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1997 articles

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The quotes provided are normally directly from the original article, but typically whole sentences and paragraphs are omitted, often without indicating where the omission is, but without altering the order of presentation. In some cases people's names are removed, and replaced thus "[X]".

Date & reference Extracts (not necessarily contiguous)

1997-01-31
This Is Lancashire

MPs are part of the problem

SIR: I feel that if MPs are not part of the CSA solution then they are part of the CSA problem. Politicians cannot abdicate their collective responsibility for the deaths and mayhem caused by the Child Support Act to the families of this country. As long as the politicians remain silent we can only assume their support for this evil legislation.

Clearly they approve of the human misery, the intrusions into decent people's family lives and the well documented waste of public resources. They are supposed to represent the interests of the citizens who elected them and those who cannot recognise the human and legislative disaster which is the CSA, are no longer fit to hold office. No government is entitled to do to its people what ours has done. This daylight robbery must be rubbed into the politicians' faces. They must never be allowed to forget the devastation they've caused the men, women and children of this country. Contempt for the people is the ultimate crime of government and, right now, hundreds of MPs stand guilty."

1997-02-25
This Is Lancashire

I scrounge from pensioner mum to pay for my son

DIVORCED Dad [X] says he has been left wondering where his next meal is coming from after the Child Support Agency increased his weekly payments from £7 to £70. The 42-year-old Group 4 security guard only realised his contributions had been reassessed when the money had already been deducted from his first wage of the year.

He said: "I still can't believe they have pushed me on to the poverty line. I have been forced to scrounge off my 76-year-old mother who is on state benefits." He says the new amount must have been assessed when his pay was unusually high because he was doing extra hours at the Labour Party conference in Blackpool. "I just don't understand why the CSA has decided to reassess my payments when my circumstances have not changed. "I literally don't know where my next meal is coming from because all of my income during the last three weeks has been swallowed up by them."

1997-03-19
This Is Lancashire

CSA must cope

THE controversial Child Support Agency may have climbed out of the administrative chaos that blighted its birth in 1993 but it still needs to improve its act. For, even now, it has a big backlog of cases. A Commons select committee reports today that, despite a substantially improved performance by the agency, only about a third of lone parents on Income Support and Family Credit have received a CSA assessment.

That is a raw deal for lots of single parents - and the taxpayers. For the agency was set up to take lone parents off benefit by ensuring that they received proper maintenance payments from their absent ex-partners. Considering that there are 1.46 million of them on benefit, the CSA's giant backlog suggests that too many dodging dads are still too easily evading their responsibilities to their children and society. The time has run out for the CSA to plead teething troubles and, unless it can convincingly show that it has not sufficient resources to cope with its caseload, it should now start putting the bite on hard.

1997-03-28
This Is Lancashire

Wrong dads are being chased

SIR: So at last we are getting a glimmer of truth about the reasons for the CSA (BEN, March 19). "The role of the CSA is to take lone parents off benefit". What about maintenance for the children? The fact is that the CSA far from chasing feckless fathers who would not pay is persecuting the fathers who were already paying because they are the easy targets. Lone mothers, far from receiving any maintenance for the children get any payment deducted, pound for pound from any benefit received.

The Conservatives do not care about the distress they have caused, Labour will not say what they will do, only the Liberal Democrats have stated they will scrap this horrendous Act. There are 9000 people in each constituency affected by this Act, maybe they will express their disgust at this Act and the way it is operated, at the ballot box.

1997-03-31
This Is Lancashire

CSA a miserable failure

THE Child Support Agency was established, quite rightly, to ensure that all parents contribute towards the cost of bringing up their children, rather than abdicating these responsibilities and expecting the Welfare State to pick up the tab. Unfortunately, the CSA is failing miserably to have much impact on the monies spent by the Department of Social Security on Income Support payments to those families where an absent parent should be making some financial contribution.

So what does it do to camouflage this inadequacy? It targets instead those parents whose children have never been maintained by the Welfare State through DSS benefits, who would have made maintenance payments voluntarily or through the Family Courts, and who have always accepted their parental responsibilities. The CSA is trying to 'con' both the public and the Government by putting out just how much money it is succeeding in bringing in from supposed non-contributing parents. The fact is that much of the money obtained is for 'private' clients, who are not, and may never have been on DSS Benefits. These private clients know that in comparison to what they may expect from a voluntary or Family Court settlement, the CSA assessment will always discriminate against the parent not having actual care of the children.

