Justice Today

Justice Today, Mar 2021

Justice in Action

Maintenance defaulters be warned! A new tracking system is on the cards

A stern warning to those parents who do not honour their obligation of paying child maintenance: there will be no place to hide. This is as a result of a new system, recently introduced by the Department, to track down maintenance defaulters from their unbecoming behaviour.

For many years, the Department has been battling with the physical tracing of maintenance defaulters which caused constant delays in finalising maintenance applications.

Back then, according to the Senior Legal Admin Officer, Ms Josephine Peta, officials had to physically track down maintenance defaulters in order to ensure their attendance in courts. However, she admits, this has proven to be a challenge as maintenance applications would be issued but could not be processed due to defaulter’s whereabouts being unknown.

“This process rendered the maintenance application ineffective as the courts could not process applications or even adjudicate matters due to the non-attendance of the other party,” she explains.

The Department has since announced a new tracking system which will be using various online databases and “information hubs” to trace maintenance defaulters. These will enable the courts to finalise more cases and assess the finances of parents who should be paying child support.

Explaining the process, Ms Peta says the Department will use Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) registrations, cellular phone numbers registered with network service providers, information from credit bureau, vehicle registrations, as well as other paper trails to find maintenance defaulters.

Ms Peta further reveals most defaulters would conceal their financial records when they appear before the court, meanwhile they are business-owners and shareholders in various companies.  “However, with this new system, we will be able to link defaulters to their businesses and track their assets among other things. This will assist the court to determine the financial positions of defaulters and oblige them to take care of their children accordingly,” says Ms Peta.

Ensuring that children have food on the table, asserts Ms Peta, is the Department’s main priority and due to that, it has committed itself to attend to cases with 48 hours after they are opened. She adds that the Department also has a key performance indicator which commits to finalise every maintenance cases within 90 days from the beginning of the process.
Ms Peta highlights that courts are empowered to create this system by the Maintenance Amendment Act of 2015. For instance, she shares, in 2018; the provision relating to obtaining personal details of the maintenance defaulters was introduced. However, the provision had limitations as it related to obtaining the details of the maintenance defaulters from the cellular phone network providers only.

“As a result, a research on this provision was done and it was found that a lot of people buy their sim cards on the streets and as such, these sim cards were not registered hence their information could not be obtained. Also, in instances where the information is sought, it would be outdated. The Department has thus used the provisions of the Maintenance Amendment Act of 2015, Section 6 of the Maintenance Act of 1998 and Section 28 (2) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa to create the system”, she explains.

Even so, Ms Peta noted that they are aware of risks of using the system and have put measures in place to comply with the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) as well as the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) to ensure that the information obtained on defaulters, will not land in the wrong hands.

“Due to this, only designated officials will be trained and granted access to the system. Their access will be linked to a unique reference number as well as the case number to prevent unauthorised access to the system. The utilisation of the system by these designated officials will also be monitored by their supervisors who will also conduct weekly verifications,” indicated Ms Peta.

She concludes by this ‘friendly’ warning to maintenance defaulters: "Please take care of your child; if you are not, we will get hold of you in one way or another and make you accountable – just do the right thing."

By Virgilatte Gwangwa