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Last Updated: Monday, 12 September 2005, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Is the CSA failing families?
Have you faced difficulties with the government's Child Support Agency?

The CSA is in "meltdown", former welfare minister Frank Field has warned the prime minister.

Reforms introduced in 2003 have made "an intolerably poor service even worse" with an increasing backlog of applicants and more than 1bn in maintenance now being written off.

Mr Field also criticises the agency for "bolting down the hatches" by refusing to publish key information.

Have you experienced difficulties with the CSA? Do you agree with Frank Field? Is the CSA in meltdown? Send us your comments and experiences.

This debate is now closed. Please read a selection of your comments below

The following comments reflect the balance of views received:

This topic was suggested by Ben, UK
What next for the Child Support Agency? As Gordon Brown has asked for suggestions to include in the government review, what things would you change? What are your experiences either as an absent or single parent?

Your MP will not support you unless you can demonstrate you have followed the complaints procedure. However very quick you get to your MP as the CSA don't respond or follow their own procedure. They are useless. I now pay my ex-wife directly as advised to do so by the CSA as they admitted via my MP they couldn't resolve system problems they were having that meant my children were not receiving my payments until three months later from the CSA.
Mark Ellam, Stoke-on-Trent, UK

The CSA is a shambles with unfair assessments, failed computer equipment, staff who can't answer basic questions. Last year they cashed my cheque for 514 and denied all knowledge of receipt. This led to them taking more money off me one month after funds debited my account. I spoke to Liverpool's CSA Area Director and he agreed 'empathetically' that the whole system was at fault. The new system needs to be fast-tracked now to make it fairer. Does this happen in Europe? Human rights there would not allow this blatant disregard of people's welfare.
Mike Windeler, Warrington

Never mind letting the families down, it's letting me down. As a tax paying married man who had only the children I could keep I am paying out for the fathers to whom parenthood is just a biological function. The government needs to chase the non payers till it hurts, sorry for the second wives etc but you make your own luck in this world and I am sick of paying tax to feed other people's kids. Remember, widows aside there is no such thing as a single parent.
Mike Pike , Wallington, Surrey

As CSA staff member, I ask the question don't people realise that the agency is a collection service, that does not deal with child access issues that is and has always been dealt with by the courts? Staff struggle with managers that quite frankly could not organise anything, and are way out of their depth, and are incapable of making a decision. There are managers let me stress, not all, some are excellent but they are far outweighed by the bad ones. The CSA would and could run more efficiently if they stopped try to out do each other with the stats.

The CSA is not a system to support children but one to support absent parents from not maintaining their children. Please go back to the court system for maintenance and get rid of the CSA.
Melanie, Burnley, Lancs

I pay for my children outside the CSA framework but what is deemed to be the correct amount. What is simply wrong is for the children's main carer to be able to have a straight percentage of what I earn - can someone tell me how that is fair?
Anon, Southampton

I have been paying maintenance for my kids for over four years. During that period, I've had to go to court (at my own expense) to enforce my right to see my kids. How is it that I can pay this money for the kids and not see my children? In short, what is the CSA for? A fairer system which assesses the income/assets of both parents needs to be introduced immediately.
Desmond Phillips, London

I have waited two years for the CSA to sort out my payments from my children's father. They don't put enough pressure on fathers to pay.
Laura Marshall, Edinburgh

A total mess. I ended up walking out of my job because the CSA were taking 750 per month for one child directly out my salary. I was never assessed properly and they did not take into account my rent which was 800 per month, I asked for numerous interviews to be assessed properly. I am now self-employed.
Andy, London

The current situation is much further away from a solution than should have been allowed
Mike, UK
Having been forced to deal with the CSA for almost eight years, I can tell everyone that it's ill-conceived, ill-managed, ill-funded and causes nothing but pain, fear, confusion and hardship. Of course there's no magic bullet for the problem of "parents without care" not contributing to the upkeep of their children, but everyone - and I do mean everyone - who's been exposed to this epic administrative folly will confirm that the current situation is much further away from a solution than should have been allowed. As the longest-lasting legacy of the last Tory government, is it any real surprise that Blair et al have left it as it is?
Mike, UK

When I was bringing up my sons on my own and their father abdicated his responsibility when they were aged one and two, I got a job, got nursery places and got on with life. Of course it wasn't easy but I didn't have the hassle of dealing with the CSA or Social Security, I kept my dignity and I gave my sons an example. What's happened to parents these days? Take responsibility yourself. You will have to work hard but you will have your self respect.
Chris, Surrey. UK.

