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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)


Child support: the picture outside the UK

The UK may consider punitive moves like withdrawing driving licences

The British government is to look at other countries' strategies for getting absent parents to pay for their children.

The USA operates a policy of jailing or confiscating an absent parent's driving licence if they refuse to pay maintenance. Dan McDonald, director of the Child Support Department in the state of Arkansas, says these are just two of a panoply of measures the government can take. They include seizing a parent's property, including their house and belongings, docking wages and reporting arrears to credit bureaux agencies. He said: "We can incarcerate people we pick up and find that they are determined not to pay child support or cannot pay. France also has tougher measures for tracking child maintenance than the UK.


Net closes on absent parents

Absent parents face a financial crackdown

Absent parents face a financial crackdown. The government is likely to propose that those who give false information to the agency or do not co-operate with it will face criminal action. They could be punished with a fine of up to £1,000. The White Paper is also likely to say the government will look at tough measures taken abroad to crack down on absent parents. They include taking driving licences and passports away from non-compliant parents. The White Paper is also thought likely to propose a £10 a week payment to single parents on Income Support. Currently, as many as 70% of parents on benefits are no better off if they shop their absent partners to the CSA or not because, if they do, they lose benefit.

Last year, the Commons was told that 80% of self-employed people failed to pay the correct maintenance owing to loopholes which allowed them to avoid declaring their full earnings. The National Council for One Parent Families is calling for the CSA to become part of the Inland Revenue in a bid to simplify assessments even further.


The turbulent history of the CSA

Workers in the CSA face abuse and tears.

Since the Child Support Agency was launched in 1993, it has come under fierce criticism. Established to settle maintenance for children of separated parents, it aimed to ensure that absent parents were held financially responsible for their children. But the complicated formula needed to work out payments has led to mistakes and delay, causing much misery and anger. In some cases, absent parents have been overcharged, but in others - such as that of self-employed people - as many as 80% have avoided paying all the money they should because of loopholes in the system.

The campaign group Familes Need Fathers says the agency is a failure and promotes "the prevailing social prejudice that fathers are irresponsible, feckless, and only relevant to the lives of their children in financial terms". It says the Child Support Act, which the agency bases its work on, unfairly discriminates against unmarried fathers, requiring them to provide financial support when they have no other legal status with their child. It wants fathers to be given more rights over contact with their children.

The Independent

Absent fathers won't be able to go very far


ABSENT fathers risk losing their passports and driving licences if they refuse to pay child maintenance, under changes to the Child Support Agency to be announced today. Withholding maintenance would become a criminal offence resulting in jail sentences of up to six months but ministers believe that taking away licences and passports could prove more effective for first-time offenders.

Similar schemes have been adopted in America and parts of Europe and are working well.


CSA: radical reform, but not just yet

by BBC social affairs correspondent Kim Catcheside

Fathers could be fined up to a £1,000 for misleading or failing to cooperate with the Child Support Agency (CSA) in tough new measures announced by the government on Thursday.... The changes are a response to what the Government admits is the failure of the CSA. But organisations representing absent parents say it could mean rough justice for many because it will not take enough account of individual circumstances. The government says there will be concessions for low earners and those with second families, but that there can be no compomise with the principle that ALL parents are financially responsible for their children. The new flat rate will mean that, on average, parents will pay less maintenance, but the government is gambling it can offset that by making more absent parents pay.

But the changes will not take effect until 2001 at the earliest, a target date which could be subject to delay, because the proposals cannot be introduced until a new computer is set up to deal with it. Following recent problems at the Passport Office, it is unlikely that the government will want to risk introducing changes until it is absolutely confident that the new CSA computer is working properly. In the meantime, up to a million families will be stuck with a system which has been condemned as ineffective and inadequate.


Jailing absent parents 'will not work'

The government has announced plans to make failure to pay maintenance a criminal offence in its White Paper on the Child Support Agency (CSA), published on Thursday. This is to be accompanied by a fine and possibly a jail sentence. The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (Nacro) describes the jail option as "a backward step towards the debtors' prison". Director of policy Paul Cavadino said: "Past experience shows that imprisoning maintenance defaulters hardens their attitudes and rarely makes them produce the money." He added that imprisonment left children no better off and meant the state had to pick up the tab for jail costs.

Families Need Fathers welcomed moves to simplify the formula for calculating maintenance, but said the measures proposed to chase up defaulting parents were "rather draconian". Its chairman Jim Parton said: "It looks like more dad-bashing as usual."

A spokesman for the National Association for Child Support Action (NACSA) said it welcomed proposals to give parents on benefits more cash, but said the £10 a week benefit disregard was lower than the government had proposed in opposition. "The more money that goes to children, the more we like it," said the spokesman.

Kim Sparrow of the Single Mothers' Self-Defence Union said it was against forcing parents to shop their former partners. It wants mothers to be allowed a choice and fears the White Paper proposals could increase domestic abuse.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents many staff working at the CSA welcomed the new simplified formula, saying it would "help parents and staff and greatly improve compliance and debt collection". But it said the government needed to go further to ensure staff conditions and pay were improved. It claimed a quarter of staff a year were leaving due to low morale and poor management.

The National Council for One Parent Families said the White Paper was "the last chance to rehabilitate child support". If it failed to deliver, it said, the Inland Revenue should take over its functions.

Lincolnshire Echo Online

Govt launches new crackdown on absent parents

By Kristiina Cooper, Parliamentary Staff

Absent parents who fail to give financial support to their children are to face stiffer penalties. Under new Government plans, fathers and also mothers could lose their driving licences, passports or go to jail. Fathers who delay the process by denying paternity also face tougher treatment. In future, they will have to prove they are not the father if they were married to the mother when the child was born.

CSA officials will be given greater powers to obtain tax records to assess income, a reform aimed at self-employed people. 'This will make sure that fathers who run around in the company Porsche but plead poverty to their children can't get away with it,' said Mr Darling. Teenage fathers will also not escape their responsibilities and will be pursued by the CSA.

