Page last updated at 11:28 GMT, Tuesday, 7 February 2006

Child support Australian style

Anti-CSA demonstration
Parents and MPs have criticised the Child Support Agency
With the government expected to announce a review of the beleaguered Child Support Agency shortly, one think tank has suggested that the Australian model has a lot to offer.

The UK agency has been repeatedly criticised for major failures since it started in 1993.

Computer failures and telephone glitches have seen severe payment delays, the prime minister has said it is not up to the job, the former work and pensions secretary described it as a shambles, and thousands of parents have struggled through its bureaucracy.

So what is so good about the Australian Child Support Agency that the Institute of Public Policy Research has suggested it as a viable model?

The institute said it saves more money per case than any child support agency in the world.

Payment options

While it wants to encourage parents to "voluntarily" meet their responsibilities, the Australian CSA can withhold wages, intercept tax refunds and target rental income and investment dividends.

It also provides lists of debtors to police and immigration officials so they can be stopped at airports.

In a country with a population of about 20 million, the Australian CSA has 730,000 cases on its books.

In Britain with its population of about 60 million, about 1.4 million cases are currently being handled by its CSA.

Collection costs

For every dollar the Australian CSA collects it costs less than 12 cents, the agency said.

In the UK, for every pound raised it costs almost 54 pence - a figure criticised by opposition MPs.

In 2004-05 the Australian CSA collected $2.4bn (1bn) , whereas the UK system collected about 600m.

Over 90% of separating Australian parents register with the agency and 80% of clients say they are satisfied with its services, the institute said.

The Australian agency was set up in 1989 after the child maintenance system, administered by the courts, failed to work for the benefit of children when their parents separated.

In much the same way, the UK CSA was set up to replace a widely-hated court-based system.



SEE ALSO
Private firms to chase CSA debts
18 Jan 06 |  UK Politics
The troubled history of the CSA
18 Jan 06 |  UK Politics
CSA a 'shambles', minister claims
26 Sep 05 |  Business

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