The head of the Child Support Agency has resigned amid widespread criticism of the agency's work, the Work and Pensions Secretary has said.
Alan Johnson said Doug Smith felt he had reached a "natural breakpoint at which to hand over the reins".
But an influential committee of MPs attacked "chronic, systemic failures" of management across the agency.
A year after a £456m IT system was brought in, thousands of single parents are still not receiving payments.
What are your experiences of the Child Support Agency? Send us your comments using a form on the right.
This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.
I used to work for the CSA and I can only say that it was the most frustrating place I have ever worked. Constantly changing systems and methods of working left staff feeling confused and stressed. The people who worked there were wonderful but couldn't cope with the amount of work caused by these changes. Staff taking phone calls were constantly abused by clients but were never given enough information to completely resolve a case and get money flowing.
The main fault with the CSA was that the management had no idea of what was required to complete an assessment. They were always more interested in reducing the number of cases, rather than assessing a fair amount and getting payments quickly. We all warned about the impending new system but were shouted down. Please don't blame the staff for this. The person to blame has just resigned leaving carnage behind him.
Mary, Dudley, West Midlands
I am one of the fathers that does actually try to make his payments on time, every time, for my two children who were taken from me 9 years ago. However, despite my calls and letters, they still cannot provide me with an assessment for the period I was unemployed or adjust my payments in light of my new employment. Just because some mothers do not receive their payments, it is not always the father's fault who, contrary to popular belief, actually want to play ball and pay what they owe. The CSA are contributing to the ever increasing "father bashing" and,in my opinion, no use to mothers, father or the children. Time for a big change...sharpish.
Clark Spillane, London, E14
My ex-wife and I have given the Agency up as a bad job, and have agreed a monthly figure!
Paul Edmondson, Nuneaton
My best friend worked for the CSA. She suffered a mental breakdown due to the pressures of trying to achieve the impossible and being continually abused by the general public. She is still unable to work and is now unemployable.
I would like to comment but as an employee I fear reprisals in what is a very vindictive atmosphere.
Another failed, over budget computer system from the "usual suspects" meaning that it's impossible to get vital payments out to the families who need them. And the government's answer - cut civil servants, thereby making the delays even worse! Inspired!!
Gareth, Newport, Wales
The CSA - yet another government invention that makes it uneconomical for low-paid people to work.
John B, UK
I have never missed a maintenance payment and have always paid what I was supposed to and on time. I have always complied with the Agency's every request and still they threatened to take me to Court for non-payment. 18 months ago my job changed and I have lost over 5K from my annual salary. I went to Court last November and was granted further access to my children yet I have still not had a reassessment despite constant chasing through the complaints system. The 'old rules' are a joke and should be scrapped today. The new system is simple to work out and should be implemented across the board and it's almost fair (almost!)
As a former qualifying child who feels badly let down by the CSA, I hoped to be able to make a difference when I joined the agency as an Administrative Assistant two years ago. In that time every colleague I have met has often gone above and beyond the call of duty to provide the absolute best service they can despite poor pay, high pressure and low morale. As I understand it, EDS was thrown out by the Australian CSA for providing a similar shoddy service. Did ministers not research the company beforehand or are they content to throw good money after bad in an attempt to get the new system working?
Karl, Dudley, West Midlands
The whole system is rotten and outdated. We have a government department dealing with collecting money from absent fathers but they can't be bothered to listen to thousands maybe millions of fathers who don't get proper contact with their own children. This very important issue needs dragging into the 21st century. It seems that the system is failing everyone and the biggest losers are our children.
Geoff Hobbs, Brentwood Essex
I have had a never ending battle with the absent father of my child & the CSA to calculate and obtain maintenance for nearly two years and it really gets me down. On the other side of things, my husband, who doesn't get to see his son (although he would dearly love to) has to pay maintenance for him under the old calculations, which works out £240 extra every month than if the maintenance was calculated under the new system - how is this fair? We like so many others, can not afford any children together and it is partly due to the unfair old methods of calculation of maintenance. I have however, always received a very polite, friendly and helpful attitude from all CSA staff every time I have phoned. It does appear after all to be the computer systems fault and not that of the staff in the majority of cases. The Government really does need to do something and fast to sort this out.
I was forced to give up work because of excessive CSA assessments. The current formulae allows me just £200 per year to travel to work whereas the real costs are closer to £2000. In addition to this my household expenses are restricted to 50% of my income (£500 per month) despite my mortgage, Insurance and Council tax being £700 per month. To add insult to injury, the CSA rules allow for 50% of pension payments. The result of all these inaccuracies and unfair assessments is that the CSA think the absent parent has more money available than is actually the case. The real irony here is that I had to give up working for the House of Commons because the CSA rules implemented by the very institution that I work for were preventing me from meeting my day to day expenses.