The Times

Changes in maintenance will apply just to new cases

writes Jill Sherman

Reform of CSA to be delayed

FAR-REACHING reforms to the Child Support Agency are to be delayed until after the next general election and even then will apply only to new cases, Alistair Darling admitted yesterday. The Government also announced that it is to spend £28 million on management consultants and business managers from the private sector to improve the agency's administration, which has been under constant attack since the CSA was formed six years ago.

Those who repeatedly refuse to make payments, or pay late, will be liable to fines of up to £1,000 or prison. Ministers are also considering confiscating the passports and driving licences of repeat offenders. Other measures in the White Paper include allowing the tax records of parents to be inspected so that officials can assess their income. A loophole allowing men to deny they had fathered their child will also be closed. In future absent fathers will have to prove they are not the father of a child.

The Times

Caring father says system is unfair

MIKE FARR says the Child Support Agency has unfairly hounded him for the past six years even though he has equal shared care of his daughter Laura, 6. He has refused to make any payments. Mr Farr, 35, split up from his wife Melanie five years ago when she left the marital home for another man. They decided at the time that he would not pay maintenance because they would equally share the care of Laura. He paid his wife £30,000 for her share of the family home. "Then Melanie changed her mind and I found I was chased by the CSA for payments," Mr Farr said. "I explained that I was caring for Laura four days out of seven but they still said I had to pay."

Under CSA rules, fathers pay maintenance for shared care but this is half the amount they have to pay if they are not looking after them at all. The CSA demanded £101 a week when Mr Farr was earning £18,000 a year. After several tribunal cases, the CSA agreed that he was the parent carer and agreed not to pursue him.

The Times


Darling seeks a more effective Child Support Agency

The founders of the Child Support Agency had laudable intentions: to ensure that errant parents pay for their children's upbringing and to improve the lot of single mothers. But for many families their intentions paved the road to hell. The CSA became a monstrous bureaucracy, chasing responsible parents and wrecking the families it was meant to support. Although the last Government tinkered with the child maintenance regulations, the entire system required a thorough overall. Yesterday Alistair Darling, the Social Security Secretary, published a White Paper which promises to address many of the CSA's failings. Mr Darling has wisely recognised that for a system to be workable and effective, it must be both simple and tough. Such an approach will be criticised but, for the sake of the children, it is the right one.

The Secretary of State must should tread with care. Given that CSA officials have been stuck behind their desks form-filling, their existing powers to hound parents and extract money have never been properly tested. Furthermore, if parents are locked up, or unable to drive to work, they cannot earn an income and therefore cannot contribute towards their children's upkeep, undermining the purpose of the whole exercise. Mr Darling must ensure that the CSA turns to these measures only as a last resort, and then targets the reckless, not the responsible but stretched parent. Another burst of over-exuberance would once again bring the CSA into disrepute.

The Times

Society is paying the price of its cowardice

Don't cringe before these child brutes

says Roger Scruton

The Government has decided to endow the Child Support Agency with the power to punish negligent fathers by removing their passports and driving licences. All well and good. But irresponsible parents produce antisocial children, and it is tempting to think that punishment would be far more effective if directed at them.

(The rest of the article is nothing to do with the CSA).

Electronic Telegraph

Long wait before CSA is overhauled

By Jon Hibbs, Political Correspondent

SWEEPING reforms of the Child Support Agency announced yesterday will not be fully implemented until well into the next century because of the scale of the cash collection problem with which the organisation is struggling. Alistair Darling, the Social Security Secretary, acknowledged that "root and branch" proposals to simplify the system of child support would apply only to new cases from the end of 2001, with existing cases not coming on stream until much later. The Tories mocked ministers for waiting for more than two years since the general election before unveiling yesterday's White Paper.

David Willetts, the shadow social security spokesman, said that it had already taken ministers longer to reach a decision about the overhaul than it took the CSA they criticised to make its assessments. "It will be more than four and a half years since Labour was elected before we see any change in the regime and the whole thing now looks as if it will drift into the next Parliament," he said.

Mr Darling countered by announcing that a team of 30 middle-managers and advisers from banks and other private sector institutions would be drafted in from next week to speed up the collection of money from absent parents. An additional £28 million is to be spent over the next three years to try to turn round the CSA and impose a radical change in culture and working practices.

Electronic Telegraph

Changes 'based on sexism'

By Katie Nicholl

Long wait before CSA is overhauled

ANGUS NICOLSON, a chartered accountant and local councillor from Stornoway, in the Western Isles, has a joint residence order with Anne, the mother of their two children, aged seven and nine. Anne, 31, has a negligible income and Mr Nicolson, who earns more than £50,000 a year, pays more than half of the children's living costs. Under the new system Mr Nicolson, 36, would be considered an absent parent and would therefore have to pay 20 per cent of his net income. If he refused, he would go to prison. He said: "I would be paying all the costs incurred in the children's upkeep. Not only would I pay for the three days that I have them, I would also have to pay the CSA for the other days so I would be wholly responsible for their financial upkeep. Whilst this will not have such a serious impact on myself, it will be a financial burden for other fathers."

Mr Nicolson has had a long battle with the CSA, forcing it to recognise that he is not an absent parent since he shares care. "At the moment the children's living costs are made up according to each of our abilities. Even though I pay more than half of the living costs, the CSA are unable to accept that I am the parent with care. They are unable to accept that a father can be the parent with care. "There is an inherent sexism in the anticipated outcome from this legislation; they should be targeting slack parents, not slack fathers. It will cause a great deal of antagonism because it attacks one parent."


Delays threaten to undermine CSA shake-up

David Brindle, Social Services Correspondent

Many divorced and separated families will not benefit from sweeping reform of the child support agency, unveiled yesterday, because the changes are expected to take four years to come into full effect. Delays being blamed on the need for new computer systems mean that the reformed child maintenance rules will start to apply to new cases only from late 2001, even if everything goes to plan, with transfer of almost 1m cases beginning at an unspecified date. It is believed ministers do not anticipate completion of the transfer before 2003. By then, tens of thousands of families will no longer be on the CSA's books because their youngest child will have left school.

Opposition MPs last night warned that the government could face a backlash from people who had heightened expectations of early change. "A lot of parents, hearing about the proposals, will have no idea about this long transitional period," said David Willetts, shadow social security secretary. "Ministers are moving more slowly than the CSA they criticise for slowness."

