Page last updated at 16:04 GMT, Tuesday, 5 July 2005 17:04 UK

CSA failing parents says report

Mother and children
The CSA had been repeatedly criticised since it was set up

The Child Support Agency fails to put parents at the heart of its activities, with many only seeing action on their case if they complain, a report says.

The Independent Case Examiner, who helps those having problems with the CSA, said referrals had "rocketed".

"Complaints referred to me illustrate that too many parents' experience is sadly ineffectual," Jodi Berg said.

New chief executive Stephen Geraghty said the CSA was working to put right the problems highlighted in the report.

Morale crisis

Nearly 3,000 people complained to ICE, with nine out of 10 cases that went to adjudication upheld.

A report published by ICE showed complaints up from 2,150 in 2003/4 to 2,972 in 2004/5.

In April a report found a staff morale crisis in the CSA, poor training and computer failures which had brought more delays to parents.

The ICE report said there had been "major system problems which have impacted on the progress of maintenance applications, collections and payments".

There had been no "holistic solution" and the agency had continued to implement "fixes" to a "myriad of technical glitches".

Under fire

Mrs Berg said: "Although I acknowledge the many difficulties encountered with its new computer system, in my view the agency has not done enough to place parents at the heart of its activities."

She added: "Many people tell us that the only way to get action on their case is to complain."

The CSA has been under fire almost from the moment it was set up in 1993 to take over the role of the courts in enforcing child support where parents had separated.

In January a report by MPs said it should be shut down and replaced if it did not improve and during the election campaign Tony Blair branded it a "nightmare".

Work and Pensions Minister Lord Hunt said: "The report highlights the amount of work the agency still needs to do to improve its relationship with its clients."

Doubled collections

He said: "We have appointed a chief executive, who is now three months into the job and is making sure that customer service is a top priority for the agency.

"We have also appointed a head of enforcement and the report acknowledges that we are improving in this area.

"The amount our bailiffs collected was double what we achieved in the previous year."

He acknowledged there was a "long way to go" but insisted the agency was moving in the right direction.

CSA chief executive Stephen Geraghty said it was "disappointing" that the number of complaints from clients had increased.

"The agency's senior management team is working to develop a new strategy which will help address the problems this report highlights," he said.

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