1997-04-??
Citizen on Sunday

(From NACSA BOTD)

Visitors to Furzton Lake failed to spot a man hanging in a tree until mid-afternoon, where he had been since the early hours of the morning. Even police who had visited the lake’s car park earlier in the day to investigate a car with the keys let in the ignition – later discovering it was the dead man’s car – failed to spot him.

The inquest heard Mr [X] had bank debts of more than £1,000 and he owed money to the Child Support Agency for payments to two teenage children from a former relationship.

1997-04-07
Electronic Telegraph

CSA to scrap £600m 'problem' computer

By Robert Uhlig, Technology Correspondent

THE Child Support Agency's computer, blamed for bringing misery to thousands of parents because it sometimes issued demands for nonsensical payments, is to be scrapped only four years after it was built. Tenders for a new system will be issued next year, and the £600 million computer system supplied and maintained by the American company EDS will be replaced in 1999. Problems with the system began almost as soon as it was installed to recover money from absent parents.

One father complained that the CSA had told him it had never heard of him even though it had previously completed an assessment on his earnings. Several suicides were blamed on the agency after the computer system issued demands for payments that parents could not meet. I also prompted calls for changes in data protection rules.

In November 1994, the agency had to buy an IBM system to overcome some of the deficiencies of the EDS model. In January 1996, the DSS was criticised by a committee of MPs over the agency's system, which cost £514 million to run while collecting just £500 million. One father complained that the CSA had told him it had never heard of him even though it had previously completed an assessment on his earnings. Several suicides were blamed on the agency after the computer system issued demands for payments that parents could not meet.

1997-04-17
This Is Lancashire

Council kick out dole plan

BURY Council is to boycott the Government's controversial "work for your dole" scheme. And local authority leaders are also telling their business partners to join them in kicking Project Work out of the borough. Bury has been chosen to pilot the scheme, which is targeted at people aged 18-50 who have been unemployed for more than two years.

But council leader John Byrne said the council was not against genuine schemes which got people back to work and gave them real wages and training. "The problem is that this is ill-conceived, like the Child Support Act," he said. "The CSA was presented from the moral angle of making errant people pay, yet it was used to cut the benefit bill. "Project Work is merely trying to get people off the unemployment register."

1997-04-24
This Is Lancashire

Strong signs of a swing to Labour

DEFENDING Bury North MP Alistair Burt is enjoying himself as he desperately battles to hold his marginal seat.

David Chaytor is also Bury born and bred and Bury Grammar School educated.

Mr Burt's role as Minister in charge of the controversial Child Support Agency - accused of hounding many absent fathers and their second families to save the Treasury cash - will also harm his vote, Mr Chaytor believes. Mr Burt, on the other hand, accepts there may have been some damage done by his CSA responsibilities, but hopes his role as North-West Minister may redress the balance.

1997-04-30
This Is Lancashire

Child Support Agency slammed by bereaved mum

A FURIOUS Bolton mother has slammed the Child Support Agency who requested details of her former fiance - who died two years ago from a brain haemorrhage. [X], aged 32, received a letter from the CSA last week concerning [Z], the father of her son [Z], aged three. [Y] died two years ago aged 30 and [X] was even loaned money by the Department of Social Security to cover funeral expenses.

She said: "Details of [Y]' death will be on record at the DSS. In the letter, the CSA said they had checked my Income Support records and found out that [Y] no longer lives with me. "Because he doesn't live with me they want to know where he is. They could have saved me a great deal of distress if they had only checked with the DSS. A CSA spokesman said: "A letter of apology will be sent to [X]."

1997-05-13
Daily Express

(This is the same case as:
1997-05-20 Evening Standard)

(From NACSA BOTD)

A father stabbed to death his former wife’s husband in a frenzied attack after the Child Support Agency seized over half his wages, the Old Bailey heard on Monday. [R], 54, confronted [P] on the doorstep of his home hours after receiving a demand for £206 a month maintenance from his gross salary of £560. Orlando Pownall, prosecuting, said [R] pulled an eight inch knife and stabbed Mr Pigg 10 times in the head, arm and body screaming: "Die you bastard, die". Mr [P], 30, died shortly afterwards. In 1996, the CSA had asked [R] for £13 a week in maintenance for his 13-year-old daughter. [R], of Hampton, Middlesex, who denies murder, then telephoned the CSA and said: "This situation could have a very, very tragic outcome."