A spokesman for the anti-CSA campaign group, the National Association for Child Support Action, said: "After 10 years of family law moving towards conciliation, it is a retrograde step to criminalise aspects of family break-up." However, the association joined welfare groups in welcoming the £10 maintenance allowance for lone mothers on income support - a move which the Child Poverty Action Group said would mean many of the poorest children benefiting from the CSA for the first time.


New deal for children

CSA shows the poverty of welfare policy

The British Medical Association's report on child health was a jolt to the complacency of middle England. Birth weights in Britain are on a par with Albania and worse than Slovenia; the UN now judges Britain to be one of the most socially unequal countries in the world. This is the context against which the Child Support Agency (CSA) has to be judged. The links between child poverty, marital breakdown and failure of non-resident parents (mostly fathers) to pay maintenance are all now well established.

The miserable saga of the CSA since 1993 has indirectly contributed to the terrible record on child health. It has done precisely nothing to improve the financial lot of single parents and their children; the department of social security admits that the percentage of parents (barely 20%) receiving child maintenance today is no higher than it was when the CSA started work. The agency has been a massive failure. It did not deliver the much-vaunted promise of savings to the Treasury with which it was launched; it did not enforce responsibilities of fathers to their children - 30 per cent of assessed cases do not pay; it failed single parents and their children to the extent that 70 per cent are now reluctant to co-operate with the CSA - everything they gained in maintenance was clawed back from their benefits, there was simply nothing in it for them.

There are many lessons in this for everyone. All-party support for the legislation in 1990-91 proved to be disastrous; no one spotted the problems looming in the fine print. Worst of all, no one managed to shift the purpose of the CSA from an uneasy combination of cutting the benefit bill and a moral crusade to make dads pay, to the welfare of children.... The CSA demonstrates how the emotional charge around the whole subject of family breakdown and what government should and can do about it, obscured the practical imperatives of sound policy-making. So, it is not until the middle of the next decade, a full 15 years from the start of the discussion, that we will be able to measure whether a re-vamped CSA has worked - in concert with other policies such as the New Deal for lone-parents - in improving children's health. It has to be within the capabilities of a mature democracy to develop with more speed and fewer mistakes social policy - especially when it has enormous consequences on the next generation.

The Independent


A STREAMLINED system of child maintenance designed to force absent fathers to meet their payments was unveiled yesterday, but will not take effect for another two and a half years. When it is brought in towards the end of 2001, the new system will initially apply only to new cases, and it could take years to apply it to the 905,000 families already on the books of the much-criticised Child Support Agency.

To stop a man playing for time by denying he is the father of the child, the burden of proof will be on him to prove this if he was married to the mother.

David Willetts, the Tory social security spokesman, accused Mr Darling of producing only "gimmicks and soundbites". He said: "We recognise that the CSA needs to be reformed, but it is stupid to put absent parents in jail or take away their driving licence. That means they won't be able to earn any money and the children that we all want to help will suffer."

Electronic Telegraph

New system simpler but 'more unfair to fathers'

Long wait before CSA is overhauled

Philip Johnston

Case study 2 is based on this article. It shows the details graphically.

LET us imagine a couple whose marriage is on the rocks. For the sake of argument, their names are Tony and Cherie. They have three children and, after their separation, the parents share the care of their offspring. Tony earns £100,000 a year but his wife brings in almost double that. In the divorce settlement, she has been given the large marital home and Tony lives in a central London flat, where for six months of the year he looks after the children. Tony believes he cares equally for his children, both financially and emotionally, but the state regards him as a Non-Resident Parent. Under the reforms of the Child Support Agency announced yesterday, Tony would be required to pay 12.5 per cent of his net income to Cherie. If she were to remarry a millionaire, Tony would still have to pay one eighth of his net income to his ex-wife.

This is an extreme example of the potential impact of the reform package announced by Alistair Darling yesterday but its unfairness can be just as great lower down the income scale.

The grisly history of the CSA since its inception in 1993 is well-known: the fuelled resentments, the acrimonious battles, the deliberate frauds and tricks to avoid paying - and the suicides of those who felt they could not cope. Yesterday, the Government decided to recast the whole system: but is the reform likely to produce a system any fairer than the last? Certainly it should be simpler, but campaigners maintain it will be even more unjust to fathers. It also introduces criminality into family breakdown for the first time, proposing that fathers who refuse to pay will be jailed. Almost all the existing exemptions are to be removed. At present, 60,000 fathers do not have to pay anything because they have responsibility for children in a second family. The problem with the new scheme arises where parents share the child care. The formula allows for an abatement for the absent father whose children spend at least 52 nights a year with him.

However, this means that a Non-Resident Parent who shares the care equally still pays 50 per cent of the assessment. Karen Randall of the pressure group Families Need Fathers said: "It is gender discrimination. "The income of the parent with care - usually the mother - is not being taken into account. It is placing the care that mothers give on an unequal footing with that of fathers. This is patronising to mothers by suggesting they cannot earn their own income and have a traditional function to look after children, and it is patronising to fathers by suggesting their only role is to provide the money." She said that the father who has joint care would pay twice - once during the time he is looking after the children at his own home and again when they are with the mother.

Sunday Times

The rape reform that makes all men guilty

Rape is the most serious of all crimes after murder. Yet now, it seems, the offence is not so serious if you're raped by someone you know. The government has floated the idea of creating a new offence of "date rape", with lower penalties than for raping a stranger. What absurdity is this? Rape means forcing someone to have intercourse without consent. Either this is a crime of exceptional gravity, or it is not. It can't become less serious if you're raped after a night out rather than jumped on in an alley. The change has been suggested simply to increase the number of rape convictions, which has fallen while reports of date rape have risen. Charges of rape by strangers, meanwhile, have dropped. Indeed, this seems to be why there are fewer convictions. Claims of date rape raise vexing questions about whether the woman was giving her consent. It's hardly surprising, therefore, that police don't press charges or that juries are reluctant to convict.

