LETTER:Case for the Child Support Agency

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The Independent Online
From Mr Tony Ward

Sir: Earl Russell (Letters, 20 October) is having some difficulty in accepting that in 1994/95 the Child Support Agency saved taxpayers pounds 479m that would otherwise have been paid in social security benefits, so I must answer the points he raised.

Included within the pounds 479m is pounds 199m saved in cases where a parent with care promptly withdraws their claim to income support within four weeks of specified agency action, or within eight weeks if the action relates to an investigation into the requirement to co-operate; and pounds 24m saved in cases in which the parent with care ceased to receive income support as a direct result of the agency arranging maintenance.

In claiming these savings, the agency applies an established departmental principle, agreed with the Treasury, that a saving be claimed in all cases identified, as while some that occurred within the four- to eight-week period might not be attributable to the CSA, other savings which are due to the agency's actions, but occurred outside this period, will not be claimed. We believe that this is likely to lead to actual savings being underestimated.

In practice it would, of course, be impossible to establish the real reasons for benefit ceasing in individual cases, as those involved in abuse of the benefit system are hardly going to admit it.

I can also assure Earl Russell, that the agency does not claim a saving in benefit for maintenance that is disregarded in assessing entitlement to Family Credit.

Overall, the CSA is proving to be a very cost-effective operation. During its first three years, if it achieves this year's target, the agency will have collected or arranged more than pounds 500m in maintenance, and will also have saved the taxpayer pounds l.4bn in reduced social security expenditure. This will compare with the total three-year operating costs of running the child maintenance system of around pounds 514m.

Yours faithfully,

Tony Ward

Director of Operations

Child Support Agency

London, SW1

25 October