He quit his £23,000 a year job as a Heathrow Airport supervisor and later took a part-time job and sold his home for £46,000 giving his former wife half. He was £1,000 in arrears with maintenance, and had declared himself bankrupt, when he learnt that a deduction of £206 was being made from his wages. When he saw it he told a colleague. "I do not believe this – they are robbing me." [R] later told police: "The CSA said my payments had increased because I was homeless. I went to talk to Mr [P] to see if he would give me some money. He started shouting and saying terrible things about my marriage. He hit me a glancing blow. I hoped that if I poked him he would stop."

1997-05-20
Evening Standard

(This is the same case as:
1997-05-13 Daily Express)

(From NACSA BOTD)

A father who said he was driven to kill by the CSA when they began taking almost half his wages, was found not guilty of murder today. [R], 54, was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of provocation and jailed for seven years for killing his former wife’s new husband. The court was told that Mr [P] had badgered the CSA to increase payments for his 13-year-old daughter [A]. The agency, learning [R] was homeless, reasoned he would have more money available to pay his ex-wife.

1997-05-22
Electronic Telegraph

Father loses legal battle to stop wife's abortion

By Auslan Cramb, Scotland Correspondent

A 28-YEAR-old man lost a court battle yesterday to prevent his estranged wife from aborting their unborn child. A senior judge said that the courts could not take the place of doctors in determining the grounds for an abortion.

Cardinal Thomas Winning, leader of the 750,000-strong Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, said in a statement: "It is a sad day indeed. There is surely an extraordinary anomaly in the law when a father can be pursued by the Child Support Agency for maintenance of a child, but has no say in protecting the child's life in the womb."

1997-06-03
This Is Lancashire

CSA hit dad with £19,500 bill

A BOLTON dad who lives on the breadline has been landed with a £19,500 bill from the Child Support Agency - despite paying maintenance for the last 16 years.

Furious [X] and [Y] have hit out at the "heartless" agency they say has threatened to take them to court. They say [Y], who split from his first wife in 1981, has been paying £40 a month to Bolton Magistrates Court for the last 16 years supporting his teenage son. But according to records by the CSA, [Y], who works at a Bolton DIY firm, has neglected his duty and now has to pay £107 a month to make up the £19,500 arrears.

A spokesman for the CSA said that if a maintenance order was being paid then the bill would be an error and every effort would be made to rectify the damage caused. A CSA spokesman, however, said that clients who do not provide them with enough information would be given a deduction from income order. The CSA spokesman added: "A client who simply will not provide the necessary information should not have been surprised when, after reasonable warning, an interim assessment was made and a deduction from earnings order imposed.

1997-06-06
This Is Lancashire

Honest dads lose out

SIR: I refer to the report 'CSA Hit Dad etc' (BEN, June 3). I understood the CSA was set up to catch errant fathers who abandon their responsibilities to their families, your paper even reported as much recently. The evidence from this latest article just confirms what a load of unadulterated rubbish this is.

As for the CSA spokesman's quote about 'clients' (suckers) simply not supplying information and not being surprised about deduction orders, this infuriates me as they levy the 'fine' which doesn't reflect any previously requested sum without notice. With regards to encouraging people to talk to local staff, in their dreams. The number you have to call is difficult to get through to, and when it is answered you are likely to talk to a faceless person 'just doing their job', who doesn't appear to care about what you say unless you are offering payment. On every bit of correspondence from the CSA there is a sentence inviting the respondent to request a face to face interview but if you request one you are told the waiting list is three to four months and not worth it. I've been asking now for 18 months so could have had at least four by now. Repeated questions in writing are usually ignored except on one occasion when I had an acknowledgement two months later but no answers.

1997-06-21
Electronic Telegraph

Absent fathers targeted in CSA shake-up

By Joy Copley, Political Staff

STRICT new targets for the Child Support Agency were announced by the Government yesterday to clear an enormous backlog of cases and chase up absent fathers. Harriet Harman, the Social Security Secretary, said she wanted to see an extra 500,000 maintenance assessments completed by the end of the year. The Government also wanted to see more accurate assessment of cases after many were found to be wrong. Extra telephone lines would be established because people who rang the CSA often had to make eight calls before they got through, she said. Mrs Harman told the Commons that she was looking for "substantial and sustained improvements" in the agency's performance. Some absent fathers had used the CSA's administrative failings since it was set up by the previous government as a justification for their determination not to pay up, she said. But Labour was determined to ensure that they paid their fair share through an efficient CSA. Mrs Harman insisted that there was no question of the agency being scrapped.