It's quite extraordinary to say that because not enough men are being convicted, the law must change. It implies a certainty that these date rapes have all actually happened. On what evidence? Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence? Or are women always to be believed, simply because they are women? Clearly the government thinks so - it says date rape is now "the fastest growing crime against women". So are we to assume there's been an inexplicable leap in the numbers of men raping their girlfriends on a date? Or that hitherto reticent victims have suddenly become "empowered" to come forward? There's surely a more likely explanation: the increasing sexual availability of women has torn up the rules of sexual etiquette.

A report last year by the Zero Tolerance Charitable Trust into young people's sexual attitudes revealed huge confusion about the ambiguous new codes governing sexual behaviour. Yet even these young people appeared to be rather clearer than the Home Office about responsibility. Girls as well as boys thought a man wasn't guilty of rape if the woman tried to draw the line after "leading him on". Almost 75% of those surveyed agreed with the statement "Women cry rape the next day when really they have just had second thoughts". With sexual behaviour now so free, it would seem foolish to try to sort out such ambiguous situations in court.

Open season appears to have been declared now on men. It was surely no coincidence that the day after the government told us men were violent beasts, it announced ways of being even tougher against feckless ex-husbands through reform of the Child Support Act. Yet it failed to address the dreadful injustice of this legislation, which treats all absent fathers as feckless even though some may be the blameless victims of destructive behaviour by women.

Of course some men are irresponsible, and should be pursued; of course men should pay for their children's upkeep if they have broken up their families. Most divorces, however, are initiated by women. Many divorced fathers have their homes and children taken away from them and are all but de-stroyed. They are then clobbered by the Child Support Agency, which treats them as if they are the guilty party. In future they may even be sent to prison. The assumptions behind many of the proposed changes to the act are hostile to men. They reduce fathers even more than before to walking wallets, and deepen the injustices against them. Even if a father shares childcare equally with his ex-wife, he will have to pay the mother for the child's upkeep. Moreover, the mother's income won't henceforth be taken into account. So even if she's gone off with a man earning £100,000 a year, scooping up the family home and the children en route, her ex-husband will have to pay her - thus supporting behaviour he may even believe is damaging his children. At the same time, he may be deprived of all contact with his children by courts which stack the cards against him. The lord chancellor's advisory board on family law has said that if wives allege domestic violence against their former husbands, the courts should stop them seeing their children. It is not uncommon, though, for women to make entirely spurious charges of violence against their ex-husbands just to prevent them from having access to their children. Lawyers say the courts are overwhelmingly disposed to believe them, even when there isn't a shred of evidence.

The Times


Fairness to non-resident fathers

From Mr John Foley

Sir, The proposed reform of the Child Support Agency (reports and leading article, July 2) exacerbates the present discrimination against fathers, who constitute the vast majority of non-resident parents. The Government perpetuates the myth that fathers are not interested in looking after their children and, indeed, financially penalises them if they wish to exercise their responsibilities. Even when parents share care equally, then the CSA will still insist that the father should pay the mother, as your report illustrated. The new formula will only take into account the income of the father - not the mother. Fathers' costs of maintaining contact with their children are not taken into account unless in exceptional circumstances.

The White Paper states that the Government does not believe that contact between children and their non-resident parent is always in the best interests of children, but casts no corresponding aspersion on resident parents.

Surely it is dishonest for the Government to portray these reforms as a campaign against recalcitrant non-payers. DSS statistics show the main defaulters are the unemployed and the low-waged who cannot afford to make CSA payments on a regular basis. The reforms are simply a tax on gender. The Government should go back to the drawing board and address the fundamental human right of children to see their father. Treating fathers only as a chequebook is not going to win the CSA the support it deserves.

Sincerely, JOHN FOLEY (Policy Director, Families Need Fathers)

From Mrs Elizabeth Thomas

Sir, I read your report of measures intended to punish absent fathers who refuse to support their children financially. I look forward to reading of the measures proposed to punish mothers who refuse to allow their children access to their fathers.



Government held back by IT systems

Suspension of the Accord projects has a knock-on effect for the Child Support Agency.

Radical child support reforms are being delayed by at least two years because of the late delivery of IT systems at the Child Support Agency. Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling has told MPs that the simplification of absent parent payments cannot be implemented 'until towards the end of 2001 at the earliest'. Even this target involves a massive gamble: Darling's statement follows the disclosure in Computing (24 June) that the DSS's Accord IT project has already been put on hold. Accord - which will cost hundreds of millions of pounds - integrates the DSS's main IT systems and includes a systems upgrade at the CSA. It was originally due to be completed by April 2001.

The CSA reforms hinge on DSS income and child support databases being re-vamped on time. Liberal Democrat MP David Rendel asked if 'the IT will work any better than that surrounding the fiascos of the passport system and the system in post offices?' Darling said he will ensure that 'before we start the new system, we know that the IT systems work'.

This Is Lancashire

Darts star jail threat

WORLD darts star [X] has been ordered to pay what he owes towards the cost of his children's upbringing - or he could face jail. [X], who earlier this year reached the final of the World Darts Championship, was told by Hyndburn Magistrates yesterday to start paying off more than £8,000 which he owes the Child Support Agency (CSA).

The CSA had previously sent [X] two letters warning him he was in arrears with his payments and further forms were filled out in August 1996. The Agency warned Mr Baxter they would impose a maintenance assessment order if he did not make 'sufficient' payments. In February this year he was informed of the CSA's intention to make a liability order through the courts. The order was granted but will not be enforced until next month while Mr Baxter seeks information on his finances.

A CSA press spokeswoman said: "The order means we will come to some agreement of payment with the person involved. "If that is not successful we may apply for the money to be taken straight out of a bank or building society account. "After that we could apply for a charging order, where the CSA takes money it is owed from the proceeds of any property sold by the person. "As a last resort, we could apply for the court to commit a person to prison, but only where anything else had failed, and after considering the effect on any children involved."

Sunday Times


Husbands in agony

WE are the men unceremoniously dumped (Comment, last week). We have lost our children, our homes and our money. We have lived in bedsits and battled with the Child Support Agency. We have listened while belligerent lawyers funded by legal aid convinced a court that we have behaved unreasonably - because that was what the courts required. We are the men whom nobody wanted to believe - we are not violent, reckless or irresponsible. We were good, decent, responsible husbands and fathers whose lives were changed for ever. I have waited eight years for somebody to so eloquently express our anguish - I am humbled that it is a woman who has done so.