My daughter's partner has tried to discuss his payments with the CSA and their retort is that he is unconstructive and the call is terminated. What chance is there for a sensible approach to payments when there is no discussion possible?
AG, Bristol, UK

The CSA is a vehicle of administration. If a car goes out of control you don't blame the car - you blame the driver. Everyone finger points to the problem, when the solution is to get the right leader in the first instance. Common sense solution.
John Elton, Chesterfield, UK

What the CSA should have done in the first place was to base the CSA payments on the Child Benefit - ie fixed. For example for all fathers with two children aged five and eught they pay the same amount regardless of salary. The poor parents would have got the fees topped up by the government.
Helen, Wakefield

My sister has four daughters. She is a single parent whose ex-partner is a multi-millionaire. She has been trying to get for about six years to get some payment from towards the bringing up of his children. She has never received anything from him and has had to attend numerous court cases because he knows how to play the system. She has used every penny she has to do this and is on income support in order to survive while he lives the life of pure luxury. The system stinks.
Amanda Travers, Reigate, Surrey

Not only are they letting our children down, but if you're a father you don't stand a chance
Dave, UK
I am a single father bringing up an 11-year-old son, after his mother moved away, and although her and her new partner have a high joint income, I receive nothing at all from her towards my son's upkeep, I approached the CSA and was told there was nothing they could do. Not only are they letting our children down, but if you're a father you don't stand a chance.
Dave, UK

The CSA is failing children and staff because of totally incompetent IT spending and planning. Time after time this government throws incredible sums of money (450 million in this case) at IT projects that do not work. When will they learn? ID cards will suffer the same failings.
Mark Fulford, Southampton, UK

CSA is a shambles. I have been waiting two years to be transferred on to the new system, meanwhile those who won't pay go straight on to the new system. This seems very unfair; I have tried to get my case reassessed several times but have got nowhere. What about the real fathers who are being fleeced?
Derek Harkness, Ayr, Scotland

After almost 3 years of battling against the endless failings of the CSA systems I am finally receiving regular maintenance payments for my son, although I am having to phone them every month to practically beg them to put the money into my account which they have had for several weeks. It's not ideal but at least I am one of the lucky ones receiving money. I am worried that this will stop if the CSA is closed down. Better the devil you know?...
Jill, Fife

Please remember in all this that there are fathers out there not getting payments from mothers - It is not all one way. A colleague of mine is receiving payments from his wife of 5 per month, so his ex wife's debt will be paid off when his daughter is 37 years old...
O W, Shipley, West Yorks

The CSA does not seem to have any powers to enforce their maintenance claims
Stacey, Swanscombe, Kent
My daughter is 7 in October and I have never received maintenance from my previous partner. I have had hundreds of phone calls with the CSA and have written numerous letters of complaint. The CSA does not seem to have any powers to enforce their maintenance claims.
Stacey, Swanscombe, Kent

Lost my home, wrongly advised - bailiffs waiting - dispirited depressed and angry and very concerned about the effect this has on my state of mind an the relationship between my son and I. Disgraceful state of affairs.
Philip, Leeds

I think the CSA is a pathetic organisation that picks on the men who want to pay for their kids. I am still on a higher rate than what I should be on and they say they will do nothing about it because the claim was before a certain date. They victimise dads who want to pay by charging them obscene amounts whilst the shirkers get off scott free!
Eddie, Liverpool, England

I am a father who has currently paid every month for the last 9 years, no I am being made redundant and guess what CSA want 15% of that as well, imagine what 15% of 49,000 is. I agree that I pay CSA but don't agree that I have to give over my redundancy to an ex partner and also that I don't see my daughter, (in court fighting to see her). Something needs to be done with CSA, scrap it all and start again.
Anon, Portsmouth

