Today is Father's Day, but the good news is for mothers

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The Independent Online
The controversial Child Support Agency faces the axe in a review which could end with the taxman pursuing errant fathers. Under one "long- term" option being considered by ministers, including the radical welfare reformer Frank Field, Britain would adopt the Australian system under which money is deducted straight from pay packets.

"Short-term" reforms under study include measures to give the CSA information from tax records and a change to the formula used to assess demands.

Harriet Harman, Secretary of State for Social Security, will this week open a Commons debate on the agency, which is the object of strong criticism from MPs. She is said to be angry at the way its incompetence helped to turn errant father into martyrs.

Yesterday she told the Independent on Sunday that no conclusion had been reached in her review but added: "We are concerned that both parents accept financial and emotional responsibility for their children, irrespective of where they live.

"We want a system which is seen to be operating fairly. No one thinks that is the situation at the moment."

Mr Field, Minister of State, is a long-time critic of the CSA. Last year he called for a completely new system, with errant fathers being pursued by the Inland Revenue. Mr Field, then chairman of the Commons Social Security Select Committee, said he favoured the creation of "a new agency to run in tandem" with the CSA, which would eventually be phased out.

The Inland Revenue has traditionally opposed taking any role in the collection of money apart from tax and National Insurance. But that principle may be breached on another front this summer after a report into higher-education funding by Sir Ron Dearing. He is expected to recommend that students pay about pounds 1,000 a year in fees, recoverable though an extra levy on National Insurance.

As well as giving the agency more powers to gain information from tax records, likely short-term reforms include simplifying the formula and levying a higher rate of tax on errant fathers depending on the number of children. If these changes prove effective, the agency might survive. One senior source said the Government had not "written off the CSA" yet. But in this week's adjournment debate on the agency the Government will be under pressure to take radical steps.

Malcolm Wicks, former Opposition spokesman on the CSA, said: "Saving the decent principle of parental responsibility from what remains chaos is a key social priority for the Labour government.

"The last government left us without the facts. For example, of all children living away from one of their parents, what percentage of them actually benefit from child maintenance from their fathers?"

Other MPs complain of a heavy postbag of complaints from constituents. John Cryer, Labour MP for Hornchurch, said he had to deal with regular complains from constituents. He said: "I would like to see the end of the CSA and something else set up."

Ann Treneman, page 23

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