The CSA and its computer systems
The CSA and its computer systems - summary
Parliament and the current computer system
Parliament and the new computer system
News articles about the current computer system
News articles about the new computer system
EDS - Electronic Data Systems
Home & weblog
Blog archive & site history
Site map & search

News articles about the current computer system

The quotes provided are normally directly from the original article, but typically whole sentences and paragraphs are omitted, often without indicating where the omission is, but without altering the order of presentation. In some cases people's names are removed, and replaced thus "[X]".

Date & reference Extracts (not necessarily contiguous)
1994
1994-05-18
The Daily Mail

(From NACSA BOTD)

A coroner blamed a mistake by the CSA yesterday for triggering a father’s death from an overdose of drink and drugs. A maintenance demand for £3,000 – three times higher than it should have been – was found beside the body of hospital nurse [X], 55. "It was the letter that proved the trigger that led to his death," said coroner David Wadman, who recorded a suicide verdict. "It is a sorry state of affairs. Had the true situation been put to him, who knows what would have been?"

Mauritius-born Mr [X] had split from his wife [Y], a GP’s receptionist, but they agreed not to involve the CSA as he paid £9,000-a-year for the private education of his nine-year-old son and daughter of 13, an inquest heard at Eastbourne, Sussex. The CSA became involved when Mrs [Y] was unemployed for two months and claimed income support. CSA official Colin Oudot said the agency was not required to take into account Mr [X]’s contribution for schooling. The letter was generated by computer and sent out automatically but should have demanded only £1,000

1996

1996-12-08
The Sunday Times Magazine

Father Figures

(This is an extract of a much larger article).

Three men sitting in a country pub.

Paul: I had 'em in court in January on five counts of negligence. What they did was they assessed me at £2.50 a week. The mistake was they assessed me on my service pension, not on my wages. Not once but twice. I'm actually going to them saying I'm not paying enough. Then they say it's so small it's not worth collecting at all. Great. We booked a holiday. Eight days later I got two assessments. One was £79 a week backdated and the arrears had to be paid in 10 days. £6500.

Peter: I don't think the CSA is capable of getting an assessment right.

The three men are late 30s, early 40s. They have never met before. Paul appears to have come straight from work; a company identity card swings from his neck on a chain. He is wearing an anorak and has a bulky shoulder bag, which contains his case papers. There is tension in his face. He seems angry. He lights a small cigar from a flat tin. Kevin is with his new partner, Jan. They have a mobile phone and a handful of papers in a buff envelope: Kevin's case. Kevin lacks Paul's intensity and there is a tiredness about him - how did it come to this? He and Jan had sat in the pub a week earlier, waiting for everyone else to arrive. Nobody did because they had the wrong night. This is probably the story of Kevin's life at the moment.

Peter a ruddy-faced Home Counties man, is their host. He is the organiser of the Thames Valley branch of Families Need Fathers, which meets every other Monday at this pub in Maidenhead, just off the M4, the Pig in Hiding. He chose it for its convenience. The decor is very much pig-led but nobody pays it much attention.

[snip]

Peter: The idea behind it is right. Fathers are responsible for their children. But that means time and money, not just money, and also, this is where the whole thing's fallen down: the CSA isn't getting the money to the children. What it's doing is reimbursing the DSS. The principle's all wrong.

[snip]

Some observations about Paul and Kevin and all the other Pauls and Kevins: getting entangled with the CSA drives people to distraction and beyond. They become obsessed. They build thick dossiers of papers, they make photocopies, they write angry letters to the head of the CSA and expect a reply. they get even angrier when the head of the CSA does not reply. They go to their MPs, who write even more letters on their behalf. MPs can hardly move in their own surgeries for CSA cases. But at least they can get replies from the head of the CSA. Ann Chant, the outgoing chief executive, had to set up her own Parliamentary Business Unit to deal with them. The CSA is very confusing, and nobody can really understand it. Every individual case is subject to the same formula for calculating maintenance payments, irrespective of the circumstances. There are some grounds for departure and there have been some modifications, but essentially the formula is rigid.

