Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission report released

24 February 2010

MPs express concern that the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission will not be able to cope with the transition to the new scheme for calculation of child maintenance cases

The Work and Pensions Select Committee today releases its report on the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission and the Child Support Agency’s Operational Improvement Plan.

The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (C-MEC) was established by the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 and took over responsibility for the functions of the Child Support Agency on 1 November 2008. The Child Support Agency’s Operational Improvement Plan was a three year plan launched in 2006, costing £320 million, designed to address many of the Agency’s longstanding operational problems.

The Report finds that C-MEC has made substantial progress through the Operational Improvement Plan in clearing the backlog of uncleared child maintenance cases, reducing the time taken to process new claims and improving accuracy and customer service.

However, the Report notes that, whilst C-MEC has made progress in other areas too, success has been more qualified. As of September 2009, 27 per cent of non-resident parents were still paying no maintenance at all, and, whilst it has stemmed the increase in maintenance arrears, C-MEC missed its targets for collection of arrears in 2008-09 and is struggling to meet targets for 2009-10.

The Report also finds that C-MEC has experienced a rapid increase in the number of cases that cannot be managed by its IT systems and have to be managed clerically. IT problems beset the Child Support Agency from its inception, and, despite the investment of £107 million in upgrading the CS2 IT system over the course of the Operational Improvement Plan, the number of cases being managed "clerically" had risen to 75,000 by September 2009. The Report expresses concern that the additional costs of this clerical administration is "mounting alarmingly".

A new statutory scheme will be introduced in 2011, and, up to 2014, C-MEC will effectively be operating three different child maintenance schemes using three different IT systems, as cases from the old and current schemes are closed and customers either move onto the new scheme or opt for private arrangements.

The Report expresses concern at the effect of the ballooning clerical caseload on C-MEC’s ability to manage this transition period and successfully launch the new scheme.

Terry Rooney, Chairman of the Committee, said:

"The Child Support Agency’s Operational Improvement Plan set out in 2006 to establish a "stable platform" for future reform of the child maintenance system. Whilst we congratulate the Commission on the successes that it has achieved, we are concerned that it is struggling with an ever increasing number of cases that cannot be managed by its IT systems.

"The Committee is concerned that the extra costs of clerical administration will place too heavy a burden on the organisation as it prepares to launch the new child maintenance scheme.

"It will be for our successor Committee to maintain scrutiny of C-MEC in this crucial period. We have therefore asked the Commission to provide a series of regular reports on the development of its new IT system, the management of clerical cases, progress in reducing arrears and management of the transition process. These are all important elements in the "stable platform" needed to launch the new scheme.

"It will be for our successor Committee to keep an eye on progress in these areas and to ensure that the new child maintenance system is one in which both non-resident parents and parents with care alike can have confidence."

Image: iStockphoto

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