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Councils to avoid legal costs of taking parents of truant children to court

Parents who repeatedly allow their children to miss school will see their child benefit docked if they do not pay fines, prime minister David Cameron has announced.

He said this will provide “tougher action” to tackle the “harm truancy does to a child’s chances in life”, as well as save councils money by dodging legal costs of taking parents to court.

Currently, not paying the £60 civil penalty in England leads to it being doubled after 21 days and subject to prosecution after 28 – but 40% of parents still fail to pay up.

Despite this, many do not go to court as councils do not pursue legal action.

But under Cameron’s new child benefit plans, councils’ legal costs will be slashed by removing the need to take non-payers to court.

The government also issued new statutory guidance to local authorities explaining how they can use sanctions to tackle truancy, such as by prosecuting in the most serious cases – which could lead to a fine of up to £2,500 and potential imprisonment.

He said: “We are determined to tackle the harm truancy does to a child’s 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.”

But local authorities will now be expected to chase up penalties through the court in cases where parents do not receive child benefit because they earn above the £50,000 threshold.

Chris Keates, general secretary of teachers’ union NASUWT, argued that slashing child benefits was not the answer. In an interview with the BBC, she said: “For some families all that this will do, of course, is increase the chaos and it will increase the deprivation.

“It won’t actually solve the problem and in the middle of all of this is a child who’s not getting their entitlement to education.”

Parents in England will now also have the right to request breakfast and after-school clubs or holiday care at their schools, while childcare providers will be able to request the use of school facilities in which to operate clubs.

Although schools will not be forced to provide holiday care or clubs, they will have to give a reason for not granting requests.

The right to request will apply to all state-maintained primary schools, academies and free schools.

Cameron said: “We want to help hard-working parents with their childcare plans, so we will give families the right to request that their schools provide childcare for a full working day, before and after school and during the school holidays.”


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