Child Support Agency


Child Support Agency
Child Support Agency logo

The Child Support Agency (or CSA) is a delivery arm of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission in Great Britain and the Department for Social Development in Northern Ireland. Launched on April 5, 1993, the CSA is responsible for implementing the 1991 Child Support Act and subsequent legislation.[1]

Contents

Overview

Child support, or child maintenance, is the contribution from a non-resident parent towards the financial cost of raising their child, paid to the person with whom the child lives, (usually the other parent), referred to as "person/parent with care". The level and conditions of payment can either be mutually agreed between the two parties, or, in case of disagreement, decided by legal means.

Prior to the launch of the CSA, child support disputes were handled by a court based system. This system did not have the power to trace absent parents, and was criticised as "arbitrary and unfair".[2] Nevertheless, the transfer of what had previously been a judicial issue of family law to a government agency was considered to "represent a significant break with the past."[3] The CSA was given the task of assessing payments to ensure consistency, with the powers to collect, enforce and distribute the maintenance payments itself.

Functions and involvement

The CSA's function is twofold, encompassing calculation of how much child maintenance is due (based on current legislation and rules) and collection, enforcement and transferral of the payment from the non-resident parent to the person with care.

For the CSA to become involved in a case, their services must be requested by one of the parents. Legislation also allows children in Scotland to initiate a case against one or both Non-Resident Parents.

The CSA cannot get involved, even upon request, if the non-resident parent lives abroad, if a written agreement made prior to April 5, 1993, is in place, or if a court order regarding maintenance was made before March 3, 2003. (except in cases where the parent with care claims Income Support or Jobseekers Allowance).[4]

Calculation and systems

A new method of child maintenance calculation came into effect on March 3, 2003. The previous method used a "complex formula of up to 108 pieces of information",[5] by first calculating the total child maintenance required based on the children's ages, then calculating the non-resident parents income after various allowances were subtracted, and finally working out what portion of the calculated maintenance was to be paid by the non-resident parent, based on their income.[6]

Under the new method the basis for calculating maintenance has been simplified, with a fixed percentage of the non-resident parents net income being taken, from 15% for one child, 20% for two, and 25% for three or more. Where maintenance is calculated using the basic rate, the amount of maintenance is also reduced if the non-resident parent has children in their current family. Where this is relevant, the CSA will not take into account: 15% of their net weekly income if there is one child living with them, 20% if they are two children living with them, and 25% for three or more.[7]

Criticism

The Independent Case Examiner’s Office was set up in 1997 as an independent body to deal with complaints about the CSA. Three recurring themes are mentioned in multiple previous annual reports,[8] namely delay (51% of complaints in 2004-2005), error (24% of complaints in 2004-2005) and No Action Taken (14% of complaints in 2004-2005). According to Department for Work and Pensions statistics,[9] the average length of time for a case to be cleared under the new scheme has increased from an average of 18 days in March 2003, to 287 in December 2005.

Updated statistics published in the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission Annual Report and Accounts 2010/11 [10] showed that, whilst payments were being made in 65% of CSA cases for the year April 2006 – March 2007, this had increased to 78% by March 2011.

Assessments based on the same financial criteria can give different results, depending on which rules the case is judged under. Non-resident parents who would pay less under the new rules currently cannot get reassessed, except in special circumstances. While the CSA plan to eventually move everyone to the same system, in the interim different people with the same current situation will pay different amounts, based solely on when the case was first assessed. One father, Mark Cook, whose monthly payments would drop from £250 to £150 if assessed under the new rules, is taking the CSA to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that this discrepancy amounts to discrimination under Article 14.[11] However, official statistics show that the average weekly liability is slightly more under the new scheme. For the years 2006-2007, the average new scheme liability was constantly £23 per week, whereas the old scheme varied from £22 to £23.[9]

In November 2004, the head of the CSA resigned amid widespread criticism of the CSA systems.[12] Sir Archy Kirkwood, chairman of Work and Pensions Committee, described the situation as "a systemic, chronic failure of management right across the totality of the agency."[13] In November 2005, Tony Blair admitted that the CSA is "not properly suited" to its job, amid reports that for every £1.85 that gets through to children, the CSA spend £1 on administration.[2][14]

Even prior to its opening, the CSA was subject to criticism, with MP David Tredinnick describing the CSA as a "sequel to 1984" due to concerns about "CSA Snooping".[2] In February 2006, Work Secretary John Hutton asked Sir David Henshaw to redesign the child support system with three key areas of focus; how best to ensure parents take financial responsibility for their children when they are apart, the best arrangements for delivering this outcome cost effectively and the options for moving to new structures and policies, recognising the need to protect the level of service offered to the current 1.5 million parents with care. This was announced when Work Secretary John Hutton stated that the CSA's performance was "unacceptable", and announced that it would be reviewed.[15] Sir David Henshaw was to report his findings before the parliamentary summer recess and subsequently Sir David Henshaw's Report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions - Recovering Child Support: routes to responsibility was compiled.