Paul Fisher, Tilbury, UK
After reading the comments about different problems people have with the CSA, I am not surprised as I have had many dealings with them for seven years. Latest one is that because my ex wife is now in receipt of working tax credits for a single mother (she is remarried and living in a £300,000 house) My payments have doubled. When the fact that my ex was remarried and had been for 2 years, they told me to contact the benefits fraud line as there was nothing they could do about it. Something is seriously wrong with their system.
Ian, Glasgow, Scotland
For those still waiting for payments, don't hold your breath. I first applied to the CSA in 1998, in all that time I have received the grand total of £100 from my daughters father on what I consider to be an exorbitant £80 a week assessment for one child. And despite informing them in 2002 that he had sold up and left the country, I still receive letters relating to the 1998 assessment stating that I have received £0 in maintenance. Telephone calls and letters are a waste of time - nothing ever gets done. The worse thing is, as a full time student I am now unable to claim housing benefit because the council goes on what the CSA have assessed and not what you actually receive. I have managed for six years without child maintenance. I don't even want it now!
A lot of people seem to be criticising the CSA for its failures. Perhaps they should look for explanations from the Ministers who designed the very difficult and unworkable legislation. Try working for the Agency, it ain't no picnic, I know, I have been here since 1993, and have been through all of this.
Garron, Newcastle, England
I am a father that is perfectly happy to pay the amount that is required each month and have no problem with this. This apparently simple arrangement is too complicated for the CSA to handle. Since I started to deal with them I have experienced a level of incompetence, arrogance and disinterest that I hadn't previously considered possible. When I have called them I have never been on hold for less than 15 minutes and on one occasion I held for 30 minutes to then receive a recorded message telling me that the computers were down and to call back. The whole organisation is laughable and its problems go far beyond an inadequate computer system.
Matthew , Sheffield, S.Yorks
I've just received a CSA Wages Deduction instruction for one of my employees. Everything on the form (even her name) was handwritten - so is she even in the 'system'? And I'm to deduct £30 per month from her £300 salary - so she'll probably give up working instead, go on Social Security, and I lose a good worker.
Keith Appleyard, Brighton, UK
My first experience with the CSA was some 10 years ago, to date I am owed over £60000 in back payments from my daughter's father (their calculation) they now allow him to pay this off along side his current payments (assessed at a lower rate). By their calculations he will have repaid what he owes by the time he is 112 yrs old??? And to date I have received £120 in 10 yrs.....That's after my long suffering MP has been involved for 4 years, 3 solicitors for 8 years and 6118 phone calls to date....The CSA has repeatedly lied to me, they have falsified documentation, they have given my home phone number to my ex's mother, girlfriend etc. They have failed totally in their duty to my daughter. They have on many occasions told me my case is not a high priority as I work and have never claimed benefits.
KT, Cumbria UK
I was made aware of the issues with the CSA through friends; I have an agreement with my ex where I pay exactly what the law states I pay outside of the CSA as their inability to resolve simple issue will just make life worse for everyone involved. I also believe that they do nothing to catch up with non paying parents ( or finding them ), what if the CSA was made to pay, lets say the percentage required ( 15/20/25% ) based on the minimum wage until they tracked down the non paying parent? This is some incentive for them to make things happen, just imagine the amount of work taken to make you pay for a parking fine......
Four years ago the CSA incorrectly re-assessed my ex-husband and reduced his payments from £30 to £5 a week. Since that time I have not received any maintenance payments at all. When I write or phone I am told that they are "looking into it" but nothing ever happens. They do however manage to send me an annual statement which informs me that "nil" payments have been made. I feel that this just adds insult to injury...!
Elaine, Watford, Hertfordshire
I have worked for the Agency for nearly 12 years and I have never known it to be in as much chaos as it is now. The problems we are facing now, frontline staff warned senior management about over 3 years ago but no notice was taken. The public tend to blame the staff for poor service they receive from the Agency, but in reality it is the new computer system. This is a fact and not an excuse. Ultimately, the blame for the current problem lies with EDS and the Government. The latter obviously did not learn from the fiasco EDS caused at the Passport Office, the Home Office and Working Family Tax.
The CSA has done nothing to benefit the children; its sole purpose right from the start has been for the government to claw back money it pays out in benefits. All it does is drain the resources of the absent parent so much, that it prevents them getting on with their own lives. I pay nearly £400 a month for one child which I do not even get the chance to see.
Chris, Hampshire, England
My case has been with the CSA for the last two years. The assessment was made promptly and I have always found the CSA people I have spoken to tremendously helpful. Unfortunately my ex moved house & bank accounts six months ago and I have had to chase up every payment since then, with little success. I don't think the blame lies with the people of the CSA who are doing their best to provide an essential service with the very poor tools and legal back up they are provided with.
Sara, Wilmslow, Cheshire
I have been dealing with the CSA for over 4 years now and have not once spoke to the same person each time I have to call. I have found the service is very poor and probably would have got somewhere if I just went to the absent parent and took the money myself. The CSA is a joke and would never have dealt with them if I knew at the beginning I would go through so much anger and disappointment.
