Weblog archive for February 2003

2nd February

EDS, the supplier of the CSA's new computer system, faces accusations

EDS, the Texan technology firm that runs the Inland Revenue and Child Support Agency computers, has been accused by a former senior director of manipulating its figures, putting pressure on executives to resign and spending millions on lavish entertainment for clients and staff.

The row has blown up at a tricky time for EDS. Last week Andrew Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said he had negotiated a settlement with EDS in the long-running dispute about the Child Support Agency computer system. EDS will have to pay the DWP up to £30m for delays to the system.

Independent, Jason Nissé, "EDS bust-up exposes its dirty linen"

7th February

The new scheme won't save any taxpayer money in the majority of cases

A Parliamentary Question shows that CSA assessments where the PWC is on benefits are on average lower than where the PWC isn't. The average amount where the PWC is on Income Support is £5.79, while the average for a PWC on WFTC it is £13.40.

This will be very significant if it also applies to calculations under the new scheme, because it suggests that only a minority of PWCs will gain the full advantage of the £10 "child maintenance premium". It also means that most benefits cases, where the PWC is forced to apply for a CSA case, won't save any Treasury money, and in fact will be run at Treasury expense. This reinforces the proposal already published in a paper on this web site that it is time to eliminate Treasury involvement in the CSA, and to have only private cases, not benefits cases.

Parliamentary question by Mr. Cameron; answer by Malcolm Wicks

On-line paper proposing the elimination of the Treasury involvement with the CSA
Word version of that paper

10th February

The government falsely claim to have closed the "premature conversion" loophole

In a Parliamentary debate, Steve Webb (Lib Dems spokesperson on social security) asked if the government were aware of the loophole that allows a PWC to force a case to convert prematurely to the new scheme, and what they are doing about it.

Andrew Smith, the Cabinet Minister for social security (including the CSA) replied that the 13-week delay between closing the case and restarting it was "precisely calculated to attempt to close that loophole".

Parliamentary question by Steve Webb; answer by Andrew Smith

13th February

The CSA web site introduces an on-line version of the DMG (Decision Maker's Guide)

This on-line version is for the existing scheme, not the new scheme. The original PDF version is still available.

On-line Decision Maker's Guide
PDF version of the Decision Maker's Guide

16th February

A paper analysing the "premature conversion" loophole has been published on this web site

This web site has published a paper showing that the 13-week "relevant period" is not an adequate deterrent to close the "premature conversion" loophole discussed in Parliament on 10th February. (Question by Steve Webb; answer by Andrew Smith)

On-line paper analysing the "premature conversion" loophole
Word version of that paper

19th February

20% of existing CSA cases may be converted earlier because they are linked to new cases

Although the original intention was that existing cases should not get converted until it was safe to do so, about 20% of them (about 2% each month) will be converted early because they are linked with new cases that will start under the new scheme. People who thought they were on the existing scheme for perhaps another year or so may learn at any time after 3rd March 2003 that they are being converted early, without further notice, because of the linkage rules.

Baroness Hollis' statement in Parliament

19th February

The commencement order for the start of the new scheme on 3rd March has been published

The Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000 (Commencement No. 12) Order 2003

I have updated the page showing the commencement dates for the 2000 Act, and the page identifying the Statutory Instruments. The latter page now has a summary for each of the SIs.

2000 Act - sections, links to the text & dates
2000 Act - links to full text of Statutory Instruments

20th February

CSA Quarterly Statistics to November 2002 published

CSA Quarterly Statistics up to November 2002

They show mostly very small changes: a small increase in case load; a small increase in compliance; a small continuing trend from benefits-cases to in-work-cases. There was no significant change in assessments or rate of NRP employment.

21st February

The "Premature Conversion" paper has been distributed to key people

Copies of the paper analysing "premature conversion" (announced here on 16th February) have now been sent to Baroness Hollis (Minister for Child Support), Doug Smith (CEO of the CSA), and Steve Webb (Lib Dems spokesperson).

On-line paper analysing the "premature conversion" loophole
Word version of that paper

25th February

This web site has changed to a continual-update instead of monthly-update system

The main visible difference is the creation of this weblog itself, and the changes to the "monthly history" (see button on left). The intention is to record all the significant news about "child support in the UK and topics related to child support", as soon as possible after it happens.

26th February

Latest Ombudsman Issues show the CSA is one of the worst offenders

Tony Wright, chairman of the Commons Public Administration Committee, complained about problems revealed by the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Dr Wright said cases investigated by the Ombudsman showed "appalling record keeping, horrific administrative failures and breakdowns in IT systems". The Legal Services Commission, the Child Support Agency and the Immigration and Nationality Directorate were the areas worst hit by such problems, he said.

When asked who were the worst offenders in delayed responses to the Ombudsman's requests for information, the deputy Ombudsman said "I think the Child Support Agency (CSA) would be probably at the top of the list in that respect". The Ombudsman said that "I am afraid with CSA cases it is not difficult finding that there has been maladministration. There usually has been".

The Chief Executive of the CSA, Mr Doug Smith, provided some rather alarming evidence. Forty per cent of CSA staff are under thirty, a third have been with the agency under two years and half of its staff earn less than £12,500 per annum. Mr Smith said that "A number of them lack some basic life skills which permit them to deal with the sort of cases we are doing optimally without significant investment of training which is difficult to live with". He added "the staff profile is not ideal for dealing with the profile of the cases we are handling ... therefore we have a heavier reliance on our systems being right". Mr Smith admitted that the CSA was over-reliant on its systems, yet the Ombudsman remains concerned that the new IT system might not be fit for its administrative purpose.

