Ruling

00673-15 Colley v The People

    • Date complaint received

      8th April 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 00673-15 Colley v The People

Summary of complaint 

1. Kevin Colley complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The People had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Crackdown on deadbeat dads pays off as Child Support Agency collects record £1.2 billion in maintenance”, published on 24 January 2015. 

2. The article reported that “a crackdown on absent dads” had resulted in “9 in 10 dads” who did not live with their children paying child maintenance. 

3. The complainant said the description of fathers who had paid maintenance through the Child Support Agency as “deadbeats” was offensive and inaccurate. It was not only fathers who paid through the CSA; there were also mothers in the system, some of whom had arrears or chose not pay. Furthermore, not all fathers who paid through the CSA had been forced to do so. 

4. The complainant said the piece had made no mention of the fact that many fathers were owed money for overpayment of maintenance or were paying maintenance but were not legally required to do so. It also failed to state that many mothers made fraudulent claims. 

5. He expressed further concern that the article stated that 184,000 Deduction from Earnings Orders were in place, but had not stated how many DEOs were issued for non-compliance. There was no mention of how much of the £330 million collected from wages accounted for false arrears. 

6. The complainant expressed concern that the newspaper only published articles about the CSA that stigmatised fathers. 

7. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It said the article had been based on a press release issued by the Department for Work and Pensions. The article had referred to fathers because research published by the Centre for Social Justice had shown that 92% of single parents living at home were mothers. 

Relevant Code Provisions

8. Clause 1 Accuracy 

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures. 

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance. 

Findings of the Committee

9. The Committee acknowledged that the DWP press release, upon which the article had been based, had referred to increased numbers of “parents” paying child maintenance, not “fathers”. The newspaper, however, had based its interpretation of the press release on research carried out by the Centre of Social Justice, which indicated that 92% of lone parents with dependent children were women. The newspaper’s reference to “fathers” had therefore not been significantly misleading, and the Committee was satisfied that sufficient care had been taken over the article’s accuracy. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. 

10. The Committee noted the complainant’s objection to the newspaper calling non-resident parents who paid through the CSA “deadbeat dads”, as not all fathers who paid through the CSA had been forced to do so. However, this was clearly a reference to those who had not been paying child maintenance due, but were now paying as a result of tougher enforcement. It was the newspaper’s depiction of those who “fail to pay”, as made clear in the article’s introduction. The reference did not amount to a factual statement that all parents paying child maintenance through the CSA were “deadbeats”. The fact the complainant had found this comment offensive was not a matter for consideration under the Code. 

11. The complainant had raised a number of concerns about the omission of information regarding other child maintenance issues and potential failings of the CSA. However, this article had focused on the effect of a CSA crackdown on unpaid child maintenance; the newspaper was not obliged to discuss wider issues facing the system and the absence of such detail had not rendered the piece misleading. There was no breach of the Code on this point. 

Conclusions

12. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

N/A 

Date complaint received: 12/02/2015

Date decision issued: 08/04/2015