CSA to collect a rosy write-up

Ministers will claim today that the Child Support Agency has shaken off its reputation for incompetence and is now bedding down as a major provider of maintenance to single parents.

The social security minister Andrew Mitchell is expected to announce in answer to a written parliamentary question an increase of 67 per cent in maintenance collected or arranged - regarded as the most important area of CSA business.

The amount rose from pounds 67m in the first six months of last year to more than pounds 112m in the same period this year.

There has been an 86 per cent increase in payments via the agency to parents with care in the period to the end of September this year. A total of pounds 48.62m has been paid via the agency and pounds 70.78m paid directly to parents. Mr Mitchell will point to "further sharp improvement" in the first half of this year on top of improvements last year.

Labour , however, will claim that the Government's use of statistics masks the fact that 78 per cent of single parents received no child maintenance as recently as 1994-5.

The party is demanding "fundamental reforms" to the agency.

A spokesman, Malcolm Wicks, said last night: "We are not going to scrap the CSA but we don't think just tinkering around is the answer."

A spokesman for the Network Against the Child Support Act said that the "rosy picture" painted by the report was contrary to all the evidence from other bodies.