This question was considered in the case of Hakki and Hakki –v- (1) Secretary of State for Work & Pensions and (2) Devrise Blair (2014) EWCA Civ 530.
Mr Hakki, known in the poker community as ‘Tony the Hitman Hakki’, was a professional poker player, who supported himself with his gambling winnings. He appeared on a television programme, in magazines and had his own web site, where he set out his strategies for online poker. Although he received over £500 per week in winnings, he refused to financially support his children.
The children’s mother made an application to the Child Support Agency (now known as the Child Maintenance Service), for an Order that he pay child maintenance. Under the child maintenance formula, the non-resident parent is required to contribute a percentage of their gross income, with the percentage being determined by the number of children involved. Generally, only taxable income is taken into account for the purposes of assessing a child support liability. The issue for the original Tribunal was whether money won in poker games amounted to ‘earnings from gainful employment’, or ‘taxable profits from self-employment’.
The Tribunal concluded that Mr Hakki was ‘gainfully employed’ as a ‘self-employed earner’, and obliged to make maintenance payments. This decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal. Whilst sympathetic towards the original Judge’s desire to force Mr Hakki to contribute towards his children’s upbringing, when he clearly could afford to do so, the Court felt that Mr Hakki’s poker playing was not sufficiently organised to make it amount to a trade, or a business. The Court concluded that the winnings did not amount to earnings from gainful employment.
HM Revenue & Customs do not tax winnings made through gambling, so likewise, such winnings cannot be made the subject of an application for child support maintenance under the Child Support Act, unless the gambler can legitimately be said to be running a business, such as a bookmaker, gambling club or casino.
What options are available if a gambler receives substantial or regular winnings and fails to support their child?
All is not lost in such a situation. It is possible to seek a variation of the ordinary child support rules, if the lifestyle of the non-paying parent is inconsistent with their income. Alternatively, it is possible to make a financial claim under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, for the benefit of the child. In such circumstances, a parent’s capital position can be taken into account, when considering maintenance, or other financial claims, on behalf of a child.