Dozens of fathers have committed suicide, thousands have been driven away from their children
Ian T, Cambridge
The CSA should be scrapped. It costs the country a fortune in financial and non-financial terms. Dozens of fathers have committed suicide, thousands have been driven away from their children and all with the intention of giving money to the mother without any guarantee that she will spend one penny on the child. Scrap it and stop the government destroying families in the name of 'progress'.
Ian T, Cambridge

You think the CSA is in melt down! You should try the Child tax credit system. If looked at carefully the way it is calculated actually forces over payments that then have to be recovered or appealed. When you try to talk to them they contradict each other and do not return promised phone calls.
Martin Mills, Reading

I first contacted the CSA for maintenance from my ex-partner in 1993 and I have never received a penny. The excuse given by them was 'we cannot find him'. Recently they have been sending me a regular statement that gives a maintenance due figure and underneath says amount paid 0.00! I have repeatedly phoned them to ask why I have not received any money and the reply is 'We don't know'! I think the CSA should be closed down, it clearly does nothing and is a complete waste of tax payers money.
Maxine, Sutton, Surrey, UK

This is a national disgrace
Christopher, Leicester
I am a father who refuses to pay anything to the CSA to a mother who has prevented me from seeing my children for 4 years despite valid Court Orders being in place. More fathers would pay if the state ensured that mothers did not use their children to hurt their former partners. This is a national disgrace and typical of the partisan attitude of the State towards males in general and fathers in particular. I suspect that there is a hidden campaign of civil disobedience going on which is never reported in the media. But you can quote me!
Christopher, Leicester

I've seen the CSA from both sides, as a non-resident parent and now as a parent with care and can honestly say they are the worst organisation I have ever dealt with. They lie through their teeth to get you off the phone and make promises they never keep. I only deal with them by letter now since it's difficult for them to deny something that's in writing.
Steve Rigby, Swadlincote, UK

I worked for CSA along with over 100 fully trained staff trying to deal with maintenance claims with a useless computer system. We were told by e-mail in early spring 2004 that our office would be fully closed a year later. Many members of staff were left jobless and are now "signing on". So who is dealing with all of our work as the other CSA offices in England are unable to keep up with their own cases?
Anon, Basingstoke, Hants

I work within DWP and can confirm how bad things are for the staff who are trying their best to work within the chaos. Workers are not "highly paid pen pushers" and many of them are trying to get money through CSA or claiming benefits themselves. Also, the CSA are part of the cull on staff and have to lose 25% of them. This is hardly going to help clear the work is it?
Andrew, Bristol

Because of the CSA's indifference to major outgoings e.g. mortgage and high commuting costs I had to leave a profession that is short of recruits and which I loved. I also had to move my family to a smaller house in a rundown area of the city. No amount of pleading would force them to take notice of my circumstances. I now have a part-time low paid menial job and my current family are struggling.
Jason A, Cardiff

The system was far too complicated
I had the dubious privilege of working for the main contractor of the consortium which provided the new IT. It was generally acknowledged that it was a bag of worms from the very beginning. The system was far too complicated, with a new payments schedule being calculated for one year in advance with every change of circumstance of either the absent parent or the parent with care. That didn't include any arrears or overpayments which were calculated separately. The CSA were told this frequently but chose to ignore it. Also the quality of the delivered product was poor. In March 2003 there were in excess of 11000 system defects and around 12000 instances where the system didn't meet the user requirement

Perhaps if the duties of the CSA were merged with the Inland Revenue this might alleviate the problems faced by the CSA when looking at individual cases. If the Inland Revenue can take a percentage of income per child the CSA may only have to deal with making the payments. Also this might deter those who prefer to dodge making payments through lengthy drawn out processes which take months to resolve.
Anon, Southampton, UK

I have given up all hope of the CSA getting maintenance payments from my former partner. I'm owed thousands of pounds due to non payment for five years. The CSA should be closed down and payments be enforced by the courts resulting in a custodial sentence for none payment.
Jon, Bradford, England

