Serious complaints to CSA up 50 per cent

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Indy Politics

The child Support Agency should be scrapped, an MP said yesterday, after a watchdog's report showed a rise of more than 50 per cent in serious complaints about its conduct.

The report describes the agency as "a shambles" and reveals a record increase in complaints about the way it operated. The CSA, set up to ensure mothers with children are paid maintenance by absent fathers, had 2,150 complaints in the past year, compared with 1,419 the year before. Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman, said the findings were the "first official warning sign of the chaos building in the child support system".

He added: "It is time the Government admitted the CSA has been a shambles since it started and should be scrapped."

The independent case examiner, Jodi Berg, reported that "spiralling" complaints could increase after the installation of a new computer system unless urgent measures were taken. The Government has tried to improve the performance of the CSA, dogged by controversy since it was set up in 1993. It has been criticised for hounding absentee fathers and wrongly assessing the level of individual maintenance payments. It has also been under fire for revealing confidential information and amassing a backlog of cases.

Ms Berg examined queries from parents who have exhausted the agency's internal complaints procedure, and 86 per cent were upheld. Many complained that the amount of money they were owed had been miscalculated, or they had not received the cash.

Ms Berg said "delay, poor communication and agency error continue to cause hardship and worry" and that many problems stemmed from the old system of calculating maintenance. The calculations changed in March last year to a simplified formula, with alterations to the rules on benefits.