The Liability To Maintain And The Child Support Act
by Peter Snow LLB (Hons)
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11 Section 14 Of The Poor Law Act 1930

Section 14 of the Poor Law Act 1930 was the last re-enactment of section 6 of the Poor Relief Act 1601, setting out the duty of certain relatives to maintain poor persons. This was the section which laid down the general law to which all of the statutory provisions in the above paragraphs 9.2 to 9.14 inclusive referred. In its entirety it read:-

"14. Duty of family to relieve and maintain poor persons. - (1) It shall be the duty of the father, grandfather, mother, grandmother, husband or child, of a poor, old, blind, lame or impotent person, or other poor person not able to work, if possessed of sufficient means, to relieve and maintain that person.

(2) The mother of an illegitimate child, so long as she is unmarried or a widow, shall be bound to maintain the child as part of her family until the child attains the age of sixteen:

Provided that, as respects any female child who before the passing of the Age of Marriage Act , 1929 [19 & 20 Geo. V. c. 36], married under the age of sixteen, this subsection shall not apply after the marriage.

(3) A man who marries a woman having a child (whether legitimate or illegitimate) at the time of the marriage shall be liable to maintain the child as part of his family , and shall be chargeable with all relief granted to or on account of the child until the child attains the age of sixteen, or until the death of the mother of the child, and the child shall, for the purposes of this Act, be deemed to be part of the husband's family accordingly.

(4) A married woman having separate property shall be subject -

(a) to all such liability for the maintenance of her husband, children and grandchildren as her husband is by law subject to for the maintenance of herself, her children and grandchildren;

(b) to the same liability for the maintenance of her parent or parents as an unmarried woman;

Provided that nothing in this subsection shall relieve her husband from any liability imposed on him by law to maintain her children and grandchildren."

"Archbold's Poor Law Statutes" contains copious notes including case law. As to derivations, the most important states that subsection (1) reproduces section 41 of the Poor Law Act 1927, which was itself based upon section 6 of the Poor Relief Act 1601(43 Eliz. c. 2), and section 33 of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1868. (There has been some confusion as to section numbers of the 1598 Act and the 1601 Act: see later paragraphs.)

Section 14(3) of the 1930 Act originated in section 57 of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 (4 & 5 Wm. 4, c. 76).

12 The Statutory Liability To Maintain In The Poor Relief Acts Of 1598 And 1601

12.1 The relevant section of the Poor Relief Act 1598 (39 & 40 Eliz. C. 3).

G.W. Prothero, in "Statutes and other Constitutional Documents, 1558-1625", (Fourth Edition, 1913), O.U.P., gives this section as follows:-

"VII. And be it further enacted, That the parents or children of every poor and impotent person . . , being of sufficient ability, shall at their own charges relieve and maintain every such poor person in that manner and according to that rate as by the justices of peace . . . shall be assessed: upon pain that every one of them to forfeit 20s. for every month which they shall fail therein."

12.2 The relevant section of the Poor Relief Act 1601 (43 & 44 Eliz. C. 2).

Prothero gives this section thus:-

"VI. [As in the above Act, § 7, with the substitution of 'the father and grandfather, and the mother and grandmother' for 'parents.']"

12.3 Confusion over Year and Section Numbers.

"The Statutes of the Realm", as originally printed by command of H.M. King George III, show the year of the 39 & 40 Eliz. c. 3 as 1597, and give no section numbers. Prothero gives the year as 1598, and the relevant section as section 7. "Archbold's Poor Law Statutes, 1930, gives the section number in the 1601 Act (43 & 44 Eliz.) as section 7. But in 1913 Prothero gave it as section 6, showing the rearrangement of the sections that led to this. The 1963 reprint of "The Statutes of the Realm" also gives it as section 6, so it appears that the "Archbold" version (which was given in the judgment of Lord Goddard CJ in National Assistance Board v. Wilkinson [1952] 2 All ER 255 at 257, letter B) must be regarded as incorrect, and that Prothero's version prevails. The Report of the Committee on One-Parent Families (the Finer Committee) concurred by referring to section 6.

