[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Saturday, 9 December 2006, 07:49 GMT
CSA steps up enforcement action
A child
The CSA has been criticised by parents
The Child Support Agency has stepped up enforcement efforts and is increasingly using private companies to collect unpaid money, the BBC has learned.

The number of parents going to prison for non-payment of child maintenance also rose to 22, from six in 2005.

The figures come as the agency, which has been dogged by problems and is owed 3.5bn, is to be scrapped.

Campaigners fear that more than 1bn owed to parents will be written off when the agency is replaced.

The details of the agency's replacement, which will have more enforcement powers, are set to be announced next week.

We are really worried the government is going to write off 1bn of debt
James Price, Family Lawyers Group
The CSA, which was set up 13 years ago, said its use of debt collectors had enabled it to recover about 320,000 which it would not otherwise have recovered.

It has transferred about 10,500 cases to the private sector.

BBC political correspondent Gary O'Donoghue said these cases were worth an estimated 45m of the total debt.

In July, the CSA had a backlog of 300,000 cases and was the subject of many complaints from parents.

Fears

The Child Support Bill, unveiled in the Queen's Speech, aims to replace it with a smaller body and a simpler way of collecting child maintenance.

Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton has said the government will seek more powers to deal with parents who repeatedly fail to pay maintenance - such as suspending passports and imposing curfews.

But campaigners are worried that tens of thousands of parents will see money owed to them in child support written off.

James Price, of the Family Lawyers Group, said: "We are really worried the government is going to write off 1bn of debt and that will affect tens of thousands of families and encourage non-payment in the future.

"There have been so many mistakes in the past which the government hasn't learned from."

'Unfair'

Jacqueline Harthill, who says she is owed 10,000 in child support payments for her daughter, said she was "outraged" at the prospect of having the money written off.

"I've had to re-mortgage three times just to try to stay afloat and they are telling me they might write off this 10,000 which might make a difference," she said.

"This is just so unfair. It's not their money, it's not even my money. It's money that is actually owed to my daughter and I'm just outraged."

James Pirrie, of the Credit Services Association, the UK's national association for debt recovery agencies, said: "There have been major problems sorting the type of debt, how much and whether or not these amounts are actually true.

"Of course there's tracing issues as well where people have left their addresses and the information that we have is not correct information in the first instance."




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
What the changes could mean for parents



SEE ALSO
Child Support Agency to be axed
24 Jul 06 |  UK Politics
The troubled history of the CSA
18 Jan 06 |  UK Politics

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific