Child agency 'has put more families in poverty': Action group recommends more than 30 changes to policy and operation to make law function fairly

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The Independent Online
THE Child Support Act has failed to help children and has instead pushed more families into poverty because it has put the interests of the Treasury first, according to a book published yesterday by the Child Poverty Action Group.

A year-long project monitoring the Child Support Agency in operation revealed that far from raising the income of most parents with care, the Act - which created the agency - has reduced the incomes of many first and second families bringing them down to benefit levels or below.

The charity believes that the problem with the policy lies in its emphasis on making Treasury savings rather than promoting the needs of children. This is behind some of the harsher aspects of the new system such as benefit penalties and unreasonable maintenance demands.

The book, Putting the Treasury First, recommends more than 30 major changes to the policy and the operation of the agency to make the act function fairly and effectively. These include the introduction of a small maintenance 'disregard' for income support so that parents with care can gain from the award of maintenance rather than lose benefit. The book also proposes reforms to the formula used to assess the income of absent parents so that they and their second families are kept above the poverty line.

Other recommendations:

Previous settlements, for instance, where property has been handed over by the absent parent, should be taken into account when child maintenance is assessed;

The formula should be reformed so that it is no longer regressive and takes more account of the needs of second families;

Abolition of the requirement of parents with care on benefit to co- operate with the CSA and hence abolition of the benefit penalty whereby parents who refuse to identify the absent parent lose benefit;

If the parent with care requests it, the CSA should take all paternity cases to court;

CSA staff need more training to answer questions effectively.

Putting the Treasury First, Child Poverty Action Group, 1-5 Bath Street, London EC1V 9PY; pounds 7.95.