The Child Support Agency Must Improve Its Service Within Weeks Or Face Being Scrapped Says A Report By The Work And Pensions Committee.
Chairman Sir Archy Kirkwood said "The CSA is operating on borrowed time. Rapid, radical action is needed if the Department is to deliver a service that children deserve. If the Agency cannot be rescued, then it must be replaced. "
The report recommends the immediate suspension of Government plans to reduce CSA staff levels by 25%. Frontline staff are already struggling to keep on top of their existing caseload and will not be able to cope with the additional burden. The case for job cuts should only be considered once the new IT system has proved to be fully operational.
Sir Archy said: "Cutting the work force at this critical time is the major concern of the Committee. It's a massive breach of trust for the thousands of staff who've worked hard to improve the service. It makes no sense to implement job cuts when the Agency is already struggling."
The CSA should also be more ready to use its enforcement powers. The payment of child support would improve with the frequent use of deductions from earning orders, the removal of driving licences or the consideration of travel bans. Tracing non-resident parents would also be assisted by requiring them to inform the CSA of any change of address and indicating on P45s that maintenance was being deducted from earnings.
Archy Kirkwood said: "The CSA has got to start using its teeth. It doesn't matter how good their training or IT systems are. If the CSA can't even get in contact with the non-resident parent, or force them to pay up, then children will be no better off."
The Committee recommends that Alan Johnson - Secretary of State for Work and Pensions - should make an unequivocal statement to the House on the exact status of the Agency's IT system. Achievable targets should be announced for transferring cases from the old CSA scheme onto the new. The report also recommends that the National Audit Office should investigate the background to the contract with the DWP's IT suppliers, EDS.
In the meantime, quick action is needed within the CSA. Nearly a quarter of a million cases have yet to be processed and a substantial backlog is building up. Committee Chairman, Sir Archy said: "It is urgent that the CSA develops a strategy to progress these cases. Thousands of children have yet to receive a penny in child maintenance. We recommend that a firm date for achieving the original plan of six weeks from receipt of claim to setting up payment arrangements is announced in Parliament before Easter recess 2005."
He concludes: "Over half a million children from broken relationships continue to suffer. The woeful record of the CSA is a shameful indictment of the Government's priorities. The Department for Work and Pensions should shelve plans to cut CSA staff and work hard to improve the situation forthwith."
Notes for Editors:
1. The membership of the Committee is as follows:
Sir Archy Kirkwood (Chairman) [Liberal Democrat] - Roxburgh and Berwickshire
Ms Vera Baird QC [Labour] - Redcar
Miss Anne Begg [Labour] - Aberdeen South
Ms Karen Buck [Labour] - Regent's Park and Kensington North
Mr Andrew Dismore [Labour] - Hendon
Mr Paul Goodman [Conservative] - Wycombe
Mr David Hamilton [Labour] - Midlothian
Mrs Joan Humble [Labour] - Blackpool North and Fleetwood
Rob Marris [Labour] - Wolverhampton South West
Andrew Selous [Conservative] - South West Bedfordshire
Nigel Waterson [Conservative] - Eastbourne
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