BRIGHTON: Work and pensions secretary David Blunkett yesterday took decisive steps to start a root-and-branch reform of the beleaguered Child Support Agency. He proposed a mediation phase that would reduce the number of claimants from its current burdensome 290,000 a year.
It is believed that he may involve the private sector in the mediation, though how he plans to do that was not immediately known.
The CSA receives a barrage of claims demanding enforced maintenance payments. Blunkett’s proposal included a scheme that will offer “a non-legislative and simple route to finding agreement” he announced at a Labour conference here yesterday. He explained that errant fathers would be given a warning and asked to provide maintenance for their child else they would end up paying much more than is due.
The plan promises to prove effective as errant parents would be encouraged to sit down and talk for an agreement on levels of support before going through the CSA procedure. Fearing the nightmarish process and eventually having to pay more than is fairly due, would persuade the irresponsible parent.
A trial run of the scheme would be launched to see its effectiveness. The system would include a gateway that would allow the agency to monitor how they can conciliate with parents before they get into the CSA.
Since its inception in 1993, the CSA has been facing problems and little else. A study by MPs earlier this year found the CSA almost on the verge of collapse. Its most controversial problem has been a faulty computer system that caused severe payment delays and subsequently led to a deluge of complaints.
At the conference here Mr Blunkett apologised for CSA’s many problems and even promised one mother who has been waiting four years for child support payments that he would personally ensure that her complaint is resolved within days and money starts getting to her.
The details of the reform plans will be published before the end of the year. Besides overhauling the CSA, the most urgent task for the agency was to boost the morale of its 10,000-plus staff, the minister said.