CSA calls in consultants to chase unpaid pounds 500m

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The Independent Online
ABSENT PARENTS who owe millions of pounds in maintenance payments will be the targets of a Child Support Agency crackdown, the Government announced yesterday.

The private consultancy Deloitte Touche has been appointed to advise on chasing parents who owe pounds 511m to the agency.

The Social Security minister Baroness Hollis said: "Many parents think they can avoid paying maintenance because the agency is a soft touch. Maybe that was sometimes true in the past. But by improving the way the agency works we will ensure that the necessary skills are developed within the CSA to improve compliance rates. This is all about getting more money to more children."

Government figures show that fewer than half of absent parents with full maintenance assessments pay the whole amount, with a third paying nothing at all.

Up until now the agency has spent 90 per cent of its time calculating complex maintenance payments and has been left with almost no time or staff to collect unpaid debts.

The appointment of debt collection consultants has come after the Government unveiled a series of reforms of the agency. Under the reforms a flat- rate formula for child maintenance will be introduced, with tougher sanctions for "irresponsible" parents.

Ian Kelly, of the UK Men's Group, which opposes the agency, attacked the appointment of consultants. "I can't really see what a firm of accountants are doing being involved, probably at great expense," he said. "Perhaps a firm of debt collectors would be more appropriate if that is what the Government are trying to do here. There are 50 families in this country who have lost a person by suicide because of the intense pressure that person was placed under by the Child Support Agency when they had, in fact, been supporting their child.

"The matter of child maintenance should be returned to the courts, where it was properly dealt with in the past."

The National Council for One Parent Families welcomed the Government's plans. Maeve Sherlock, director, said: "We are delighted that at last the focus is on getting the money to children but the agency must stay accountable for everything done in its name. Improved collection is very welcome but increases the onus on the agency to get assessment right first time."