POLITICS
05/10/2015 19:54 BST | Updated 06/10/2015 06:59 BST

Parents Of Truants To Have Child Benefit Docked, David Cameron Announces

Parents of children who repeatedly skip school will have their child benefit docked if they refuse to pay up fines, David Cameron has revealed.

The Prime Minister unveiled the new policy - which has in the past been condemned by child poverty campaigners - as part of a drive to tackle the number of pupils who persistently truant.

The worst offending families will lose six weeks’ worth of £20 a week child benefit if they have one child.

Speaking ahead of Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s keynote speech to the Conservative party conference, Mr Cameron said also unveiled a new ‘right to request’ childcare for parents of school-age children.

But it is his plan to dock child benefit to parents of truants that could prove more controversial, with fresh legislation to allow HM Customs & Excise to automatically take fines, changes to data law and a new duty on councils to pursue civil penalties.

The plan will see fines of up to £120 clawed back by HMRC if they remain unpaid after 28 days. Around 20,000 fines go unpaid every year.

The idea of cutting child benefit of parents of truants was backed by Michael Gove in the last Coalition but blocked by the Liberal Democrats.

However, its political ancestry stretches back even further to Tony Blair, who first floated it in 2002 to tackle children involved in truancy and crime, only for Gordon Brown to force him to ditch it.

When Blair proposed the plan, then Opposition leader Iain Duncan Smith dismissed it as one of several ‘gimmicks’ pushed by New Labour. Charities claimed at the time that it would push poor and dysfunctional families even deeper into poverty.

Downing Street sources told The HuffPost UK the policy will only hit the most persistent truants and their parents but will act as a powerful signal that the Tory government is serious about acting.

Mr Cameron said: “We are determined to tackle the harm truancy does to a child’s chances in life. There is nothing responsible about allowing your child to go without an education.

“So for parents who let their child play truant and refuse to pay truancy penalties, we will deduct it from their child benefit.”

Under current rules, parents are given time to resolve truancy of their child but if the behaviour fails to stop, a school or local education authority can issue a fixed penalty notice of £60.

There is no obligation to pay the penalty and councils end up cancelling it and instead spending time and public money pursuing truants’ parents through the courts.

The £60 penalty, which increases to £120 if unpaid after 21 days, will be made mandatory and will be clawed back through reductions in child benefit if unpaid after 28 days.

In a separate announcement, Mr Cameron said that parents would have a new legal 'right to request' holiday and wrap-around childcare at their local school.

Groups of parents will be allowed to ask for on-site breakfast and after-school clubs.