Fathers cough up as CSA improves

A big improvement in the performance of the Child Support Agency (CSA) will be announced this week - just as Labour pledges to keep the organisation, with key reforms.

New CSA statistics will coincide with a Labour pledge not to abolish the agency, but to set up regional hit squads to crack down on so-called "deadbeat dads" who pay no maintenance.

The agency's half-yearly report is expected to reveal a 55 per cent increase in the amount of maintenance collected or arranged in the first six months of this year, compared with the same period last year. The organisation, under its new chief executive, Ann Child, has also increased the number of assessments that are accurate from just 50 per cent 18 months ago to 80 per cent.

The Government now believes the controversial agency is settling down after reforms by Andrew Mitchell, a junior minister at the Department of Social Security.

Payments from an absent parent are now delivered by the CSA to the parent caring for the child much more quickly - 98 per cent within 10 days.

Other parts of the operation are also improving. The agency has conducted 25,000 deduction- from-earnings orders in this financial year and applied for 1,000 liability orders to tackle those who have not complied.

Mr Mitchell declined to comment on the report's statistics in detail but said: "The figures will show a further sharp improvement in the first half of this year on top of improvements which took place last year.

"The whole CSA still has some way to go before it is delivering a satisfactory service in all cases, but I pay tribute to the chief executive and her staff for the significant improvements they have made."

Labour has welcomed the improvement in the agency's operation, but argues that it concentrates on soft targets - fathers with steady jobs - allowing many others to evade its grasp.

Malcolm Wicks, the Opposition spokesman on the CSA, said: "The challenge is to rescue the thoroughly decent principle of parental responsibility from the thoroughly bad practice of the CSA."