Bryan McAlley, Gunby, Lincolnshire


CSA in £4m compensation payout

The CSA has made improvements in the last year. Mistakes by the Child Support Agency (CSA) have led to compensation payments of more than £4m being awarded to disgruntled parents, according to a highly critical audit report. Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office (NAO), said past mistakes in assessments had left "a legacy of error" while mistakes still occurred in new cases. He admitted that the system by which maintenance payments are calculated was extremely complex to administer and carried "a significant risk of inherent error". But he said there was room for further significant improvements to be made before the Agency could perform "at a standard acceptable to both Parliament and clients". Sir John said improvements had been made since a 1997/98 audit and accuracy was much better. But he said errors were still being made. These were far more likely to involve absent parents being asked to pay too much maintenance than too little. Of payments received, some £23.8m was overpaid, compared to £6.2m which was underpaid.

The Times

Audit Office finds mistakes were made in four out of five cases

Errors by Child Support Agency 'have cost £30m'

reports Jill Sherman

THE National Audit Office yesterday delivered a damning report on the Child Support Agency, claiming that it had made errors worth up to £30 million in maintenance collections. Sir John Bourn, Comptroller and Auditor General, qualified the CSA accounts after discovering that errors had been made in four out of five maintenance assessments. In addition compensation paid out to parents, where serious mistakes had been made, had increased fourfold in 12 months from £1.1 million to £4.4 million. Although Sir John admitted that the agency's caseload had increased by 22 per cent in the last year, a high level of errors were still being made and a backlog of miscalculations made in previous years remained unresolved. He estimated that of the £409.8 million collected from absent parents in 1998-99, £23.8 million had been overpaid and £6.2 million underpaid.

David Davis, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Select Committee, yesterday callled for urgent action to "tackle the legacy of error in child support". He admitted that the CSA reforms would improve the system but pointed out that these would be delayed for at least two years, and would do nothing to help the mounting backlog. "The legacy of error in current assessments could overhand the new system for a decade or more if not dealt with in the near future," he said. He also criticised the agency for lowering its expectation for accuracy in new assessments. "Last year we criticised them for aiming only for 85 per cent accuracy; they responded by adopting a different target, but setting it only at 75 per cent. "It is unacceptable that the agency is satisfied when one in four assessments are wrong. The agency must raise their sights and aim to get all assessments right."

The Audit Office report shows that there has been a 250 per cent increase in the number of compensation payments and a 400 per cent increase in the value of compensation. The payments are made by the agency where either the absent father or the mother faces serious financial hardship because of an error, or stress or other physical or mental problems.



ABSENT PARENTS' payments to the Child Support Agency are wrongly recorded in four out of five cases, the Government's spending watchdog said last night.
Sir John Bourn, the head of the National Audit Office (NAO), refused to pass the agency's accounts for the fifth year running because of inaccuracies. One-third of absent parents were paying the wrong amount, he said. Four out of five also had their payments recorded inaccurately once they had been made. Out of pounds 409.8m received from absent parents, Sir John said pounds 23.8m was overpaid. Underpayments amounted to pounds 6.2m.

David Davis, the chairman of the Commons' committee which oversees NAO reports, called for urgent action to tackle the legacy of error in the CSA. Although some progress had been made in the last year, the proportion of absent parents paying the wrong amount had actually risen, he said. "These errors are not notional accounting issues, they represent injustice. "For every person who gains from an error there is a loser. Unless this is addressed as a matter of urgency the agency will be beset by problems for a generation."

Last year the agency was criticised for aiming at just 85 per cent accuracy, but this year it set an even lower target of 75 per cent.



A BACKLOG of 350,000 case reviews by the Child Support Agency will be scrapped, junior Social Security Minister Angela Eagle announced. The outstanding caseload was caused by parents not returning forms or not providing information.

Lincolnshire Echo Online

Govt Minister warns debt collectors on tail of absent fathers who don't pay

The Child Support Agency is to bring in private consultants in a bid to recover £690m of debts owed by absent parents. The Government has now appointed a City agency to help collect the money owed.

Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling said £28m would be spent over the next three years on the overhaul. Reforms unveiled in the White Paper included drafting in management expertise from the private sector.


CSA adopts private debt collection

Unpaid debts from absent parents currently stand at £690m

The government is bringing in a major accountancy firm to track down absent parents after admitting that the Child Support Agency is failing to collect owed maintenance payments. Deloitte Touche won the contract after figures revealed that absent parents owed £690m in CSA-ordered payments to their offspring. Less than half of absent fathers had paid the level required by the CSA, while a third had paid nothing at all.

Ian Kelly, of the UK Men's Group, which opposes the CSA, told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I can't really see what a firm of accountants are doing being involved, probably at great expense.

David Davis, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: "These errors are not notional accounting issues, they represent injustice. "For every person who gains from an error there is a loser, and where the recipient of child support is on benefit the loser can often be the taxpayer".

Electronic Telegraph

Ministers bring in private consultants to toughen up CSA

By Andrew Sparrow, Political Correspondent

MINISTERS promised yesterday to stop the Child Support Agency being "a soft touch". Baroness Hollis, a social security minister, said consultants had been hired to suggest ways of getting more absent parents to comply with the CSA. Lady Hollis said Deloitte Consulting would help the CSA to improve its record on compliance, which is so poor that more than £500 million is owed in maintenance. But the Tories claimed that the move was a sign of desperation which highlighted the Government's failure to press on with more fundamental CSA reform. In the meantime, she said, Deloitte Consulting would develop strategies with the CSA to improve compliance rates. This was part of a £28 million programme designed to import private sector "know-how" into the agency. Asked why it was necessary to bring in the consultants, Lady Hollis told Radio 4's Today programme: "Private consultants have experience of debt management that we just do not have." They would help with risk analysis and pro-active strategies, she said.

Eric Pickles, the Conservative social security spokesman, said: "There would be no need to employ expensive private consultants to collect debt if Labour would just stop dithering and start introducing sensible, workable changes to the CSA."

