Child Support Agency chief quits after 'disastrous' term

Click to follow

The head of the Child Support Agency resigned yesterday after a government minister warned that the agency was failing so badly he might scrap the system.

The head of the Child Support Agency resigned yesterday after a government minister warned that the agency was failing so badly he might scrap the system.

Doug Smith stepped down as chief executive of the CSA as the Work and Pensions Secretary, Alan Johnson, admitted that he might go for the "nuclear option" and axe it.

Aides insisted that Mr Smith had resigned, but there was widespread speculation that he was forced out after presiding over a disastrous four years as head of the crisis-hit agency.

Tony Blair said yesterday that the situation was "unacceptable", and pledged that the Government would sort out computer and telephone problems that have plagued the CSA in recent months.

A £456m IT system designed to simplify the collection of child maintenance has resulted in a huge backlog of cases and delays in payments to lone parents. The average time from an application to the CSA to a calculation of maintenance is now 15 to 22 weeks, compared with 12 to 15 weeks last year and against a target of six weeks.

Out of 478,000 applications to the CSA since the introduction of the new computer system 18 months ago, only 61,000 parents have received any money. More than 500,000 parents are owed a total of £75m, and more than £1bn of arrears hasbeen written off as unrecoverable.

Mr Johnson announced Mr Smith's resignation as both appeared before a highly critical committee of MPs which is investigating failings at the CSA.

Mr Smith said: "I am seriously disappointed [with the performance of the CSA]. It is not good enough, I accept that."

Mr Johnson, who has only been in his post for eight weeks, said he would make a decision whether to scrap the system within the next few weeks.

"Would I pull the plug?" he said. "I have not made a decision yet. It is not an easy option, but it is a decision I will be making in the near future."

Parents' groups have demanded wholesale reform of the system, saying that it is now so discredited that many parents are simply giving up and not bothering to contact the agency.

The lobby group One Parent Families has called for a similar system to Australia, where the state makes maintenance payments to the lone family and is responsible for collecting the debt from the absent parent.

Janet Allbeson, chief executive of One Parent Families, said: "Changing the person at the top will not make a difference. There are chronic and systemic failures within the CSA, and they need to be addressed."

Other campaigners have warned that the failure of the CSA could impact on the Government's pledge to halve child poverty by 2010.

Kate Green, the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: "Whoever is in charge, the CSA is a mess and children in poverty are losing out.

"Other countries have child support managed successfully by the state, and there is no reason why it shouldn't be the same in the UK.

"The current system is failing children and needs urgent government attention."

Comments