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Thursday, July 1, 1999 Published at 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK


CSA: radical reform, but not just yet

Most changes to the CSA will take two years to implement

by BBC social affairs correspondent Kim Catcheside

Fathers could be fined up to a £1,000 for misleading or failing to cooperate with the Child Support Agency (CSA) in tough new measures announced by the government on Thursday.

The plans are part of radical changes to the way child maintenance is calculated and collected by the CSA.

Under the proposals, parents who don't live with their children will be expected to pay 15% of their net income for one child, 20% for two and a quarter for three or more.

The changes are a response to what the Government admits is the failure of the CSA.

At the moment, only one in four lone parents on Income Support get maintenance.

The formula for calculating payments is so complicated that a third of assessments take more than six months.

Even then the CSA often fails to collect the money - almost a third of absent parents who have been assessed simply don't pay up.

Rough justice

In time, it is hoped that the simplified system will get maintenance payments to an extra million children.

But organisations representing absent parents say it could mean rough justice for many because it will not take enough account of individual circumstances.

The government says there will be concessions for low earners and those with second families, but that there can be no compomise with the principle that ALL parents are financially responsible for their children.

The new flat rate will mean that, on average, parents will pay less maintenance, but the government is gambling it can offset that by making more absent parents pay.

But the changes will not take effect until 2001 at the earliest, a target date which could be subject to delay, because the proposals cannot be introduced until a new computer is set up to deal with it.

Following recent problems at the Passport Office, it is unlikely that the government will want to risk introducing changes until it is absolutely confident that the new CSA computer is working properly.

In the meantime, up to a million families will be stuck with a system which has been condemned as ineffective and inadequate.

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