The process of reforming the CSA legislation
Implications of the announcement of commencement
Questions still to be answered
Quick history of the programme to reform the CSA
The stages of the reform to the CSA legislation
Summary of the changes in the reformed system
Related topic - Index: the reformed child support system
Related topic - The political drivers of the reformed scheme
Related topic - The origin of the percentages in the reformed scheme
Commencement dates - 2000 Act - sections, links to the text & dates
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Blog archive & site history
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Quick history of the programme to reform the CSA

Earlier history

The CSA began operations in April 1993 as a result of the 1991 Child Support Act. It was administratively incompetent from the start, for many different reasons. One of those reasons was undoubtedly that the original legislation was careless.

One problem was perceived to be that the legislation was too inflexible, and also didn't offer suitable incentives to PWCs to co-operate. (PWCs on Income Support and their children, which at this stage was most of them, didn't gain anything, and often lost money and the good will of the NRP, as a result of the CSA). The result was the 1995 Child Support Act which provided some flexibility (departures) and incentives (child maintenance bonus). (On the whole, it still tended to make PWCs and children worse off rather than better off, although it did offer the distant prospect of a bonus if the PWC co-operated then got into work).

In addition to these major Statutes, there were vast numbers of Statutory Instruments. (To date, there are nearly 70 of these for Great Britain, and many more for Northern Ireland, for the current scheme alone). The 1991 and 1995 Acts had left much of the details to "regulations", which were provided by these Statutory Instruments. So there has been an ongoing programme of tweaks and more significant changes since 1993.

Early stages of the reform

The Conservative government was still considering further changes up the General Election of 1997. For example, the Telegraph signalled the idea of a driving licence ban in October 1996. [1]

"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." The Labour opposition was not impressed. "But the proposal to revoke driving licences was described as a gimmick by Labour's Henry McLeish, the shadow social security minister. He said: "The Tories are oblivious to the real crisis facing parents up and down the country. Removing driving licences does not even start to redress the problems of the CSA.""

In fact, it was Labour who put a driving licence ban into legislation (section 16 of the 2000 Act). The Conservatives are now saying, in the run up to the 2001 General Election: "the new power to remove driving licences from non-resident parents who fail to cooperate with the CSA is a headline gimmick that is likely to affect the earning capacity of the parent involved." (Does anyone still believe what politicians say?)

But at this stage it was Labour, not the Conservatives, who were proposing more significant reforms.

The reform programme in earnest

Labour started to redesign the child support system very soon after gaining office in 1997. The minister in charge was Baroness Hollis (but obviously other ministers had to speak about child support in the House of Commons).

On 23rd March 1998 (months before the CSA Reform Green Paper was issued), several questions about the reform of the CSA were posed in Parliament by Harriet Harman and others. They included, for example, the question about whether the reformed scheme should be "a simple system or a targeted system". Ministers had almost certainly already made up their minds by then.

On 20th April the Telegraph said "The proposed straightforward approach is the favoured option of ministers. The exact percentage that absent parents will pay is still to be decided. One proposal is that fathers who do not live with their children should pay 15 per cent of their net income for the first child, five per cent for the second and a further five for the third." [2]. This is so accurate that it was probably an informed statement. The CSA Reform Green Paper was still months away.

The best assumption is that the consultation process was largely a cosmetic exercise to air decisions which were pretty much already fixed, to attempt to gain public credibility for them, and to fine-tune the details. (Responses to the Geen Paper have never been published. The public doesn't know for sure whether or not the responses agreed with the Green Paper's proposals. This is largely irrelevant - the government had already made up its mind on the major factors by then).

Developing the legislation

This is illustrated in "Where to read about the reform programme".

In retrospect

Looking back, it is clear that early on the government decided on a strategy of administrative ease, and then treated comments (and later, debate in Parliament) accordingly. It compromised a little, but kept the variables to 4:
- NRP net income
- Number of qualifying children
- Number of relevant children ("2nd family children")
- Number of nights-per-year of NRP care

The objectives intended to be achieved by administrative ease are sensible and justifiable:
- Faster response, initially & later (vastly less evidence to collect)
- Lower arrears (less time to accumulate them)
- Greater accuracy (less to go wrong)
- Greater predictability for clients (published tables & perhaps on-line calculator)
- Fewer interactions with the CSA (eg. fewer circumstances to change, fewer queries)
- Greater compliance (more compliance resource, fewer ways of delaying things)

Some potential objectives were sacrificed:
- Tuning to circumstances (apart from net income, all variables are directly child-related)
- Proper shared-care formula (it is now bizarre)
- "Fairness" - but there is no consensus about fairness, so it could never be achieved anyway

It is probable that if it had been clearer just how strongly the government intended to stick to its strategy of administrative ease, a better (though still not perfect) formula would have resulted. Lobby groups might have submitted compromise proposals which they could demonstrate would not compromise administration. There probably wasn't actually a strategy to keep the formula simple, only to keep administration simple.

References

[1] Electronic Telegraph
Sunday 13 October 1996
Drive ban to make absent fathers pay
By Julie Kirkbride, Social Affairs Editor

[2] Electronic Telegraph
Monday 20 April 1998
Fathers to pay set levy for child support
By Joy Copley, Political Staff

Page last updated: 7 July, 2004 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003