Weblog archive for December 2004

1st December 2004

CSA web site top of Central Government League Table again

Top of the league and the best site overall was the Child Support Agency (www.csa.gov.uk). At the bottom of the table representing the poorest site overall was the Department of Trade and Industry (www.dti.gov.uk). 

claireblasi

Once again, the CSA web site has been evaluated as the best government agency web site. This was the case last quarter too. Congratulations to those concerned. (For interest, the CSA web site is not developed by CSA staff, nor by EDS staff. It is developed by staff of the Department for Work and Pensions, DWP).

"1.2 Website Compliance
n HTML – The site with the lowest number of warnings [HTML standards compliance with the requirements laid down by W3C and IETF] was the Child Support Agency with 3."

2nd December 2004

Evidence of an anti-access culture (Blunkett)

This is just going to cause David more heartache. I would advise anybody involved in a personal dispute never to go to to court. It just makes things worse. 

A cabinet minister

It will be impossible for him to continue in his job while a bitter court battle is being fought. Any human being would be distracted by that. 

Another minister

I think it is in the best interests of the child and her that the matter is put aside. I would like to seek an adjournment until such a time as our baby is born and my wife has recovered from that. 

Kimberly Quinn's husband Stephen

Whatever you think of Blunkett (and I don't think much of him!), he is at least trying to ensure that he continues to be able to play a role in the lives of his biological children. He is not trying to have residence, or even joint residence, but simply access.

And it is as though there is a conspiracy against this. Various parties want him to delay or abandon attempts to have formal rights to access. It is starting to look like a catalogue of excuses not to allow access.

"The Home Secretary has told friends he simply wants access to the child and that he is "deeply angered" by Mrs Quinn's claims that he wants to win custody of William. He fears that unless he establishes a right to access now, he may never win it in future. He is said to be determined to fight for such access in spite the growing threat to his political career."

"Friends of Mr Blunkett are convinced that Mrs Quinn's supporters were trying to frighten him off by fuelling the row over the visa. One said yesterday: "It is wholly untrue that he wants to fight for control of William in any way. He is very well aware that would not be in the boy's interest. David is a man who works 18 hours a day. There is no way that he would expect even part-custody of William. But he has had a close and loving relationship with the child from the beginning up until this summer and does not think it is in the boy's interests that he should be completely barred from his life from now on. All he wants is a basic right to see the child he and Mrs Quinn had together.""

"He believes that he has to act swiftly because the commitment he shows to his son would be a factor in any legal decision over his right to see the child, the friend said. He believes that a delay would be damaging. But Mr Blunkett clearly feels that the allegations last weekend surrounding his relationship with Mrs Quinn were an attempt to scare him off his efforts to secure access. His friends say that before Mr Blunkett and Mrs Quinn broke up last summer he had a loving relationship with his son. He saw him regularly and thinks that it is in William's interests that he has access to him. "Surely he has a right to see his son. Until the break-up David and Kimberly were living their lives as if they were a married couple and he was part of David's life and David of his. What all this has been about is that David is trying to maintain the access that he had."

If Kimberly Quinn's health is suffering because of the access battle, why doesn't she simply formally agree to access? It appears to be a problem of her own making.

3rd December 2004

Blunkett & son win first round

... any delay in conciliation proceedings aimed at resolving the dispute would be damaging to the relationship between Mr Blunkett and the boy. 

Mr Justice Ryder

I have never wanted anything about my private life and [A's] paternity to be in the public domain and would never have gone to the courts if there were another way of getting informal access to him. 

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary

Everyone knows this already, but it is recorded here for completeness.

"Mr Ryder upheld a district court judge's earlier findings that it was in the child's best interests to have his parentage determined at the earliest opportunity by a court ordering scientific tests."

6th December 2004

Republic of Ireland has problems, too

Fathers are willing to give, but not if they are coerced. If it is only about money, it will be an abysmal failure. The mechanism of coercion is inevitably going to fail, as it did in Britain, and will lead to an eternal war of attrition between parents. We don't need a child support agency. We need a shared parenting agency that rises to the challenge of supporting men who are actively engaged with their children. 

Liam O Gogain, the founder of Parental Equality

The Republic of Ireland has trouble collecting, too. But calling on the CSA to examine its methods may not provide the best guidelines!

"SEAMUS BRENNAN is calling time on single fathers who don’t support their children. The social welfare minister has ordered a review of lone-parent payments and the recovery of child maintenance. Brennan is expected to beef up the maintenance recovery unit of his department and will travel to Britain this week to meet executives of the Child Support Agency to examine how it targets "deadbeat dads". Despite a legal obligation on all fathers to contribute to the costs of child-rearing, when they have the means to do so, compliance rates are as low as 15% in Ireland."

