Headlines: February 11th, 1998

The debate by MP’s on child support arrangements revealed that the agency is unlikely to survive the current review of its operations. The options are to radically reform the current organisation or to create a new body, completely untainted by its predecessor.The review, which is being conducted by Baroness Hollis, is examining not only the internal workings, but also external factors including the attitudes of parents involved. Many of the contributions to the debate included comments on the unsatisfactory state of affairs at the CSA. Ronnie Campbell MP quoted his experience on the Select Committee for the Parliamentary Ombudsman, where the Committee had produced three reports on the Agency. Since the Committee was set up, no other organisation had ever had three reports about its activities.

John Wilkinson MP described how the CSA had produced three differing statements of assessment in three days. There were also complaints of poor telephone and letter response supported with an example of a constituent who failed to establish contact with the Agency after making 40 telephone calls.

Responding to the debate, Frank Field, Minister for Welfare Reform, expressed appreciation for the CAS staff and quoted figures showing how the Agency had progressed, but he went on to say: “The Government is looking at all areas of the child support system to ensure it is consistent, fair and effective and expects to bring forward its proposals by the summer.”

It is not just the litany of problems listed my MP’s that lead to the belief that the Agency will be axed unceremoniously, it is also the comment by Mr Kirkwood MP that his entry to the competition organised by Baroness Hollis for a name for the replacement body was the ‘Liable Relatives Unit’.