Scheme dogged by chorus of protest

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The Independent Online
The Child Support Act 1991, which established the Child Support Agency in April 1993, was the biggest social policy change in 40 years, writes Rosie Waterhouse. It was intended to bring about a social revolution - to ensure that couples who had children should remain financially responsible for them, regardless of whether they stayed together.

Only one in three parents with care of the children who were on income support was receiving maintenance and ministers argued that the taxpayer should not have to support other people's children.

But within a few months protests began. Absent parents who were already paying maintenance found they were being targeted and ordered to pay hugely increased amounts.

The Government was accused of putting the needs of the Treasury before the needs of children when it emerged that £480m of the expected £530m savings would go to the Treasury and Ros Hepplewhite, CSA chief executive, would receive performance-related pay.

Protest groups sprang up all round the country. MPs were inundated with letters and in summer 1993 the Social Security Select Committee held its first inquiry into CSA operations.

On 22 December, the Government announced a number of changes, but aggrieved parents dismissed them as cosmetic and the agency became bogged down with administration and complaints.

In June 1994 the Social Security Select Committee held its second inquiry into the operations of the CSA.

This was followed in July by publication of the agency's first annual report in which it admitted that its targets for taking on cases and making savings had not been achieved. Last September, Mrs Hepplewhite resigned.

Two months later, the select committee published its second report recommending a thorough government review.