1997-07-09
Electronic Telegraph

CSA ordered to be more aggressive in collecting debts

By Jon Hibbs, Political Correspondent

THE Child Support Agency has been ordered to be more aggressive in collecting maintenance payments from absent fathers as part of the Government's programme to get lone parents off benefit and into work. Independent research shows that where fathers pay regular maintenance for their children, lone mothers find it easier to return to work. The tougher approach comes amid official estimates that the Government is on track to save £2.8 billion in benefit payments during this Parliament. Nevertheless, ministers have told the agency that it must step up its efforts to get more money more quickly, after discovering that almost two out of three fathers chased by the agency are refusing to provide proper financial support for their children.

The CSA has been allocated a further £15 million from next April to employ an extra 900 staff. The Department of Social Security believes that the investment will mean an extra 83,000 absent fathers paying maintenance and should raise an extra £120 million in payments. Keith Bradley, the minister responsible for child support, said: "We are looking for substantial and sustained operational improvements from the agency, in particular in getting more maintenance paid, reducing the backlog and improving customer service." Faith Boardman, the chief executive of the CSA, has been told that agency staff will be expected to make contact with absent fathers earlier. In addition they must adopt a more "aggressive" approach to collecting the debts.

1997-07-17
This Is Lancashire

Scrap Child Support Agency

SIR: Mr Tony Blair leader of the Labour Party knows the Child Support Agency is in dire straits. A survey carried out by Labour's Gerry Sutcliffe just before the general election firmly established that MPs are simply not prepared to carry on dealing with surgeries stuffed full of CSA cases. They want action. The point is, what kind of action will they get?

They realise the only solution is abolition, yet, strangely, Labour's catch phrase of the moment is that they cannot afford to scrap the CSA. They seem quite unaware that income is more or less the same as it was under the old Liable Relatives Unit, yet the CSA costs nearly four times more to run. What's more, the court-based system remains in place. It still deals with all other aspects of divorce, even though matters of child maintenance have been removed from its remit. There is no reason why, even temporarily, things couldn't go back to how they were. It would instantly save taxpayers £1.1b..... the cost of a new computer.

1997-07-23
Electronic Telegraph

CSA dogged by errors in payments

By David Fletcher, Health Correspondent

NEARLY four out of 10 maintenance payents made by the Child Support Agency last year were for the wrong amounts, the National Audit Office said yesterday. Sir John Bourn, head of the office, said the level of wrong assessments by the agency was so high that he could not fully certify its accounts. However, the agency claimed that 87 per cent of its assessments were correct "to the last penny" when it did a check last March and it was now entering "a new era".Sir John said many of the errors were a legacy from mistakes made by the agency in previous years and that "significant progress" was now being made.

Faith Boardman, chief executive, admitted that there was still much to do to improve the agency's performance but she said it was now dealing adequately with incoming work. It said in its annual report yesterday that absent parents paid nearly £400 million in child maintenance last year, an increase of one third on the previous year.

1997-10-16
Electronic Telegraph

More students sue their parents

By Auslan Cramb, Scottish Correspondent

ANOTHER two students are suing their parents for financial support following a court case in which a law student demanded £400 in living costs from his mother. [A], 19, a chemical engineering student, has won legal aid to sue his father, [C], 41, from Evesham, Worcs, for £250 a month. And [P], 17, has taken her father to court to seek £200 a month to support her through exams at college.

In the latest case, [C] has been asked to double the support he is giving to his son at Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh. He has been estranged from both his teenage sons for 18 months following an acrimonious divorce from their mother, [D], who lives in Crossford, Fife. He said yesterday that he began making payments of £125 a month earlier this year, which was all he could afford from his £22,000 salary. He paid £44 a week while his eldest son [A] was living at home, and still pays £33 through the Child Support Agency for his 17-year-old son, [B]. Mr [C] said yesterday that he planned to contest the case.

1997-11-06
Electronic Telegraph

CSA blunders 'would take a year to mend'

By Robert Shrimsley, Chief Political Correspondent

THE scale of errors by the Child Support Agency is so great that it would take the entire staff a year to rectify them, its chief executive admitted yesterday. Faith Boardman accepted criticisms that 85 per cent of the payments made by absent parents were inaccurate. A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, the independent financial watchdog of Government spending, said the majority of errors "were caused by mistakes in the underlying maintenance assessments". His report calculated that a sixth of the errors were of more than £1,000. The number of people affected is unclear, although the CSA is handling 610,000 cases and has processed more than two million claims in its four-year history.

