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1996 articles

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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)

1996-02-02
The Electronic Telegraph

MPs call on CSA to target fathers who pay nothing

By David Fletcher, Health Services Correspondent

TOUGHER action against fathers who fail to pay maintenance for their children after separating from their wives was urged by the all-party Parliamentary social security committee yesterday. It says the agency should stop "picking on soft targets" - fathers on social security who pay a small sum in maintenance - and concentrate on the "huge armies of absent fathers" who refuse to co-operate at all. "It is not action against parents paying some maintenance which is most demanded. It is, rather, action against those allowed to cock a snook at the agency, and taxpayers, by refusing to fill in and return the first communication sent to them by the CSA."

Robert Hughes, Conservative MP for Harrow West, said: "The message to absent parents who can pay but won't pay is 'We'll be after you.' This system is here to stay."

1996-02-09
The Electronic Telegraph

Father too poor to see children takes CSA to Euro-court

By Auslan Cramb, Scottish Correspondent

THE Child Support Agency is to be taken to the European Court of Human Rights by a divorced father who claims he can afford to visit his sons only once a month since his maintenance payments were doubled. Henry Logan, 38, from Falkirk, has been granted legal aid by the European Commission of Human Rights to allow him to challenge the agency. He is taking the CSA to Strasbourg citing a breach of Article 8 of the convention on human rights, which states: "No public authority can interfere with the private and family life of an individual."

His solicitor believes that, if he wins the case, it will open the way for similar claims throughout Britain. "I feel bitter and angry. The CSA seems to think it is more important I pay extortionate maintenance than it is for me to see my children."

1996-03-??
Runcorn Weekly News

(From NACSA BOTD)

A soldier being pursued by the Child Support Agency was found hanging in his bedroom, an inquest at Warrington heard. Kingsman [X] had been contacted by the CSA after a woman claimed he was the father of her child, the inquest was told. Mr [X], aged 22, of Greebridge Road, Runcorn, was found by his mother hanging from a hook in his bedroom while on leave.

The inquest heard that Mr [X] had been seeing a girl for two years and was very happy. But then he had a ‘one night stand’ with another woman. He joined the army soon after and split up with his girlfriend. But the other woman then began to contact him claiming he was the father of her child. A fellow soldier, [Y], said: "[X] was worried about the amount of money he would have to pay to the CSA."

1996-03-11
The Electronic Telegraph

CSA rule changes to allow for cost of travel

By Julie Kirkbride, Political Correspondent

ABSENT parents who travel long distances to keep in contact with their children are to have their maintenance assessments reduced in a series of Child Support Agency reforms to be unveiled by ministers tomorrow. Andrew Mitchell, the minister for the CSA, has included this long-held grievance in a new appeals system which will allow absent parents to recover some costs not currently permitted under the rigid maintenance formula.

The package, which allows other special expenses, such as the cost of travelling to work, long-term illness, and some debt, is expected to cost the Exchequer £10 million a year. At present, statistics on how many parents have to undertake long-distance visits are scant. A 1989 survey by the Department of Social Security showed that of parents paying maintenance, around 15 per cent lived a "long way" away, while some 75 per cent lived locally, or within the same postcode.

1996-03-14
The Electronic Telegraph

Defects in CSA 'still causing injustices'

By David Fletcher, Health Services Correspondent

DEFECTS in the Child Support Agency are still causing injustice to hundreds of parents, William Reid, Parliamentary Ombudsman, says today. In his second report on the agency, he says there are still too many cases of mistaken identity, inadequate procedures, delays and confusion in the assessment and review of child maintenance.

Faults included confusion over procedures, breaches of confidentiality, delays in maintenance requests, problems with interim maintenance assessments and failure to take prompt action to enforce payment. The result was that opportunities to obtain money from absent parents were lost and delays occurred in passing cash to mothers from the absent father.

1996-03-26
The Electronic Telegraph

CSA pledges £100 payout to victims of its blunders

By Jon Hibbs, Political Correspondent

THE Child Support Agency is to pay automatic compensation of £100 to people wrongly sent maintenance assessment forms under measures intended to improve efficiency announced yesterday. An independent complaints examiner is also to be appointed later this year, and more generous provision is to be introduced for compensating clients that suffer from administrative delays. They will come into effect from April 1 as part of a programme to boost the effectiveness of the CSA and rid it of the reputation for incompetence. Further changes are likely later this year with new regulations for simplifying the way housing costs are calculated in assessing maintenance payments.

Ministers deny they have been spurred into action by the recent Parliamentary Ombudsman's report highlighting cases of maladministration going back to 1993. The £100 "consolatory" payment is intended to compensate people for possible upset and inconvenience in cases where the CSA sends a form to a person who is not the parent of the child in question.