Having worked for the Agency and also a 'client' I am fully aware of the crisis it is facing. The branch where I worked has been closed following the Lyons Review with a loss of 100+ jobs and our workload pushed onto already overloaded staff in other branches obviously causing a further backlog of work. The computer system failed spectacularly and cases 'disappeared' off the system on a regular basis. As for being a 'client', I have had to constantly chase up my case. Due to a blunder by staff I now do not receive a penny of support from my ex-husband although he is working full-time.
N, Basingstoke, England

I worked for the CSA for 3 years and I had to leave due to the stress and abuse that comes with the job
C, Belfast
I worked for the CSA for 3 years and I had to leave due to the stress and abuse that comes with the job. Staff are left to their own devices and you have to feel sorry for parents and children caught up in this joke of an agency.
C, Belfast

I've little sympathy for the poor stressed staff at the CSA. Whenever my kids needed clothes, swimming lessons, holidays, money for school trips and uniforms, they had it. And they stay with me every weekend. But the CSA still want to cane my income leaving me with no life. The sooner they are scrapped and the people who work there find something useful to do, the better. Non resident fathers who refuse to pay can be dealt with through the tax and benefits system. Leave responsible fathers alone.
D, Dudley UK

The CSA is an utter disgrace! It has either inflicted non resident parents with crippling payments or failed to collect at all. In my opinion it should scrapped and a fairer system implemented.
Anon, England

I'm under the 'old' system and when I recently had another child the CSA effectively said he was 'worthless' as my maintenance payments remained unchanged. I am now paying over a hundred pounds a month more than someone in exactly the same situation, but who happens to be on the 'new' system. It's a wonder why someone hasn't legally challenged this dual system in terms of the Human Rights of the children living in the 'absent' parent's family, as their quality of life is being affected. The CSA is an utter disgrace... I pity the staff having to work there, it's not their fault... the blame lies squarely with the government... shame on them!
Anon, England

I applied to the CSA for maintenance for my 2 children in March last year. Finally received an assessment 2 weeks ago. I know I am one of the lucky ones.
Val, Dundee, Scotland

I am feeling totally frustrated with the CSA. My ex husband has made no payments for 2 years. It took them 10 months to do an assessment, by which time my ex had had 3 different jobs, so the assessment was wrong anyway, but when you try to contact your case worker it takes weeks to even get to speak to them, and then weeks for them to do anything, then circumstances change again, they are just going round in circles, getting nowhere. I feel very let down.
M, Preston, Lancashire

Perhaps if the duties of the CSA were merged with the Inland Revenue this might alleviate the problems faced by the CSA when looking at individual cases. If the Inland Revenue can take a % of income per child the CSA may only have to deal with making the payments. Also this might deter those who prefer to dodge making payments through lengthy drawn out processes which take months to resolve.
Anon, Southampton, UK

More and more pressure is put on the staff to improve the amount of money they recoup
Mary-Jo, Northern Ireland
My partner has been employed by the CSA for nearly three years and has seen it go through many changes, most of which were not for the better. More and more pressure is put on the staff to improve the amount of money they recoup which is leading to soaring stress levels and very low staff morale. The staff on the ground level are unable to improve the recovery figures because the whole organisation is poorly run and the mangers do not have any indication how to do their job. It seems to be if something does not work, change it. There is no consistency in the management style. The whole organisation should be disbanded. It is a joke and a complete waste of time.
Mary-Jo, Northern Ireland

The agency was a bad idea in the first place. For the thousands of estranged parents who are perfectly capable of making their own financial arrangements - as in my case, our lives have been made miserable by the constant hounding from the CSA, who bombarded us with letters, threats and wrong information for two years until I made an official complaint, at which point they admitted they were wrong, apologised and left us in peace.
J. Freeman, Weymouth, Dorset

As an ex employee of the CSA, this is no surprise at all. I left due to the strain the staff were under to resolve issues most of them were not qualified to do. My opinion on leaving was that the whole department is a total waste of public money and I do feel sympathy both for the claimants and the payees. Whilst there I witnessed people getting paid 10 times for the same case and some not at all and when questioned was faced with the response that no action would be taken as it was the "government's problem and they would bail us out". The best thing to do with the CSA is scrap the whole thing and go back to court orders which are far more successful.
Anon, Leeds

