Shake-up at CSA leads to job fears

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The Independent Online
The Child Support Agency, which seeks to secure maintenance payments from absent parents for their children, yesterday confirmed plans for a radical reorganisation.

Under the proposals, the agency will shift routine processing of maintenance claims from its 250 local offices to its six central service units. Benefits Agency staff will take over part of the job of interviewing single parents face-to-face in their homes.

The CSA also seeks to offer a seven-day-a-week telephone enquiries service, based on those operated by organisations like banks.

A CSA spokeswoman said the four-year-plan was designed to save money, as required by the Government, and to improve services to customers.

When the agency was first established in 1993, the idea was to centralise claims processing at six regional units: in Belfast, Birkenhead, Falkirk, Dudley, Hastings and Plymouth, but some is now done in local offices. The spokeswoman said that under the reorganisation local staff could concentrate on cases that required face-to-face contact, such as dealing with disputed paternity cases, or court work.

"Our main aim is to simplify the application process for lone parents and to ensure that they get their money as soon as possible," she said.

"Many customers want the application process to be as simple as possible. We also hope to enable more calls to be made outside normal working hours."

She stressed that the reorganisation did not imply compulsory redundancies and large scale job losses.

"It is not as if we are having this shake-up overnight. It will happen over four years and gradually. If there will be cases of local office closures than staff may be offered redeployment," she said.

But trade unions representing Child Support Agency staff called for further discussions with the Government and users about the reorganisation.

The joint Secretary of the Public Services, Tax and Commerce Union, John Sheldon, said: "Our first concern is to ensure no staff are forced to take compulsory redundancy and that all staff who want to transfer to regional centres or to other posts are able to do so.

"However, we welcome closer working between the Child Support Agency and the Benefits Agency which should help to improve service quality."