Child Support Agency - The First Year: Changes in formula are needed, minister admits: Rosie Waterhouse assesses its performance

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The Independent Online
THE Government is likely to make more changes to the formula operated by the Child Support Agency, in the face of continuing complaints it is unworkable and unfair.

The glimmer of hope for absent parents facing hugely increased bills emerged in an interview with Alistair Burt, the beleaguered social security minister, who has had to defend the increasingly unpopular CSA (dubbed the CIA by one opposition MP) since it came into force 12 months ago.

Asked how he defended the CSA, Mr Burt said: 'I start by relying on what seems still to be strong continuing support for the principles of the agency and that was strongly supported in the House originally, and the constant repetitions by colleagues on all sides of the House that they start from the premise that parents should be responsible for their children. That's the bedrock. No one has seriously come out and challenged the principles and very few people have said scrap the whole thing.'

However, he indicated that changes were necessary to win over public support. The question the Government had to address was: 'How do we ensure that the principles can be put into practice in a way that also ensures their support, bearing in mind that it won't always be comfortable to put those principles into practice?'

Refusing to identify which aspects may be changed, he said: 'What we have said is we have made some changes, we want to see how they work and we are currently keeping the system under a very close review, and that means exactly what it says.

'I'm obviously interested in the development of this system and how I can try and make sure that the principles that everyone is so keen on are actually strongly supported in practice. You are entitled to draw from that, firstly, a degree of concern about how the system is working and what people feel about it, and a genuine desire to make sure that ultimately it works in a manner which people find acceptable.'

Mr Burt also defended the CSA against accusations that it was responsible for a number of suicides. 'What I do not know . . . is precisely what may have led someone to commit suicide,' he said.

'I cannot, hand on my heart, say that the CSA was not responsible to some degree in affecting someone's mind at the time. I can also say hand on heart I do not know that the CSA was largely, solely, wholly to blame. Nobody knows.'

(Photograph omitted)