Lilley will blame fathers for CSA's failings

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

PETER LILLEY, the Social Security Secretary of State for Social Security, will tomorrow resist pressure for radical reform of the Child Support Agency, which has fallen well short of its target in benefit savings.

In its first annual report, the CSA will disclose that a campaign of non-payment has left the agencyit more than pounds 100 million down on the pounds 530million savings objective laid down set by ministers.

Mr Lilley will announce new targets for the agency in a Commons debate on the child support on the controversy over the collection of child maintenance, and child support initiated by the Labour Party, and will also disclosereveal details of a business plan aimed at making the CSA more efficient.

But he will reject proposals by shadow Social Security Secretary Donald Dewar for immediate changes in the way the CSA works. Officially, the agency is 'under review', and further small-scale reforms may follow a Commons social security select committee report later this year. The Government is under pressure from some of its own back-benchers to make concessions about the agency, which delivered just pounds 3million from the monies it collected to parents in its first year.

Mr Dewar says that the agency is 'an embarrassment in danger of turning into a disaster'. In more and more cases, 'the maintenance demanded seems to be less and less connected with ability to pay'.

Labour is seeking a whole raftrange of reforms, arguing that changes introduced last February including the phasing-in of payments over a period of up to eighteen18 months have proved 'totally inadequate'. The Opposition wants an adequate appeal procedure, flexibility in the way the CSA operates, recognition of 'clean-break' financial and property-transfer arrangements made at the time of separation, and an end to the long delays in assessments. individual cases.

Mr Dewar will call on the the Government to make the CSA broaden the its collection base of its collection, and to consider 'disregard against benefit', so ensure that more of the money collected goes to the families and less goes into the public purse. Of the pounds 210 million collected in the first year, pounds 203 million has gone to the Treasury.

But Mr Lilley, who is to give evidence to the social security select committee on 13 July, is expected to stonewall on Labour's demands and turn his fire on angry parents whose campaign against the CSA has made it less able to deliver its target for benefit savings.

His officials are deeply sceptical about an independent appeals procedure, pointing to the chaos that resulted when New Zealand introduced such a mechanism for its CSA. The ensuing rush of appeals brought the agency to a virtual standstill.

Equally, There is an equal reluctance to compel the CSA to take 'clean-reak' settlements into account. Officials say that even where the woman is given the house, the taxpayer often ends up paying the mortgage.

Mike Pimblott, spokesman for the National Campaign Against the Child Support Agency, which claims around about 50,000 members, warned said that ministerial inaction would lead to more 'silly behaviour' by irate fathers who have threatened and harrassed CSA staff.