CSA collects less cash than old unit

BY POLLY TOYNBEE

The Child Support Agency is collecting far less money from absent fathers than the system it replaced, according to a study by the Network Against the Child Support Act. The CSA did not deny the findings yesterday.

Before the CSA was set up in April 1993, money was recouped from absent fathers whose former partners claimed benefits.

The Department of Social Security's liable relatives unit collected pounds 313m in its last year, with a staff of 1,600. The CSA last year only collected pounds 44m with a staff of 6,500. A further pounds 108.61m was collected via maintenance agreements inherited from the old unit.

This shows that each CSA officer has only collected pounds 6,797 in new money, while under the old system each officer collected pounds 195,625. Operating costs under the CSA are estimated at pounds 8.31 per case; under the old scheme each case cost pounds 3.42.

However, the report does show a further pounds 20.43m was saved from the social security budget as a result of the money collected from fathers lifting mothers off benefit altogether.

By far the biggest success the CSA has had has been in exposing benefit fraud. Following CSA inquiries so many parents with care abruptly stopped claiming benefit that pounds 165.95m has been saved. This is thought to be due to fraud where couples said they had separated, each claimed more benefit separately, but were in fact still living together. In other cases mothers on benefit may also have been receiving undeclared funds from absent fathers.

The CSA says it has cleared over 800,000 cases. However, only 299,000 full assessments have been made, while 403,000 have been "cleared without assessment". These are cases where sabotage by one parent, usually the absent father, has prevented it gaining enough information and it has abandoned the attempt at collection.

The other 129,000 are interim assessments where the CSA, having failed to get a response, makes a high estimated charge to scare parents into responding. Few of these have been paid.

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