Complaints run into thousands

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The Independent Online
The complaints of maladministration leading to injustice, upheld yesterday by the Parliamentary Ombudsman, are merely a selection of the many thousand letters of complaints that have filled MPs' postbags.

In one case, a man was wrongly identified as the father of a child and sent a maintenance inquiry form. It took the CSA six months to acknowledge the error. The Ombudsman found: "To assume on the basis of the same name and area that the complainant was the father was irresponsible.

"The information necessary to trace the absent father was already held by the Benefits Agency's office as the CSA centre should have realised. I severely criticise their actions.

"The effect on the complainant and his wife was clearly traumatic and made even worse by the centre's delay in putting right their mistake. CSA have admitted their error and have apologised. Consideration is being given to compensating the complainant should he be able to provide evidence of illness resulting from the actions of the CSA."

In another case, a man complained about the way the CSA handled his child maintenance affairs. The Ombudsman's investigation revealed a number of shortcomings, starting with a three-and-a-half-month delay in assessing his liability. Because his maintenance payments had been irregular, a deduction from earnings order was sent to his employer authorising the weekly deduction of £75.75.

His payments were increased from £123 a month to £227 and he was asked for an initial payment of £1,249 due to the time the CSA had taken to assess his case. It was also inflated by £500 as no account was taken of his voluntary payments. Although this was corrected, the same mistake was repeated four months later. "This was sheer maladministration," the Ombudsman said.

In a third case, a series of fundamental errors in the CSA's handling of a change from Income Support to child maintenance support caused worry and frustration to a mother whose payments were considerably delayed and were incorrect. The CSA centre improperly suggested that the responsibility lay with the Benefits Agency.

The complaint that was not upheld against the CSA was made by a widow who complained that the CSA wrote asking for details of her husband despite the fact that she had notified the Benefits Agency of his death and had never been separated from him. The Benefits Agency had also written to her late husband demanding repayment of an overpayment of benefit.

The Ombudsman found that the incorrect issue of a maintenance application form stem-med from a mistake not in the CSA but in the Family Credit Unit. He criticised their carelessness which caused the complainant distress. The issue of the overpayment recovery letter was the result of several mistakes by the Benefits Agency.