[snip]

The CSA is divisive. Men regard it as a stick that their ex uses to beat them. It seems to them that ex-wives confuse payment with access to children. If they do not play ball with the former, then they will be frozen out of the latter. It is hard enough trying to maintain a father-child relationship after a separation without all the bitterness the maintenance payments cause. This affects the stability of new relationships men may form, the second families they may start. Many men simply give up trying. There is statistical evidence that just under half of all men who go through a separation lose contact with their children at some stage. There is further statistical evidence that they are happier than the ones who continue contact. Isn't that sad? Not least for their children. Some men, probably more than those who are able to admit it, say they start resenting their children. Though it is hardly the children's fault.

Many men do not believe that the maintenance money the CSA demands from them is going to their children. In lots of cases they are absolutely right. Three-quarters of all single mothers are on benefit. The money collected from their ex-partners by the CSA is not passed on to them: it goes straight into the Treasury coffers. If the mothers do not co-operate with the CSA, a proportion of their benefit is cut as a punishment. Men do not understand why money collected from them as "child support" does not even reach their child. Even if the money the men are paying is getting through, many of them believe it is going to finance the lifestyle of their ex-wife. They think they are being asked to pay too much. They resent the fixed formula, the relentless, unbending, impersonal style of the CSA. They resent the identical paragraphs that appear in CSA letters. "I realise this will be a disappointing reply but..." is a notoriously common irritant. They resent the CSA's dehumanising jargon that labels them AP (absent parent), as opposed to PWC (parent with care).

[snip]

We are not talking here about a group of awkward men who will not face up to their responsibilities. Those men exist. They have always existed. Nor is this about rich men, millionaires who won't pay maintenance for their children - though, God knows, they also exist. Too many men have made too many women suffer in the aftermath of divorce and separation. It has always been that way. This is about the massed ranks of middle England: policemen, firemen, telephone engineers, steel workers, coach drivers, office workers; the ever-increasing number of men whose lives are touched by increasing number of men whose lives are touched by the CSA and who are being drawn to participate in a campaign of civil disobedience.

[snip]

Three days after my night at the Pig in Hiding I spent the evening in a room upstairs at the Black Horse in Milton Keynes. The local branch of NACSA (Network Against the Child Support Act) meets here every other Thursday. The room was full. Single men, men with their new partners, middle-class men, working-class men, very young men who still lived at home with their mums, middle-aged men. Men who seemed pretty objectionable - "If I have to throw a few grand at my ex, well, you know what they're like: she's more interested in money than anything else" - and men who seemed very angry, including one who, if anything, was angrier than Paul. He made the same jokes as Paul, too. "I'm sure we've got the same ex-wife," he cracked on with another man at one point. He had been sent a demand for £9000, with seven days to pay. He had tried phoning the CSA about it but had been told what he described as "the usual crap". As far as the CSA was concerned, he said, he was the lowest form of life. He said that more than once: we're the lowest form of life.

[snip]

Several men had come to the meeting with blank assessment forms. They were at the beginning of their dealings with the CSA: they had been sent a form and could not work out how to fill it in. The advice to them was not to ignore the form. They might have got away with that once, but not now. You could stick your head in the sand before and hope the CSA would forget all about you. The CSA was not that inefficient any more. Fill in most of it, send it back, but ask lots of delaying, pertinent questions that could not be construed as time-wasting. Try to massage the figures. If you're living with a new partner, she could be charging you an exorbitant rent. Housing costs could not be disregarded in the assessment formula.

[snip]

One man told me that all this business with the CSA had made him begin to resent his children. It was another echo of earlier encounters with CSA clients.

