Anger at £25m bonuses for CSA staff, despite failure

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Indy Politics

Staff at the Child Support Agency (CSA) have received more than £25m in bonuses over five years, including nearly £4m in the year it was abolished.

The Government faced anger over the scale of the payments at the agency, which is still owed £3.5bn in uncollected child maintenance payments.

Details of the payouts emerged in a written parliamentary answer from Alistair Darling, the Trade and Industry Secretary, who disclosed that £3,873,000 was paid to CSA staff in 2006 and a similar amount the year before.

In 2004, bonuses totalled nearly £6m and, in 2003, more than £11m extra was given to staff. Bonuses since 2001 totalled £25,661,000.

Ministers announced in December that the CSA, which has been beset with problems since its creation 13 years ago, would be abolished. But, to the anger of opposition MPs, it will not be fully replaced by the new Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, which will be able to dock wages, impose curfews and "name and shame" defaulters, until 2010.

Philip Hammond, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said families who had lost out because of CSA incompetence would be angry about the bonuses.

"The magnitude of this figure will come as a shock to the 1.4 million families stuck in the failing CSA system," he said. "Families trapped in the CSA will rightly ask whether this money could have been put to better use in a system where £3.5bn debt remains uncollected and 250,000 cases languish on a backlog.

"John Hutton should be doing a lot more for these families by fast-tracking some of the proposals for the replacement Child Maintenance system to benefit existing CSA families right now," he said.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman, described the bonus payments as "ridiculous". He said: "Finding out employees have been given bonuses for their work at this time is a slap in the face for the tens of thousands of families living in poverty due to its incompetence."

A Department of Work and Pensions spokesman said: "The Department's bonus scheme, agreed by the unions, rewards the hard work of individuals - CSA staff are, of course, eligible to be recognised in this way. The CSA's well-documented problems stem from the design of the system introduced in 1993, but staff should not be punished for them."