1996-04-03
The Electronic Telegraph

Silent mothers to lose more benefit

By Joy Copley, Political Staff

SINGLE mothers who refuse to name the fathers of their children to the Child Support Agency face benefit cuts of up to £20 a week. Frank Field, the committee's chairman, has indicated that he supports the move against parents who "collude against the taxpayer". Women who refuse to co-operate are already punished by having 20 per cent of their £46.50 a week personal allowance docked for six months and 10 per cent for the next 12 months. It is now proposed to increase this to 40 per cent indefinitely.

The DSS believes that the benefits are much abused: where it refuses to accept that women have good cause to be afraid of naming the father, only a few appeal against the decision. Many then withdraw their claims for benefit, raising suspicion of fraud. Only one in 25 mothers whose benefit is cut complains of hardship, which suggests they may have other income, possibly from absent fathers colluding against the Agency.

1996-05-16
Electronic Telegraph

CSA complaints 'still pouring in'

By Jon Hibbs, Political Correspondent

COMPLAINTS about the Child Support Agency are still "pouring in" to the ombudsman despite government claims of improvements, MPs were told yesterday. William Reid, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, said there was no sign of a let up in the volume of complaints from the public. He expected the growth to continue over the forthcoming year. Half of all the complaints accepted for investigation by the ombudsman last year referred to the Department of Social Security, a substantial increase on previous levels. The CSA accounted for a third of that number.

Ministers recently announced that the CSA would pay £100 compensation to people wrongly sent maintenance assessment forms. It would also pay interest on late payments, after a highly critical report from the ombudsman. MPs privately expressed dissatisfaction with the level of compensation and the government's failure to make it retrospective before April this year.

James Pawsey, Tory chairman of the select committee, yesterday attacked an 18-month delay in appointing an independent complaints examiner. He claimed that official figures disclosing 1,962 complaints in March showed that there had been no substantial improvement in the agency's handling of its affairs since the period covered by the ombudsman's report.

1996-06-07
Rochdale Express

(From NACSA BOTD)

A father-of-two who was found dead in a fume filled car outside his Heywood girlfriend’s home was being pursued by the Child Support Agency. Police discovered several payment demands from the CSA strewn about the Ford Orion car in which [X] was found slumped. A pipe had been fixed from the inside to the exhaust. At an inquest in Rochdale this week deputy coroner Dennis Everett did not disclose the contents of the tape. But he added: "Papers from the CSA for monies outstanding were found in the car."

1996-06-28
South Wales Argus

(From NACSA BOTD)

The CSA came under fire from Gwent coroner Mr David Bowen yesterday, for causing the death of a young father from Chepstow, whose body was found in his fume-filled car. He said notes left by [X], of Wyedean, made it clear that letters from the CSA and a court appearance due the following week, were the triggers for his actions. He went on: "For some months prior to his death he had needed psychiatric help, which he refused. That mental condition was in no small part brought about by demands from the CSA "He had received a letter from the CSA asking him to appear in court, then another letter adjourned the hearing until the Thursday after his death. I was concerned about the effect this appearance might have on him. It had been playing on his mind for some time."

1996-07-17
The Electronic Telegraph

Report on CSA finds £900m is uncollected

By Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor

NEARLY £900 million in maintenance payments demanded by the Child Support Agency remains uncollected, Government spending watchdogs said yesterday. Much of the debt will never be recovered, claimed the National Audit Office. Only half the absent parents on the CSA's books were paying any maintenance at all. And only 20 per cent were handing over the full amount assessed by the agency. The office issued a qualified audit of the CSA's accounts because there was insufficient evidence to determine the financial effect of inaccurate maintenance assessments.

Arrears often build up because of the delays in issuing full assessments for maintenance because the amount due is back-dated to when inquiry forms were sent out. Some absent parents face demands of £1,000 or more. The auditors found that the CSA had improved its accuracy but could still improve. Errors ranged from £30-a-week under-assessments to £20-a-week over-assessments. The causes ranged from arithmetical mistakes to use of old information in calculating earnings and income.

1996-08-05
The Electronic Telegraph

CSA given right to see bank accounts

By Liz Lightfoot

BANKS are being forced to disclose confidential information about customers' finances to the Child Support Agency. Disclosure of sensitive details of charge cards and credit card bills can now be demanded by men or women challenging the incomes declared by their former partners in an effort to increase maintenance payments. The development follows a four-year struggle by Terri West, a mother of two from Stanmore, north London. She worked tirelessly to challenge her ex-husband's declared income to the CSA after being dissatisfied with the level of maintenance set. She was so disgruntled at the way the CSA treated her that last week she went before a special tribunal set up to review her dealings with the agency. On her application, the tribunal issued a witness summons against an assistant manager of Coutts & Co, her ex-husband's bank.

The British Bankers' Association confirmed last night that this was the first time a bank had been compelled to give confidential customer details to a CSA tribunal. Brian Capon, for the BBA, said: "Banks will only give information when compelled to do so legally through a court order or where they record a bad debt on the default register."