I actually work for the CSA and unfortunately some of what you are telling the public is wrong. We collect a lot of money. Unfortunately what some people neglect to tell you is that taxpayers pay top ups on the parent with care's job seeker's allowance/income support until we get the money from the other party involved then the arrears get paid back into the governments coffers. This is only right but the person paying the money does not see it that way thinking the parent with care is not receiving anything when in fact they did. A lot of good people are doing a hard job and the media only ever prints the bad news because good news is no news.
Anon, Belfast

There are many problems with the CSA
Anon, Hampshire
As an ex-CSA officer who was declared surplus with 100 others, it comes as no surprise to hear of the present on-going difficulties. There are many problems with the CSA. First of all they have software which is not up to the job. Cases would get lost for weeks while being worked on and incorrect assessments were commonplace. The agency is statistic driven, not allowing the officer the time to deal with a case correctly and stop errors. Lack of cooperation from other government agencies, in particular the Inland Revenue who could make available, information which would chop, in excess of, two months delay off the processing time on many cases and allow them to proceed to assessment and collection. Too many checks are done manually which could be written into the software. We need to adopt the Australian system which is regarded by many to be far superior and delivers the goods.
Anon, Hampshire

I applied for child maintenance last December and I am still waiting to receive my first payment. It took 6 months for the CSA to assess the case and work out what my child's father should pay each month. So far he has refused to pay and the CSA haven't taken any action whatsoever.
Clare, Fareham

I agree that the CSA should close. They have made my life a misery, with collections not been done, arguing with my ex-husband about money. The case has been closed for a year then they take money out of me, then tell me to contact them urgently and the person dealing with the case is never there, so I can't talk to anyone and they never leave messages on the system.... They are totally rubbish and close and leave people alone to get on with their lives as they cause so much more heartache and trouble.

From the other side of the scale my husband has paid CSA to the tune of nearly 500 pound a month!! We must be paying for the others who do not pay. We asked for a review as we had extra bills and all we got it reduced by was 100. We are now expecting twins so hopefully will be able to get it reduced further. My husband doesn't begrudge paying for his daughter and neither do I but there needs to be a fairer system where everybody pays something to the upbringing of their children.

The CSA and ministers are hiding behind the "computer problems". There are obviously huge issues with the IT systems. However, the backlog is down to not enough resources being in place to deal with cases. Take on a lot more staff to deal with these cases and do them manually. It is frightening that ministers seem unwilling to act. Another review, what a waste of time. They have a simple system, they just need to "fix it".
S McGinn, Crowborough, East Sussex

I count myself as very lucky as when my ex husband pursued me for maintenance it was all done pretty quick, and the payments were correct according to the calculator.

I worked for the CSA for six years before leaving last year due to mounting frustrations at the agency's inability to provide a service to customers. Over the last five years staff morale has plummeted due to faulty IT, poor wages, lack of support and ineffective management. Staff have been leaving in droves over the last two years while management cover up the problems It is long overdue that the CSA finally admit the trouble they are in and some positive action is taken for the children they are supposed to help.
Anon, Edinburgh

Can we not give him the opportunity to sort out this mess?
Adrian Martin, Birmingham, UK
Frank Field has shown himself to be the only person we can trust to face up to and address the terrible situation at the CSA. Can we not give him the opportunity to sort out this mess? He knows what he is talking about, more than can be said for the various appointees to the CSA who have failed, and are failing, to turn the organisation around!
Adrian Martin, Birmingham, UK

My partner has been having money deducted by the CSA to pay to his ex-partner for their daughter. He has been paying it since January. However, as at the end of August his ex-partner had received no payment from the CSA whatsoever. He was more than happy for the money to be dealt with by the CSA. However, he is not so happy now that none of it seems to be getting through.
Aimee, England

Having worked for the CSA, I left as the stress of continually failing customers left me in such a bad way, I had a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide. Staff are left to try and cope with effectively handling a process which is difficult for all parties involved at the best of times without the additional strain of the IT system which was introduced. Staff morale has reached an all time low, with staff unable to cope with the demands placed upon them by management, who will not admit they have failed the workers and clients alike.
Anon, Glasgow

CSA 'in meltdown', Blair warned
08 Sep 05 |  UK Politics

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