Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Truants' Parents Warned Benefits Will Be Slashed

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Truants' Parents Warned Benefits Will Be Slashed

Article excerpt

Byline: Jonathan Walker Political Editor

PARENTS whose children play truant will be threatened with having their child benefit cut, Prime Minister David Cameron says.

The tough measure could hit thousands of parents in the North East, where figures show nearly 7,000 children missed 11 days of school or more in just one term.

It will be aimed at parents who are issued penalties by local councils after their children missed school without a good reason.

Penalties imposed vary between authorities but a typical example is Newcastle City Council, which imposes penalties of PS60 which increase to PS120 if they are not paid within 21 days.

If the penalty is not paid at all then parents can be taken to court, but councils across the country often choose not take court action because of the cost and time involved.

And four out of ten fines nationwide go unpaid.

Figures published by the Department for Education show that 6,980 pupils at North East schools missed at least 22 "sessions" - a morning or afternoon at school - in the autumn term last year.

They include 1,353 in County Durham, 796 in Newcastle, 872 in Sunderland and 494 in Northumberland.

Mr Cameron is announcing that penalties will be taken straight out of child benefit, signifi-cantly cutting the need for councils to take court action.

He will also say that councils will be placed under a statutory duty to ensure penalties are paid, forcing them to take parents to court if there is no other way.

Other announcements being made at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester include plans to give parents a right to ask schools to provide childcare, such as after-dinner clubs and care during the school holidays for parents who are at work.

At the same time, childcare providers such as childminders and afterschool clubs will have the right to request the use of school sites after-hours.

Mr Cameron said: "Ensuring children get the best start in life is at the heart of our plans. …

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