1996-08-21
The Electronic Telegraph

CSA complaints keep pouring in

By Robert Shrimsley, Chief Political Correspondent

THE Child Support Agency was rebuked yesterday by the public service watchdog after he said that complaints were at the same level as last year despite the agency's promise to improve its record. Sir William Reid, the parliamentary ombudsman, responsible for investigating allegations of maladministration, expressed his disappointment at the number of complaints, which he said was preventing him from devoting resources to other areas of criticism. He noted that in the first half of 1996 he had received 240 complaints, only three fewer than he had in the same period last year. This represented 25 per cent of all the complaints against Government departments referred to him in the first half of this year. He said that most complaints "continue to reveal the same recurring faults in administration - inaccuracy, delays in dealing with correspondence, failures to return telephone calls. I find disappointing the fact that I am continuing to receive such a high level of complaints against the agency".

1996-08-31
Electronic Telegraph

CSA refunds payments man hid from wife

By Carole Cadwalladr

A MARRIED man paid more than £4,500 towards the upkeep of a child that was not his because he was too scared to admit to his wife that he had been accused of having an affair. [X], 37, of Sale, Greater Manchester, started making the payments six years ago when a colleague named him as the father of her child. Although he insists that there had never been anything between them, he was frightened that his wife, [Y], would not believe him and decided to pay the cash rather then fight his case and risk her finding out. This week, he was refunded £4,552.60 after a DNA test proved the child could not be his. He claims that spiralling debts almost ruined his marriage and twice drove him to attempt suicide. He sold his car and put his house up for sale. Finally, in August of last year, Mrs [Y], 35, found out about the Child Support Agency payments. She said: "[X] had been taking £10 out of the bank every week and paying the CSA money through the Post Office so I didn't have a clue. Mr [X], a factory worker, believed he would have had to suffer an embarrassing court case to establish his innocence and found out he could take a DNA test only in February. Mr [X] said it took eight weeks to establish he could not have fathered the child because the mother initially refused for it to go ahead.

A spokesman for the CSA in Manchester said yesterday: "When a question of paternity is resolved and the alleged absent parent is proven not to be the father, any payments will be refunded in full."

1996-10-13
The Electronic Telegraph

Drive ban to make absent fathers pay

By Julie Kirkbride, Social Affairs Editor

FATHERS who fail to pay Child Support Agency maintenance demands could lose their driving licence under radical plans being examined by Peter Lilley, the Social Security Secretary. Social security ministers believe that threatening absent parents with the loss of their driving licence could prove a powerful sanction against the 57,200 absent parents who have managed to avoid paying any of their child support demands since the agency was established in 1993. The sanction would be designed to frighten primarily middle-class non-paying parents where the loss of their licence would mean that they would not be insured when driving their car. Whitehall estimates suggest that recovering the debts could recoup up to £300 million for the Treasury.
Confiscation of driving licences for so-called "deadbeat-dads" who do not pay any maintenance has recently been introduced as a United States federal law by President Clinton.

During the summer Andrew Mitchell, the minister responsible for the CSA, visited some of the American states where the removal of driving licences has already been introduced as a means of scaring debtor parents into compliance. So far Maine has been the most successful state, collecting about £27 million in overdue payments since 1993, while revoking just 66 licences.

1996-10-30
The Electronic Telegraph

Labour plans CSA cash 'reward'

By Jon Hibbs, Political Correspondent

CASH incentives are to be offered to single mothers who co-operate with the Child Support Agency under Labour plans to be unveiled today designed to get lone parents back into work. Harriet Harman, shadow social security spokesman, proposes to change the benefit rules so that single mothers on income support can keep some of the maintenance recovered from absent fathers. At present any maintenance payments obtained by the agency are clawed back, pound for pound, from the benefit to which lone parents are entitled, leaving many no better off financially. Introducing a "maintenance disregard" is intended to tackle the financial disincentive to co-operate.

Labour says the agency has such a bad reputation for late or irregular payment of maintenance claims that many single mothers are worse off than before.

1996-11-06
The Electronic Telegraph

CSA chief resigns after two years

By David Fletcher, Health Correspondent

ANN CHANT, head of the Child Support Agency, is to resign just over two years after she was appointed to reorganise the much-criticised government body. Miss Chant, 51, was appointed to the CSA on an 18-month contract, which had been extended once. She will remain in the £64,000-a-year post until next spring. She succeeded Ros Hepplewhite, the first CSA chief executive, who issued a public apology for "unacceptable standards" when she left after only 18 months. Andrew Mitchell, Social Security minister, said Miss Chant had been a "first-rate chief executive who has turned around the performance of the agency through firm, clear management. In the first six months of this year, the CSA collected more than four times as much maintenance as it did in 1994, the year of her appointment." Miss Chant said: "My time at the CSA has been challenging. I am pleased I will be leaving my successor an agency that has a steadily improving performance." Last week MPs voiced reservations about the CSA's performance and accused ministers and Miss Chant of continued complacency.

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]

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Page last updated: 28 November, 2005 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003