The Independent

CSA calls in consultants to chase unpaid £500m

Absent parents who owe millions of pounds in maintenance payments will be the targets of a Child Support Agency crackdown, the Government announced yesterday. The private consultancy Deloitte Touche has been appointed to advise on chasing parents who owe £511m to the agency. The appointment of debt collection consultants has come after the Government unveiled a series of reforms of the agency.

Ian Kelly, of the UK Men's Group, which opposes the agency, attacked the appointment of consultants. "I can't really see what a firm of accountants are doing being involved, probably at great expense," he said. "Perhaps a firm of debt collectors would be more appropriate if that is what the Government are trying to do here. There are 50 families in this country who have lost a person by suicide because of the intense pressure that person was placed under by the Child Support Agency when they had, in fact, been supporting their child. "The matter of child maintenance should be returned to the courts, where it was properly dealt with in the past."

The Guardian

Consultants to crack down on child support dodgers

Michael White, Political Editor

The government yesterday delighted single mothers and angered ex-husbands by calling in management consultants to help the child support agency claim £500m worth of unpaid maintainance. The move to bring in Deloitte Consulting, a subsiduary of the City accountancy conglomerate, was promoted as a crackdown on dodgers by the social security minister, Baroness Hollis. But it brought renewed warnings of intolerable pressures - which have led to 50 suicides. Even some supporters of the move warned about the need to hold the consultants properly accountable.

Crucially, some of the extra money retrieved from absent parents will benefit families as well as the treasury, which had previously docked all savings from benefits. Mothers will be able to keep up to £10 a week on top of benefits.

The firm will look at "compliance management information, process validation and change leadership" - a euphemism for admitting the CSA spends up to 90% of its time in over-complex assessments, makes mistakes which result in successful appeals, and targets the conscientious, not hard cases.

Independent On Sunday

Dads wage guerrilla war on CSA

By Rachel Sylvester, political editor


A GROUP of disgruntled fathers has launched a campaign to undermine the Child Support Agency by circulating information on dodges and devices to avoid maintenance payments. These include unscrupulous suggestions on how to persuade ex-wives to lie to the authorities - and how to fool the authorities into thinking that they are violent. The National Association for Child Support Action (NACSA) produces regular newsletters and a website advising fathers how to delay, reduce or avoid contributions to the CSA.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham, the minister responsible for the CSA, said the Government was concerned about a small group of hardliners working "at the edge" of the law. "Most men are decent and want to support their children but there are a core of people who do not want to pay and are seeking to duck and avoid and we will get tough on those," she said.

Maeve Sherlock, director of the National Council for One Parent Families, said she was "appalled" by some of NACSA's activities. "There will always be some cases of genuine hardship but anyone trying to persuade non-resident parents to avoid paying child support when they can afford to pay it is deeply irresponsible," she said.

The Times

Loophole in college fees to be examined


MINISTERS are considering making wealthy parents who leave home pay more towards the education of their children at university or college. There is no government guidance for local authorities on divorced or separated parents. Councils assess students' eligibility for loans and fees against the income of the parent with whom they live, assuming that they bear financial responsibility for their children. But civil servants are conducting a review of the regulations to see if a loophole is being exploited.

The National Union of Students has demanded assurances that the review was not a Treasury-driven attempt to cut the cost of student support, by maximising parental contributions. An NUS spokesman was concerned that the principle used by the Child Support Agency - that parents should still support children after the end of their marriage - was being applied to student finance.

The Observer

Army helps soldiers to escape child support

by Andy McSmith and Richard Reeves

Men once joined the armed forces to see the world or escape the dole queue. Now there is a new reason to enlist: to avoid paying child maintenance bills. Under military rules, commanding officers are allowed to override orders from the Child Support Agency to deduct money from a pay packet if they believe it will be detrimental to 'morale and battle fitness'.

In one current case, Claire Goulding, who spent 11 years as an army wife, is unable to recoup almost £6,000 of child maintenance back payments despite building her life around the army. Her older daughter was born in Hong Kong; in Germany, she acted as the commanding officer's housekeeper. She waited at home while her husband served in the Gulf and Bosnia. But later came a painful separation, a custody battle, a year spent bringing up two girls with no money from their father and the inevitable call upon the much-criticised CSA. In February 1998, the CSA made an order that £122.33 a week was to be deducted at source from Claire's ex-husband, Sergeant Douglas Neal, of the Coldstream Guards - partly to penalise him for his past failure to pay maintenance or answer the CSA's letters. But Neal had remarried and started a second family, and no soldier with dependants has more than a quarter of his net pay deducted at source. For nearly two years, the army has refused to hand over the full amount demanded by the CSA - and, unless army regulations are changed, they never will. Instead, they have paid £318 a month, less than £80 a week, for 17 months. Claire has never received any money to compensate for the months when Neal paid no maintenance at all. When the bailiffs arrived at the barracks, sent by the CSA to seize Neal's belongings, they were called in to speak to him and his commanding officer, and went away empty-handed. Because many couples live in Ministry of Defence houses it is often the wife and child who have to leave, sometimes being forced to declare themselves homeless as a result.

Independent On Sunday

No gender divide

M Griffiths, Baughurst, Hampshire

The idea that Nacsa (the National Association for Child Support Action) is a men's organisation is wrong ("Dads wage guerrilla war on CSA", 8 August). Many women are campaigning against the agency because of the trouble it causes families. In his 1998-99 report on the CSA, the Auditor General voices serious concerns about the operation of the agency and its errors - "almost one in four assessments are wrong", "£23m paid by absent parents are overpayments" - and he sees nothing in the new White Paper reforms that might address these problems.

Baroness Hollis is looking for scapegoats. She is seeking to get public opinion on her side in order to bring in even more draconian legislation because the CSA is not working. As a grandmother of 60-plus years, I am pleased that I have been able to help and support those who have been targeted by this disreputable agency, and will continue to do so until families have a fair system of maintenance.

Derbyshire Evening Telegraph

Mum tells of son’s worries over CSA.


The mother of a man who was found dead in a fume-filled car has told how her son was finding it a struggle to cope with maintenance payments demanded by the Child Support Agency. Mrs [Y] (59) said: "He was paying maintenance for his six-year-old child. He wasn’t arguing about paying, but it was such a big amount out of his wages." Mr [X] worked for Elkes Biscuits in Uttoxeter and had taken on a weekend job to make ends meet.He died on August 14. A note by him said: "Don’t blame anybody. Don’t be sad, I’m not."

