CSA points finger for failure to hit targets: Intimidation of staff, inexperience and over-optimistic expectations at fault in shortfall on benefit savings. Marianne Macdonald reports

THE Child Support Agency yesterday blamed cultural opposition, intimidation of staff and inexperience for its failure to come close to performance targets in its first year of operation.

Failures include a benefit savings shortfall of pounds 112m on a projected figure of pounds 530m, failure in 70 per cent of cases to assess maintenance in five days and a backlog of work which will not be cleared before next year at the earliest.

The CSA's annual report repeatedly apologises for the delay in processing applications, replying to letters and arranging maintenance. 'Our services did not come up to the high standards we were aiming for,' it admits.

But it places blame partly with parents who took too long to return inquiry forms, fathers who refused to co-operate and the February changes to the child support formula which meant prior assessments had to be revised.

Further efficiencies should be possible as the agency builds up to full strength with an extra 700 staff members taken on this year in addition to the present 5,000.

The report shows that in the agency's first year more than 850,000 cases were accepted and more than 200,000 maintenance assessments made. Just under 60 per cent involved clients who were not already receiving maintenance. The agency located 28,000 fathers for whom the mother did not have an address.

But it fell short of key targets. The CSA arranged maintenance for only 31.5 per cent of eligible parents, just over half its target of 60 per cent, responded to only 45 per cent of written inquiries within 10 working days and answered only 33 per cent of complaints within the same limit.

More than 40 per cent of applications took longer than the maximum 12 weeks to process, while spot checks had revealed that 'too many' assessments were inaccurate. However, the agency kept within its pounds 114m budget.

Ministers have claimed the targets were 'a stab in the dark', and yesterday's report agrees they were 'too optimistic'. New ones for the year to April 1995 are lower, although higher than the results actually achieved last year.

Staff will be expected to arrange maintenance for half those eligible; score 65 per cent on a client satisfaction index (up 4 per cent on the present score); and make savings of pounds 460m (up from pounds 418m).

Since it began business 16 months ago, the CSA has had to contend with a vocal opposition campaign, often from fathers with second families. It received 10,866 complaints and almost 5,000 letters from MPs in its first year. CSA staff have been spat at and had razor blades sent to their offices.

There has also been persistent criticism that excessive maintenance assessments have driven fathers to suicide, that the agency has disregarded 'clean-break' settlements involving property or cash in lieu of maintenance, and that money clawed back has not gone to the children concerned.

Donald Dewar, Labour's social security spokesman, claims pounds 203m of the pounds 210m collected in the first year has gone to reduce the Chancellor's benefit bills. Other critics have warned that lone parents are losing out because the extra maintenance they receive puts them just over the income support level so they lose associated benefits such as free school meals.

But the report corrects the myth that all absent parents are suffering financial hardship because of the CSA. Almost one in four absent parents assessed last year was asked to pay only pounds 2.20 a week.

Mrs Hepplewhite admitted yesterday that the agency had had 'an exceptionally challenging' time. 'The first year has seen plans and expectations tested against practical experience.'

Peter Lilley, the Social Security Secretary, was more forthright: 'The agency has faced a campaign of organised opposition. There has been harassment of staff which is totally unacceptable.' He promised more effective measures to force recalcitrant parents to pay.

In October the Commons Social Security Select Committee will report on its second inquiry into the Child Support Act. Recommendations are likely to include changes to the formula for assessing maintenance and allowing lone parents to keep some of the payments.

(Photograph omitted)

News
news

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney 'denied all knowledge' of the Twitter activity

News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
News
The author PD James, who died on 27 November 2014
people

Detective novelist who wrote Death comes to Pemberley passed away peacefully at her home, aged 94

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
people
Life and Style
tech Manband spurn Spotify to stream album exclusively with Google
News
Irradiated turkey and freeze dried mash potato will be on the menu this thanksgiving
video
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of web an...

Recruitment Genius: Class 1 Driver

£12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader in the events...

Recruitment Genius: Finance and Office Administrator

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An award winning field marketing agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Telesales / Appointment Maker

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A professional telesales/appoin...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?