South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon has called on the government to learn the lessons of the failed Child Support Agency, as a new report finds that one in three non-resident parents do not pay the money they owe, leaving £3.5 billion in uncollected maintenance.
Mr Bacon was speaking as the Commons public accounts committee published its report into the government’s attempts to reform the troubled Child Support Agency (CSA).
The report finds that the reforms were a final but unsuccessful attempt to get the CSA back on track. Currently, the CSA has failed to collect £3.5 billion in maintenance. Only 19,000 of the 247,000 cases of non-compliance were being dealt with by the CSA’s enforcement directorate, leaving 92 per cent of non-compliance cases where the absentee parent is not being chased.
Mr Bacon said today: “I cannot recall a more badly run programme in the public sector. It is now clear that the CSA bet all or nothing on ambitious last-chance reforms and then lost, leaving the agency broken and beyond repair. Now, billions of pounds remain uncollected while absentee parents know that avoiding their responsibilities is easy and that the chances of the CSA taking effective action against them are low”.
“Unfortunately, the CSA’s problems look set to continue, causing real hardship for families already in turmoil. The government must learn from the CSA’s catastrophic mistakes and ensure the new Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission does not repeat them”.
The NAO report also finds that, under a new Chief Executive, the CSA implemented a £320 million operational improvement plan in February 2006. The plan is aimed at tackling the backlog of cases and stabilising the new IT system by fixing the 500 defects that were still present three years after it was introduced. However, given the scale of the CSA’s problems, many families could still face a long wait before they see any of the money to which they are entitled from non-resident parents.
In December 2006, the government announced that by 2008, the CSA would be replaced with the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission. The Commission’s aim is to deliver a simpler and more effective way of assessing, collecting and enforcing child maintenance.
5 July 2007