12.4 Interpretation of section 6 of the Poor Relief Act 1601.

First, it should be noticed that the section directed the relatives of every poor (etc.) person, being of sufficient ability, to relieve and maintain every such poor person, according to a rate assessed by justices at general quarter sessions. This direction was clearly the basis upon which justices ordered that children, by the parish having been relieved, should be sent to (e.g.,) their grandparents, by them to be maintained. "Maintain" meant precisely what it said: "provide with necessaries". In 1765 Blackstone wrote (Commentaries, Vol. I, page 435):-

"The duty of parents to provide for the maintenance of their children is a principle of natural law - an obligation, says Puffendorf [Professor of Law at Heidelberg University], "laid on them not only by nature herself, but by their own proper act of bringing them into the world. . ."

The word "maintenance" in this passage could never have been interpreted as meaning payments of money. It was not until the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1850 that a court order for periodical payments of sums of money for maintenance (in that case, of a lunatic wife in an asylum) could be made.

12.5 Relatives by affinity and the 1601 Act.

The Poor Relief Act 1563 (5 Eliz. c. 3) had empowered churchwardens to collect charitable alms from members of the congregation ("shall gently ask and demand of every man and woman what they of their charity will be contented to give weekly towards the relief of the poor" - such gentle persuasion to escalate if necessary, by way of summons by the bishop's ordinary, to committal to prison for refusal). No doubt unpopularity of being required to contribute to the support of strangers had resulted in the restriction in the 1598 and 1601 Acts to blood relatives only.

But it was at first held that although stepchildren were not blood relatives, stepfathers could be ordered to pay for their maintenance on the basis that a man who married a woman took over all of her property, and this included her debts, and that a child whom she already had was a "debt" for which her husband was responsible. Blackstone referred to this in the Commentaries - giving City of Westminster v. Gerrard 2 Bulst. 346 as authority.

However, at about the turn of the century, a series of High Court cases decided that the Statute of Elizabeth extended to blood-relatives only, and not to relatives by affinity; in particular per R. v. Munday, 1 Str. 190, Tubb v. Harrison, 4 T.R.118, and Cooper v. Martin, 4 East, 39. "Archbold's Poor Law Statutes" (1930) (Notes on section 14 of the Poor Law Act 1930), says:

"And therefore under the statute a man cannot be compelled to contribute to the maintenance of his wife's mother . . . or of his son's wife or widow . . . or of his own brother, a brother not being mentioned in the statute . . . nor is a father-in-law bound to maintain his children-in-law nor vice-versa. . . ."

From that point onwards there was no liability to maintain stepchildren until the liability to maintain them was expressly enacted by section 57 of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 (4th & 5th Wm. 4, c. 76).

13 Expressio Unius: The Only Principle

The legal principle which emerges from this is that of expressio unius est exclusio alterius: "the mention of one is the exclusion of another". Liability to maintain is to be interpreted strictly according to this principle. Subsequent amendments to the ongoing statute which set out who was to be liable to maintain whom did not alter the principle that persons who are not actually mentioned in the statute are not to be compelled to contribute to the maintenance of other individuals (see particularly R. v. West London Supplementary Benefits Appeal Tribunal, ex. p. Clarke [1975]: man not liable to maintain his mother) The repeated references to the liability to maintain in various statutes enacted over the years since 1800 are testimony to it, as also was the concern repeatedly expressed about the liability to maintain in the Parliamentary Debates on both the National Assistance Bill in 1948 as to stepchildren and the Matrimonial Proceedings (Magistrates' Courts) Bill in 1960 as to "children of the family" (see Part II of the present writer's 1975 article already referred to). It is clear that the passage from "Archbold's Poor Law Statutes" in paragraph 12.4 above, in relation to the law which actually still applied at the time, must have been well to the forefront in the minds of our legislators when the National Assistance Bill was under consideration

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Page last updated: 28 October, 2002 © Copyright Peter Snow 1998