Public Administration Select Committee, Third Report of Session 2001-02, "Ombudsman Issues"

BBC, "Watchdog criticism on Hinduja inquiry"

26th February

The sperm mix-up case - could the mother claim child support from the "accidental" sperm donor?

Reminder: a white couple, Mr & Mrs A, underwent IVF treatment, with the intention that Mr A's sperm would be used. But a cock-up (sic) at Leeds General Infirmary used Mr B's sperm instead, and because Mr B was black a mix-race child was born. Dame Elizabeth Butler Sloss has now ruled that Mr B (the unintended sperm donor) is the legal father, although Mr & Mrs A will have custody. (Mr A would have to adopt the child to become the legal father). Sloss refused Mr and Mrs A permission to appeal her ruling. However, they can approach the Court of Appeal direct. (This is different from a normal sperm donation. Normally the husband of the mother would be the legal father because he gives his consent to the use of someone else's sperm. Mr A didn't do that).

This appears to be a declaration of parentage for purposes of child support. Although there is no hint that Mrs A intends to claim child support from Mr B, what would happen if she did? Not only has the court ruled that Mr B is the legal father, a DNA test would confirm it!

BBC, "Court rules on father of IVF mix-up twins"

26th February

How a parent can close the "premature conversion" loophole

This refers to the loophole discussed in various items below. This is what I have been informed:

"If the parent with care cancels the case and the non-resident parent makes a counter claim using "CSA Form 1 (NRP)" within 13 weeks, as the status of all concerned has not changed the old case will be re-opened and will remain on the old system. There is also another way to close the loophole. That is by the right of appeal the non-resident would have when they receive notification of the closed case. The appeal would need to be brought under section 1 of the 1991 Child Support Act ("the duty to maintain"). In addition the appellant would need to prove that the parent with care's action was to use the loophole to enter the new scheme. This would be very easily done if there is no maintenance payments in place and they could not explain why (i.e. no private agreement)."

The CSA may claim they can't send out the form quoted above. But they should, and sometimes have done so.

For further advice on this matter, try: Durham Legal Services

(Another source of information on this topic is: NACSA)

26th February

News article about the "premature conversion" loophole

The Telegraph has an article, prompted by Steve Webb (Lib Dems spokesperson), warning about the "premature conversion" loophole described here (on 10th, 16th and 21st of February). Extracts:

"Fathers who pay regular child support could be hit with an unexpected demand for a 100 per cent increase in their payments, as a result of a legal loophole in new rules that come into force next week. The new scheme, which comes into force on Monday, will only apply at the outset to new cases. But experts believe some mothers might seek to exploit it by cancelling their existing arrangement with the CSA and applying for a bigger payment as a new case. Ministers were last night accused of "complacency" by Steven Webb, the Liberal Democrat pensions spokesman, who warned that thousands of fathers could face "rocketing" demands this spring."

Telegraph, Benedict Brogan, "Fathers to face 'huge rise in CSA payments'"

On-line paper analysing the "premature conversion" loophole
Word version of that paper

27th February

Mr & Mrs A have stated they intend to adopt the child resulting from sperm mix-up

"Andrea Dyer, solicitor for Mr and Mrs A, confirmed that the couple would be seeking to adopt." (Various newspapers report the same). I believe that the normal sequence would be for Mrs A to put the child up for adoption, then for Mr & Mrs A to adopt it as a couple.

Adoption would, of course, eliminate the theoretical possibility identified below that the mother could claim child support from Mr B. A further hypothetical question is - suppose Mr B didn't want the Mr & Mrs A to adopt the child, could he stop it? (There is no hint that any of the parents have any intention of doing these things).

Times, Frances Gibb, "Black man is legal father of twins in IVF error"

27th February

CSA staffing levels have increased significantly

Civil Service staffing levels to October 2002 have been published. They show a large increase in the CSA's staffing levels compared with previous increases. Obviously this was required by the introduction in the new scheme, and the need for more staff at this time was predicted years ago. This is one of the largest annual increases since the CSA first started in 1993, and adds to previous significant increases since the policy for the new scheme was announced.

The concern is that this large number of new staff is additional to the high turnover already typical in the CSA. (See the Ombudsman Issues report identified below). Combined with new processes, and the new computer system, this will put a massive strain on the CSA. Many parents will be asking the CSA about the prognosis for their own situation, while others will be trying tricks such as those identified below and elsewhere to convert their cases prematurely. The CSA will be running 2 schemes simultaneously. Will the the CSA staff keep their heads, or will they resort to defensive tactics such as losing cases and transferring problems elsewhere? Much will depend on how well targets have been set to cause the right behaviour rather than avoidance behaviour.

These are the "Permanent, Full-time equivalent" staff over the last few years:
October 2002: 11,000
April 2001: 9,420
April 2000: 8,520
April 1999: 7,708
April 1998: 7,909
April 1997: 7,862
April 1996: 6,528

Civil Service Statistics - what's new

28th February

The size of the CSA's task over the next year

Here are some simple numbers in order to understand what the CSA has to achieve over the next year. The numbers here are typically within 20% of the real numbers. They are not exact.

The CSA has been running for 10 years. It has 1 million active cases on its books - 1 million mothers, 1 million fathers, and 1.5 million children. Each year, over 300 thousand new cases are started, and nearly as many cases are closed.

300 thousand new cases will start on the new scheme over the next year. About 20% of them may be linked to existing cases, so this will cause 60 thousand of the existing cases to be converted to the new rules during the year. So at the end of the year there will be about one-third of a million cases under new rules, and about two-thirds of a million cases under old rules.

If the conversion date for remaining existing cases is one year from now, the remaining two-thirds of a million existing cases have to be prepared for the new rules by then. During 1 month starting at the conversion date, they will all convert to the new amounts, sometimes phased-in. In 6 years from now, phasing-in will be complete.

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