[snip]

A few days earlier, I am sitting in the small, cramped office of a family law expert in Caerphilly, South Wales. I am a fly on the wall while the lawyer, Anthea Guthrie, sees her CSA clients. A middle-aged couple come in. He is clutching a CSA notice that he is about to have a Deduction of Earnings Order imposed because he has maintenance arrears. The dates when he is accused of not paying are listed. The odd thing is, his child is now out at work and he has been told his case is closed. Luckily, he had kept some records and after an anxious weekend's search he has found receipts proving that he paid the money on the dates the CSA says he didn't pay. Guthrie phones the CSA there and then, speaks to a child support officer. The officer concedes that a mistake appears to have been made. The dates are wrong. It may be, in fact, that the man does not owe any money at all. He agrees that the DEO needs to be reassessed. Guthrie asks if, in the meantime, the DEO can be cancelled. No, absolutely not, comes the reply. Not until the case has been reviewed. This seems unbelievable to me, but Guthrie is unfazed. She says she has gone past anger. The man folds up his CSA letter and leaves with his new partner.

[snip]

So I can tell you that there is a crisis of morale among CSA staff and that they believe the position is irrecoverable. Nobody seems to have expected the sudden announcement last month that chief executive Ann Chant was leaving to take up another post. When she took the job in September 1994, a close colleague of hers said that if Chant could not sort out the CSA, nobody could. Staff feel that the stress they have experienced working for the CSA has not been addressed by management. They are fed up with the shortcomings of their computer. They are unhappy that there is talk of privatising the CSA. Will all the confidential information they hold be passed into private hands? The abuse they receive is unrelenting. It seems as if it is there in every phone call. There are stories of razor blades and dog s*** being sent in the post. There are stories, in small communities, of staff being harassed and threatened at home. The CSA wants them to give full names to clients to make the service more personal. Their union advises them to give first names only for protection. There is no special training for dealing with angry, distressed or suicidal clients. There is supposed to be a sensitive case officer who deals with the sensitive cases, but it is not clear that they have had specialist training either.

[snip]

1997

1997-04-07
Electronic Telegraph

CSA to scrap £600m 'problem' computer

By Robert Uhlig, Technology Correspondent

THE Child Support Agency's computer, blamed for bringing misery to thousands of parents because it sometimes issued demands for nonsensical payments, is to be scrapped only four years after it was built. Tenders for a new system will be issued next year, and the £600 million computer system supplied and maintained by the American company EDS will be replaced in 1999. Problems with the system began almost as soon as it was installed to recover money from absent parents.

One father complained that the CSA had told him it had never heard of him even though it had previously completed an assessment on his earnings. Several suicides were blamed on the agency after the computer system issued demands for payments that parents could not meet. I also prompted calls for changes in data protection rules.

In November 1994, the agency had to buy an IBM system to overcome some of the deficiencies of the EDS model. In January 1996, the DSS was criticised by a committee of MPs over the agency's system, which cost £514 million to run while collecting just £500 million. One father complained that the CSA had told him it had never heard of him even though it had previously completed an assessment on his earnings. Several suicides were blamed on the agency after the computer system issued demands for payments that parents could not meet.

1997-07-17
This Is Lancashire

Scrap Child Support Agency

SIR: Mr Tony Blair leader of the Labour Party knows the Child Support Agency is in dire straits. A survey carried out by Labour's Gerry Sutcliffe just before the general election firmly established that MPs are simply not prepared to carry on dealing with surgeries stuffed full of CSA cases. They want action. The point is, what kind of action will they get?

They realise the only solution is abolition, yet, strangely, Labour's catch phrase of the moment is that they cannot afford to scrap the CSA. They seem quite unaware that income is more or less the same as it was under the old Liable Relatives Unit, yet the CSA costs nearly four times more to run. What's more, the court-based system remains in place. It still deals with all other aspects of divorce, even though matters of child maintenance have been removed from its remit. There is no reason why, even temporarily, things couldn't go back to how they were. It would instantly save taxpayers £1.1b..... the cost of a new computer.

2000

2000-7-03
The Times

CSA complaints

Complaints to the Child Support Agency increased by 31 per cent to 765 in the last year, Anne Parker, the CSA’s Independent Examiner, said in her annual report. Mrs Parker said that this was because old files had been reopened for transfer to a new computer system.
Page last updated: 17 December, 2003 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003