Failure of CSA reform condemned as 'scandal'

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In a damning report, labelled one of the hardest hitting in nearly 40 years, the National Audit Office said that the programme of reforms introduced by the Government in 2003 had made some services worse and said the cost of ending the chaos in the agency could increase to more than £1bn.

The report's author, Paul Cannon, said : "I have been in the government audit service for 39 years. It is the most hard-hitting report I have been involved in."

Auditors said the agency cost 70p for every £1 it collected from absent parents last year. A backlog of 300,000 cases was waiting to be cleared, each taking an average of nine months to process.

As many as 36,000 cases were stuck in the system, while £3.5bn of maintenance payments had yet to be collected. Auditors found one in four new applications received since a new computer system was introduced in 2003 had yet to be cleared.

Mr Cannon warned: "The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has already said it [the CSA] is not fit for purpose and we can confirm some pretty stark facts that that judgement is correct."

Lord Hunt, the Work and Pensions minister, said the report "confirmed the views of ministers that we were right to take a fundamental look at both the policy and delivery of child support to ensure that the money we spend delivers for children and their parents."