A CSA spokeswoman said: "We do feel sad when people take their lives, but we cannot comment on any individual cases."

The Times

Official complaints increase by 50%, reports Alexandra Frean

CSA to pay £100,000 for errors

THE Child Support Agency has been ordered to pay more than £100,000 in compensation to clients whose complaints have been mishandled by its staff, a government watchdog will announce today. In her second annual report, Anne Parker, the Independent Case Examiner, is expected to criticise the agency for being too slow to learn from its mistakes and for making only grudging apologies to clients, even when it knows that it is in the wrong.

"The agency isn't very good at saying sorry," a senior government source said. The agency has grown accustomed to criticism in the six years since it was formed, but today's report is significant because it follows claims that the CSA has already improved its responsiveness and its accuracy after its acknowledged early failures.

The Guardian

CSA 'raising false hopes' of back payments

David Brindle, Social Services Correspondent

Errors by the child support agency are cruelly raising false hopes among lone parents of windfalls of thousands of pounds in child maintenance back payments, the agency's watchdog will today report. In one case outlined in the report, a man with care of his children was told repeatedly he was due more than £7,500 in maintenance arrears. Much later, following intervention by the examiner's office, the figure was amended to a correct £3,000.

In a second case, a woman took out a bank loan on the strength of an agency assurance that she was due £4,600. Later, she was told she was due nothing. Because the woman suffered financial loss, she was compensated.


CSA 'making progress over complaints'

The Child Support Agency has tried to improve its image

An increasing number of people are taking their complaints against the Child Support Agency (CSA) to independent review. But the number of people dissatisfied with the agency's response to complaints has fallen drastically, according to the second annual report of the Independent Case Examiner, Anne Parker. Her report found that only 10% of people were dissatisfied, compared with 90% the year before. Mrs Parker also said the agency's increased willingness to talk to complainants face to face or over the phone had improved the service offered.

But new areas of complaint included inconsistency in handling cases, poor aftercare and problems over deciding paternity.

The Times

CSA incurs mothers' rage


THE Child Support Agency is incurring the wrath of a growing number of single mothers. Women accounted for 40 per cent of complaints last year to the Independent Case Examiner, the agency's watchdog - a 32 per cent increase on the previous year.

Speaking at the publication of her second annual report, Ms Parker said that most of the women who complained were mothers who have been granted care of their children, while most of the men were absent or non-resident fathers. "One reason why I was concerned to see a more representative sample of women complaining to me was that a lot of them have such substantial domestic duties that finding the energy to complain is hard," she said.


Teen fathers on the rise

Teenage fathers will have their benefit docked from the age of 16

Teenage fathers will have their benefit docked from the age of 16. The Child Support Agency has about 2,000 teenage fathers on its books - but the boys are not required to pay maintenance until they turn 16.

South Yorkshire police are investigating a 14-year-old Sheffield boy whose 12-year-old girlfriend is three months' pregnant. The boy could be charged with rape because a girl of this age cannot legally consent to sex. If she gives birth and keeps the baby, the boy will not be required to pay maintenance until his 16th birthday.

There are 2,000 teenage boys on Child Support Agency's books. A Child Support Agency spokesman told the BBC: "At that stage, they sort of grow into the responsibility and we actively and vigorously pursue them for maintenance. "If they're unemployed, the agency seeks to reduce any benefit they are getting by £5.20 a week."

The Times

It's acceptable to skive, new fathers are told


FATHERS are advised in a new guide endorsed by the Government to "cut as many corners as possible" at work without being dismissed so that they can concentrate more on caring for their newborn babies. The guide, which is to be distributed to most men whose partners are expecting babies, tells new fathers not to worry if they feel they are "doing neither the fathering nor the job properly" in the first months after their child's birth.

Some of the tips included in the guide:

  • If you are unmarried, apply to the Central Registry for Parental Responsibility. Otherwise your child could be adopted, have its name changed or even be taken abroad without your agreement

  • If you split up, don't give up on your child. Contact the CSA and formalise support payments to avoid money conflicts

The guide is available at Here is a reference.


Experts weigh up CSA reforms

The CSA has been at the centre of controversy since it was set up Social policy experts are to give evidence to a parliamentary committee on proposals to transform the controversial Child Support Agency. The Social Security Select Committee will begin hearing views on the White Paper on the CSA on Tuesday. It expects to publish a report on its findings in October.

CSA chief executive Faith Boardman, civil servants, the Child Poverty Action Group, the Families Need Fathers group, trades unions and the National Association for Child Support Action are among the experts who will attend the three-day session. Familes Need Fathers is worried that there is too much concentration on punishing absent fathers.

The Times

Children 'could sue parents for share of income'


CHILDREN could have the right to sue their parents for 15 per cent of the family income once they turn 18 if the Government's proposals to reform the Child Support Agency go through unamended.

The Family Law Bar Association said yesterday that the Government could inadvertently be creating a new right for all children to share in their parents' wealth that went far beyond anything ministers had originally intended. Nicholas Mostyn, QC, from the association, told MPs that there was a serious flaw in proposals to replace the current complex child-support formula with a simple flat rate, requiring all absent parents to pay 15 per cent of their income in maintenance for an only child, 20 per cent for two and 25 per cent for three or more children. Giving evidence to the Commons Social Security Select Committee, Mr Mostyn said that it was "utter folly" to impose no maximum on the amounts that could be paid. "The Government's justification for having no maximum can be summarised in the single sentence: children have a right to share in the income of their parents." But he said: "Children have no such right. They may have an expectation, and the empirical reality is that in most cases they do, but they have no such right. Their only right is to be maintained. "Will this right entitle a child who has lived in an intact family to seek, on attainment of majority, an account of the sums expended for his benefit, and payment to him of any surplus?"

The Times

CSA rule change 'will favour absent fathers'


PROTEST groups claim that fathers who see their children after divorce will suffer harsher financial penalties than those who simply walk away if government proposals to reform the Child Support Agency proceed unaltered. Divorce lawyers and groups representing divorced and separated parents told MPs that the proposed reforms were deeply flawed because they failed to take account of the income of the parent with custody of the child or children.

