Headlines: April 25th, 2012

The ill fated and often beleaguered Child Support Agency is to close in July 2012. Since its launch in 1993, as the delivery arm of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, it has angered many parents and prompted the set up of a CSAhell website. New arrangements will be operated by the Department for Work and Pensions.

The job of the Agency is to calculate how much child maintenance is due and ensure the money is paid to the person caring for the child. Prior to 2003 calculating the amount of maintenance required 108 pieces of information. Although the system was streamlined, the time required to process claims grew steadily, as did the debt of uncollected maintenance. CSA arrears accumulated since 1993 totals just under £3.8bn. This total remained largely unchanged between 2008 and 2011.

The Agency has had many critics over the years. In 2004 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.” In 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. In 2006 Work and Pensions secretary John Hutton said that the CSA’s performance was “unacceptable”, and announced that it would be reviewed. The situation got so bad that later that year he announced that the CSA was not working and as a result would be axed and replaced by a “smaller, more focused” body.

In 2008 a website was created to challenge the CSA, allowing people to publically post their stories and receive feedback. The website, CSAhell.com, has been quoted in the national press on CSA related stories, including the BBC website and the Sunday Telegraph. Since its creation, the website has published almost 2,000 stories and complaints about the CSA.

New arrangements at the heart of the CSA closure plan provide for the assessment of maintenance to be based on gross income data provided by HMRC.

Work and Pensions Minister Maria Miller said: “The Government is clear about how important strong family relationships are for children. All children have the right to financial support from both parents, which is why we are reforming the child maintenance service to put children at its heart.”