L McKay, Glasgow
The staff do not know what they are doing. When you speak to a manager they are churlish and arrogant. Written complaints receive replies which are inaccurate and avoid the point. The CSA should be scrapped along with its computer system. Lets put maintenance back in the hands of the courts.
Richard Davies, Preston, Lancs
I find the CSA to be totally useless. For over a year now I have not received one payment from my ex husband. Time and time again I call CSA to chase these payments and time and time again I get pushed all round the houses (when I can get through on the telephone, which isn't very often) and still I get no payment and it seems to me no action is being taken. What makes me laugh is when CSA have the cheek to send me a statement to show that I have not received a payment, so proving they know that I have not received a payment, and still nothing gets done. What a waste of time and money!
Wendy, Staines, Middlesex
I completed the application form child maintenance and submitted this on 6th August. It took the CSA until 6th October to key the details into their system. I have been told that any claim will only be backdated to 6th October. Therefore I have lost 2 months child maintenance through the CSA's inability to process applications. Surely they could date stamp applications when received as most other companies do.
My husband and I got a letter from the CSA 3 years ago informing us of the new system that is supposed to be fairer - as our "normal" living expenses seemed to be disregarded in the existing scheme and my husband pays 30% (£500) of his salary to his ex-wife for 1 child . Consequently we are not even able to think about having our own family as we cannot afford to and we keep being promised this fairer system and 3 years later I'm still waiting. If it takes another 3 to sort out I'll probably lose my chance to have any kids at all. A bit of balance and understanding is completely lacking in this organisation.
I wrote to my local MP and got a reply that basically said the CSA were trying to bed down the new system with new clients before rolling out to existing ones as of course this will be a huge task. Add that to the problems reported today and its looking like the solution is a long way off, especially if the IT isn't working and they are going to be getting rid of staff.
J Brooksmith, Maidenhead, Berks
The CSA is a total disaster for families on the new and old system. Pre 2003 CSA cases for parents without custody of children are supposed to be migrated to the new system which is much fairer (15% of net pay for one child, 20% for two and 25% for three or more). However, because of these ongoing delays, many absent parents (who pay maintenance under the old scheme) are being over-charged compared to the new scheme. I, for instance, have paid over £1500 more because I have not been migrated to the new scheme. The government have wasted nearly £500million on a system that needs to calculate 15, 20 or 25% of the absent parents income. Perhaps some calculators would have been cheaper!
The CSA is a joke. I have still not received any money despite applying almost a year ago and my ex partner being in employment. I have had to ring every month just to remind them to work on my case. I have recently received a letter telling me that his payment is £0.00. I have been told that they will wait for my ex partner to call them. Do you really think he will??? They have been placed there by the Government to help single parents yet I am funding them through my taxes. They are not providing a service at all. It's a disgrace.
Louise, Walsall, West Midlands
I have had dealings with the CSA over the past 3 to 4 years and find the whole system confused out of touch and un-interested in listening to what fathers have to say regarding outstanding court cases.
Mark Parsons, Dartford
I have had serious problems with the CSA which had to be dealt with in the end by my MP, a solicitor and the Independent Case Examiner. They delayed my assessment for 2 years and when I complained, they broke the data protection act by passing copies of letters I had sent to them, to my employer. Simply because I had complained and threatened to go to the press with a story that the CSA could not get an assessment correct even from a parent who had co-operated fully, I was brought in front of a tribunal charged with bringing the civil service in disrepute!!! Eventually I was cleared of all charges. Because of the CSA I nearly lost my job, which kind of defeats the object when their stated aim is to collect maintenance from me! It's strange that they told me they did not have 'sufficient resources' to assess me yet they managed to find the resources and go to considerable lengths to try to get me fired!!!
Paul, Hull, England
The CSA seems to be helping the absent father more than helping the mother with responsibility's looking after the children. My payments have not been reviewed for 5 years. My mortgage, Council Tax has all gone up in price but my payment hasn't altered. I was told to get 2 jobs!
Yvonne Jenkins, Northolt, Middlesex
I am a father who is paying the CSA. My new family and I struggled due to the amount the CSA was taking each month and I sought a better paid job. Once I started at my new job I was reassessed on the old system (July 04) and I am paying twice as much as I would be on the new system.
How the CSA can say that my daughter needs x amount one month and just because I have a different job she needs more the next month seems to be a joke. I also feel that the CSA spend too much time on the fathers that are paying and not enough time tracking the absent fathers.
Terry, Dover, Kent
What about us fathers who are not allowed to move from the old system with its failures to the new system which is fairer. We cannot move over because the system is "failing". Baroness Hollis quoted that it could take 5 years for old cases to move over to the new system. The old computer system of doing the calculations is no better than the new system that isn't working.
Stewart Davidson, Bristol, England
The CSA seems to have its hands tied; I myself have had no payments since my first payment was expected last November. It doesn't do its job and spending that amount of money on an IT solution is obscene when there are one parent families struggling daily.
Gillian, Leeds West Yorkshire