Opponents of the reforms say that if the absent parent, often the father, were never to see his children again but had been tracked down by the CSA, he would simply have to pay maintenance to his former wife for the children. If, however, he had his children to live with him for part of the week, he would pay more: on top of maintanance payments he would have to bear the cost of caring for the children while they were at his house.

Karen Randall, of Families Need Fathers, which represents divorced and separated parents, believes that the new system will work in the 75 per cent of cases in which children are cared for by one parent, usually the mother, but not in the remaining cases. "These proposals, in their current form, will discourage shared parenting and result in greater loss of contact between children and their non-resident parents, usually their fathers," Ms Randall said. The solution, she believes, would be to make the mother pay maintenance of 15 per cent of her income for the days that children are with their fathers.

The Guardian

Poor lone parents

There is an unfairness in access to higher education. If you have a child, you cannot afford to go to university

Yesterday education minister Tessa Blackstone gave a rousing address to the annual conference of university vice-chancellors. Her main theme was, quite rightly, the need to encourage more people of every social background into higher education, especially mature students who missed the chance earlier in life. "Widening participation remains a cornerstone of government policies," she said, announcing more access money for certain hardship cases. But one enormous group of people who desperately need another chance has been left out until now - the 1m single parents who live on social security. They ought to be the very first target group, the easiest to reach, some destined for university before pregnancy intervened, others seeking a new life after failed marriages. The New Deal for Lone Parents is designed to encourage them to take jobs, calling them in for compulsory interviews to tell them about the new earnings top-up they can get in low paid work, plus money for childcare.

Some extraordinary women do manage it. One single mother with four children has been corresponding with me for some time while she has struggled desperately to get herself through teacher training. Amazingly, accumulating much debt and hardship, she has finally this week started her first teaching job, a triumph over needless adversity and bureaucratic barricades. Luckily she has an ex-husband who pays reasonable maintenance through the Child Support Agency. But that is exceptional since so far the CSA has failed to deliver for most single mothers. In her latest letter she writes: "I could have given up many times but I didn't and I have to say that I did it myself in spite of government policies and income support rules."

The Times

Cathy is a single mother of two on income support . She also has a university degree and a profession

So why did she have only 30p to last the weekend?

Interview by Ann Treneman

Cathy looks young and happy as she walks up one of Liverpool's wide and shabby streets with her children running round her legs. "Hello," she says when she spots me on the front step.... We go into her flat. "It's complete chaos," she says and she is right. I sit on a sofa draped in a cloth while Cathy sits on a chair draped in cloth. She gets a file out marked "DSS crap". The children want a snack. "Look kids there is no food," she says. Her voice is soft and light. She adds an operational note for my benefit: "It is Friday and I have a half a loaf of bread in the house. That is it." She is going to borrow a tenner tonight, though, and that will get them through until Monday. So how much money does she have? She counts pennies on her mantelpiece crowded with art postcards, photographs and papers. "There is 20p there," she says. "And I've got 10p in my bag." That is terrible, I say. "It's normal. But there is a woman next door. She's wonderful. We have a rubber £10 note that we keep giving each other."

We add up her expenses. Eleven pounds a week goes into the electricity meter. It doesn't take coins but special cards that can require a journey of two bus trips to buy. She also pays £12 to £15 a week for gas. She is not in debt to either the electricity or gas companies and is obviously pleased to be in the clear. She pays £40 a week for food, which she seems slightly embarrassed about and calls "extravagant". Food is important in this house. Cathy wants to please her children but despairs of their tastes. "Burgers and smiley potatoes with faces. Novelty foods." She has given up disguising the vegetables. "But I do spend money on fruit," she says defensively. Plus there is cheese, bread, eggs, lots of milk. Meat? "Not often. We buy some cold meats. A roast would just be extortionate." So what did she eat yesterday? "I always make sure the children have something," she says. Yes, but what about herself? "Well," she says, "I had four pieces of bread and an apple. Oh, and Marmite too. But I don't eat much anyway." Her rent is £48 but it is paid by the council as long as she is on income support. She pays £8.50 to pay off a credit company. Then there are catalogue debts. I find I'm sitting on one of these. The sofa is draped not because it is scruffy but because it is nice. "It's cream. I just wanted one thing that was pristine but it was a mad thing to do. That's why the covers are on it." The catalogue gets £15 a week. That is £89.50 a week. We do not explore what happens to the remaining £2.50. It is possible to live on income support, she says, if you are frugal and have no vices. Cathy does not smoke and goes to the pub about once a fortnight and not for very long then. She has run out of money this week because she has just started working again (though will not be paid for a further three weeks) and has had to pay bus fares. No car then? She looks at me strangely. I can tell she thinks I do not understand. "I could never afford that. I'd like a bike but cannot get one yet."

And what of the fathers? "The only time I have ever really lied to the DSS was about this," she says. One of the fathers helps a lot, especially with childcare. This is what makes it possible for Cathy to work. But if she told the Child Support Agency, his benefit would be docked. Then their arrangement would collapse. At the moment it works perfectly, if illegally. The other father has a full-time job but cannot cope with the situation. "Ironic isn't it?" she says. The photographer arrives and Cathy becomes a silhouette in a window. Anonymity is a must. "I am not a criminal but I feel like one," she says as she stands, clearly uncomfortable. She sees herself as honest but practical. The DSS might disagree.

This Is Lancashire

Parents meet CSA bosses

ANGRY parents will get the chance to confront CSA officials in a special surgery being held by Morecambe MP Geraldine Smith.

Geraldine said: "The Government has ordered a thorough overhaul of the Child Support Agency, because of very widespread and justified public dissatisfaction with its performance.

"One of a number of much needed changes in the Agency's approach, is a new willingness to talk directly to ordinary people affected by its rulings, at meetings such as the Morecambe surgery I've arranged."

The surgery will be held at Miss Smith's office at 26-28 Victoria Street on October 4 from 2 pm, and anyone wishing to attend should contact the office on 01524 411367 or 01524 411368, or visit the office which is open Monday to Friday,10 am to 4 pm.

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Page last updated: 17 December, 2003 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003