Yesterday, Mrs Boardman faced the anger of MPs at the Commons Public Accounts Committee and admitted that the agency was facing an almost impossible backlog. So great was the burden that the CSA was not even attempting to go back and clear all the errors. Mrs Boardman said the errors mainly related to the "agency's incompetence when it was first set up" and the CSA was now achieving an 86 per cent accuracy rate in securing the right payments from absent parents. Instead of revisiting immediately all the cases of errors - which involved both over and underpayments by absent parents - the CSA intends to use its system of two-yearly reviews of all existing cases to correct the mistakes. But Mrs Boardman accepted that the problem would cause significant amounts of debt to whichever parent had benefited from the errors. The CSA is still falling behind. More than half of outstanding assessments have waited more than a year for processing.

1997-11-21
This Is Lancashire

MP wins vow for review of the CSA

LEIGH MP Lawrence Cunliffe has won a promise from the Government that it will fully review the activities of the Child Support Agency. Social Security Minister Keith Bradley has promised to take into account the Labour backbencher's many detailed criticisms of the system. Mr Cunliffe said the CSA was "administered incompetently - it is a cock-up". He said that the "the Child Support Act of 1991 is the most infamous, iniquitous act that has gone on the statute book since the poll tax legislation. "Administrative incompetence, together with the injustice in the system, adds insult to injury to thousands of conscientious parents, and brings financial distress to many second families throughout the country."

1997-11-27
The Manchester Evening News (early edition)

CSA ADMITS £20,000 BLUNDER

A DEMAND for £20,000 child maintenance arrears sent to a Manchester man was all a mistake, officials admitted today. The Child Support Agency had refused to listen to horrified father-of-three David Allen when he insisted he knew nothing about two other mystery children. They said he would have to pay for a DNA test to prove his innocence. And the demand arrived just as Mr Allen and his wife were celebrating the birth of their own new baby.

The CSA promised to send Mr Allen details of their compensation scheme and he said: "I'll be looking at what's on offer.'' The CSA said they had a system for tracing reluctant fathers, but declined to say how this mistake had been made. "We are sorry for any suffering or distress this had caused,'' they said. Mr Allen's ordeal began when he was told in a letter from the Belfast CSA office that he owed child maintenance payments to a Mandy Creary for children born in 1989 and 1993. Regular payments of £110.55 were due to start on November 14, it said - and he owed arrears of £20,167. Mr Allen said: "`I thought it was a joke at first or even some kind of elaborate fraud but I rang them up and they insisted that it was me. "I kept saying I'd never heard of the woman but they wouldn't accept they could be wrong. "They claimed they knew everything about me but wouldn't tell me anything. It has been a nightmare. We have been married for six years but we have been together for 17 years.'' Joanne, also 33, said: "I trust my husband and it is a good job I do. We were just getting over having the baby when this happened.'' Following Mr Allens case being taken up by his MP, the CSA have now agreed to pay him compensation for the distress caused to him and his family.

1997-12-04
This Is Lancashire

Advice team ends helpline

CAMPAIGNERS who helped hundreds of families with queries about the Child Support Agency are pulling the plug on their advice line. Tony Leather and Christine Stables formed Pendle CSA Advice four years ago to give independent advice on problems. Said Mr Leather: "The move has been forced on us by pressure of other commitments and we would like to pass on our best wishes to all those who have sought our help over the past four years. Anyone would needs independent advice about CSA problems should contact their local Citizens Advice Bureau from now on. They have all been given details of the National Association for Child Support Action, including copies of the CSA Survival Guide."

A final word of advice from the Nelson team is to get useful allies on side. Mr Leather added: "If people have been subject to unacceptable mistakes, delays and maladministration by the CSA one of the most effective ways of getting movement is to involve their Member of Parliament who can take up the case with the CSA chief executive's office. If that fails, and all normal appeals have been exhausted, it's time to contact the Independent Case examiner for the CSA at Chester."

1997-12-09
Electronic Telegraph

Ministers to clamp down on 'lying' lone parents

By Rachel Sylvester, Political Correspondent

MINISTERS are drawing up plans to force lone parents to give more information to the Child Support Agency because they believe that thousands of single mothers are lying to get extra benefits. The Government is determined to tighten up the rules, claiming that single mothers are exploiting the welfare system by falsely stating that they would be at risk of violence from their absent husband or boyfriend. Ministers do not believe that the figures reflect a genuine increase in domestic violence. They are convinced that many women are refusing to pass on the information so that they can continue to claim benefits rather than relying on the father of their child for financial support.

Officials automatically approach all single mothers claiming benefit to ask them for the name and address of their estranged husband or boyfriend so that the CSA can ask the father for money. Women can refuse to divulge these details if they say that they or their children would be "at risk of harm or undue distress" if they did so.

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