LONDON: A former pensions minister has warned that the Child Support Agency, which collects maintenance from absent parents, is in a state of “meltdown”, is refusing to publish data and has written off more than 1 billion pound in maintenance that is due from absent parents.
Frank Field, Labour M.P. representing Birkenhead, and former pensions minister, said he had conducted his own investigation into the agency’s performance and found that it is refusing to publish data which would reveal the extent of its shortcomings.
Field has written a letter to prime minister Tony Blair saying organisations in meltdown “typically bolt down the hatches to the outside world”. He said he has official statistics, correspondence and previous annual reports of the organisation for basing his interpretation that there is chaos inside the agency.
He told Blair that the uncollected maintenance amount that had been written off had crossed the 1 billion-pound mark, the total sum of maintenance still to be collected had gone up by a third to 1.26 billion pounds and the backlog of parents waiting for a maintenance assessment is soaring.
Field said the CSA was refusing to publish data to show how many cases were cleared through its work or how many were cleared because the cases were closed before it had got round to calculating the maintenance figure. He wants the agency’s collection functions to be transferred to the Inland Revenue and divert its staff to the task of chasing the non-payers.
Field’s findings also indicate that the proportion of lone parents receiving a first payment where the maintenance assessment had been made, dropped by a third — from 72 per cent to 52 per cent, while the total backlog of parents waiting for a maintenance assessment continued to rise — by 20 per cent in the past six months. As much as 40 per cent of all applications for child support on the new scheme are waiting for an assessment.
He said it now costs the tax payers 54 pence for every pound the agency collects.
Field’s letter to Blair says: “The 2003 reforms, while costing the taxpayer 456 million pounds for the new IT alone, have added to the agency’s general chaos and declining performance, and made an intolerably poor service even worse.”
Lord Hunt, minister responsible for the agency, said the agency is now dealing with one million extra child support cases, a workload which would test any organisation. He said the government is determined to ensure that the maintenance flows for those children whose parents live apart.