Headlines: June 20th, 2005

A report today from the family law group, Resolution, is calling for urgent changes to the Child Support Agency to make sure that the money it collects gets to the families who need it most. The reports says that since it was created in 1991 the CSA has lurched from crisis to crisis and is still failing to deliver money to the many lone parents dependent on it.”Reforming the Child Support Agency – putting money where mouths are” says that according to family lawyers children are the biggest losers. The major weakness identified in the report include the complexity and lack of flexibility in the present system and the widening of the CSA ‘net’ in 2003, which, it says, led to more families than ever becoming unnecessarily entangled in the Agency’s bureaucracy.

Resolution also believes that enforcement is ineffective so even when an accurate assessment is made, payment does not follow in around a quarter of cases. Parents who are due to receive money have no right to go to court themselves but have to rely on the Agency.

The report makes a series of recommendations for improvement and calls for the transparent formula, introduced in 2003, to be retained for most cases and be moved into the Inland Revenue, giving easy access to reliable income data. It also wants to see the appointment of a Child Maintenance Arbitrator who could resolve complex cases quickly. This, it says, would prevent payment delays. The removal of complex cases would also free up resources in the Agency.

The authors also recommend the setting up of a separate Maintenance Enforcement Unit with its only focus being ensuring payment. They say, too, that the greater use of existing powers would show that non-payment is not tolerated.

Couples, says the report, should be able to agree fair solutions themselves and be bound by their agreement without the risk of interference by the Agency except where there is a legitimate public interest.

Resolution Chair, Kim Beatson, said there was no ‘one size fits all’ solution for divorcing and separating couples. As the CSA’s impact had widened, so had its failings and reform was now urgently needed to rebuild public confidence.