The situation eventually got so bad, that on Monday 24 July 2006, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions John Hutton MP, announced that the CSA was not working and as a result would be axed and replaced by a "smaller, more focused" body.[16]

For those where 50/50 shared care agreements are in place further issues have arisen often creating bitterness, fuelling arguments and generally breaking down goodwill between the parents. An example where both parents are gainfully employed yet one parent has to pay the other parent a percentage of their income. Many consider this unfair as one parent is simply collecting money from the other when they are more than capable of paying their own share. The argument being that if both parents share care and both parent pay 50% of all shared costs why would one parent have to provide the other parent with more money? The government refuse to answer this, but re-enforce with defining parent with care is the one that receives the child benefit, again unfairely attributed to only one parent where there is 50/50 shared care, and therefore CSA must be paid to the parent with care. The government refuse to answer this also; using each to argue for the other. Thus leave many children with one parent disadvantaged, and therefore the child disadvantaged whilst in that disadvantaged parent's care.[citation needed]

Outstanding debt

CSA arrears accumulated since 1993 totals just under £3.8bn.[17] This rounded headline total remains largely unchanged since 2008.

Replacement

In December 2006, the Department for Work and Pensions released its Child Support white paper outlining its plans for the future of Child Support.[18]

On 1 November 2008 the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission took management responsibility for the CSA.[19]


In October 2011 the Department for Work and Pensions launched a public consultation on plans to abolish CMEC and transfer its functions back to the Department.

Staff

Child Support Agency Board Members (as of June 2006)[20] included:

  • Stephen Geraghty, Chief Executive
  • Richard Arthur, Non-Executive Director and Chair
  • Mark Grimshaw, Strategic Programme Director
  • Ron Eagle, Information System/Information Technology Director
  • Alan Hardy, Finance and Business Assurance Director
  • Susan Park, Operations Director
  • Ian Pavey, Human Resources Director
  • Jonathan Portes, Director of Children and Poverty
  • Hilary Reynolds, Client and Stakeholder Relationships Director and Deputy Chief
  • Mark Faraker (BA Hons), Contract Incinerated
  • John Cross, Non-Executive Director
  • Bryan Foss, Non-Executive Director
  • Bill Griffiths, Non-Executive Director
  • Peter Holden, Non-Executive Director
  • Susan Jillings, Non-Executive Director

See also

Notes

  1. ^ The Law relating to Child Support - Department for Work and Pensions
  2. ^ a b c The troubled history of the CSA BBC News 18 January 2006
  3. ^ Nutt, Thomas (October 2006). "The Child Support Agency and the Old Poor Law" (in English). History & Policy. United Kingdom: History & Policy. http://www.historyandpolicy.org/papers/policy-paper-47.html. Retrieved 9 December 2010. 
  4. ^ http://csa.gov.uk/pdf/english/leaflets/old/CSA2008.pdf
  5. ^ Child support complaints up by a third – BBC News, 3 July 2001.
  6. ^ CSA 2001 - Child support: For parents who live apart (old rules) (pdf)
  7. ^ How is Child Maintenance Worked Out? (pdf)
  8. ^ ICE Annual Reports – 2004-2005
  9. ^ a b Child Support Agency Quarterly Summary Statistics: December 2005
  10. ^ [1]CMEC Annual Report and Accounts 2010/11
  11. ^ Father takes CSA case to Europe BBC News, July 28, 2004
  12. ^ CSA chief resigns amid criticism BBC News, November 17, 2004
  13. ^ 'Basically, it doesn't work' BBC News, November 17, 2004
  14. ^ CSA not suited to job, says Blair BBC News, 16 November 2005.
  15. ^ 'Unacceptable' CSA faces overhaul BBC News, 9 February 2006
  16. ^ 'Child Support Agency to be axed BBC News, 24 July 2006
  17. ^ [2] CSA Quarterly Summary of Statistics July 2011
  18. ^ Website to Shame Absent Parents BBC News, 10 December 2006
  19. ^ Henry, Robin (2008-11-01). "Commission inherits billions in unpaid child support". The Times. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/health/article5061299.ece. Retrieved 2011-04-02. 
  20. ^ "Child Support Agency Annual Report and Accounts 2005/06" (PDF). Child Support Agency. http://www.csa.gov.uk/pdf/english/reports/arep0506.pdf. 

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