee is responsible for financial decisions of individuals deemed medically incapable of making their own financial decisions. The Office of the Public Guardian is responsible for the needs of individuals deemed medically incapable of making their own decisions related to personal care. 

Twitter.com/stu_neatby

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