The Republic of Ireland appears to have a better "pass through" of the child support payments before the state claws back its benefits. (This site believes that the UK should have a 100% "pass through").

"The minister is planning a "carrot and stick" approach, allowing fathers to contribute more cash to single mothers without their welfare payments being affected....

"Teenage and twentysomething mums do not immediately lose any of their lone-parents' payments when the child's father makes a contribution. Mothers can get €96 [= £67] a week from their child's father without losing any of their welfare entitlement. Only half of any payment after that is taken off the lone parents' allowance. The basic allowance now stands at €168 [= £117] a week."

9th December 2004

Job Cuts 'Not Safe' until It Problems Tackled

Absolutely everything I learned in this inquiry led me to the conclusion that it really is not safe, absolutely not safe, to implement job losses on this scale if the justification for doing so rests on increased functionality and efficiency provided by new ICT systems. Staff reductions may well be justified - you have always got to be looking for efficiencies - but not on this scale and not over this period of time. The Treasury has spent large sums of public money in capital investment and modernisation and that is very welcome. But if they are looking for payback times that are unrealistic and actually damage the front line services that affect clients then I think it is up to ministers in the department to make sure those clients are protected from a process which appears to be going too far, too fast. 

Sir Archy Kirkwood, chair of the work and pensions select committee, which earlier this year accused the Government of an "appalling waste" of public money on new technology projects

The objective is to move to a smaller and more professional approach, reducing staff numbers overall by more than half but increasing skilled resources in key areas such as sourcing, risk and portfolio management. 

Work and Pensions Secretary Alan Johnson

"Plans to slash thousands of civil service jobs should be halted until problems with new IT systems have been resolved, the Government was told today."

"Sir Archy called on the Government to be more open about progress on the development of major computer systems. He accused it of being more concerned than its private-sector partners of "hiding behind the cloak of commercial confidentiality". MPs should be given "the whole truth in its unvarnished form" to ensure there could be proper scrutiny of how taxpayers' money was being spent. He criticised the "inadequate" and "casual" Government response to his committee's report and warned it was set on a "collision course". "Soon it will get personal and I would rather do it the easy way," he said.

18th December 2004

The "qualifying child" who never was

This news has been breaking for some days in the USA, invoking a fascinating horror. How could they be so stupid?

Simple. Treat the non-resident parent as a bank-account, rather than a person. Don't believe anything he says. Believe the parent with care totally. Focus on financial targets rather than justice.

That could never happen in the UK, could it? (Oh ye of little faith).

Some officials see child support agencies as revenue-generating agencies. States make money off the collection of child support while the taxpayers lose money at the federal level overall. Too often, this money-mindedness does not give incentives for agencies to do the right thing for children and families. 

Richard Farr, of the family-oriented KrightsRadio

LAST WEEK, Viola Trevino carried her 5-year-old "daughter" into an Albuquerque court to satisfy a judge's demand to produce the child. Complications arose. One: Trevino had kidnapped the child moments before to pass off as her daughter. Two: the "real" daughter never existed. Three: the "father" and ex-husband, Steve Barreras, had paid $20,000 in child support. Four: the system finally noticed Trevino was lying.

New Mexico's governor Bill Richardson has asked the state's Human Services Department for a full report. Specifically, he wants to know how several government agencies became not only unwitting partners in the fraud but also resisted efforts to correct it. Richardson deserves a tip of the hat for taking responsibility. The official response to child support or welfare debacles is usually silence. Sometimes a finger of accusation is pointed at specific individuals as though the abuse resulted from a few "bad apples" in an otherwise clean barrel. Richardson is acknowledging there is a problem with the system itself.

The system is broken. In recent years, heartbreaking stories from every state have flooded the media. Often they focus on the plight of children who are abused or neglected by those assigned to protect them. But just as often they highlight the abuse of parents especially non-custodial fathers - who are processed as paperwork, not people....

When a fraud is so blatant, there is a tendency to blame the victim for somehow facilitating his or her own victimhood. But Barreras, who works as a correction officer in law enforcement, attempted repeatedly to expose the fraud and to protect himself. His petition for a restraining order was denied. Evidence that his vasectomy, conducted a year prior to the child's "birth," had left him with a zero sperm count, was ignored. Phoning and writing to New Mexico's child support agency to have them verify his daughter's non-existence resulted in a letter. The child enforcement worker stated, "your daughter does exist, as I am sure you already knew." Barreras went so far as to hire a private investigator to expose the scam. Indeed, without his persistent refusal to be victimized, the fraud would have probably never come to light. It would have remained just one more injustice tucked away and protected by the system's closed file.

Richard Farr of the family-oriented KrightsRadio has spearheaded an investigation of the matter. Farr calls the case "an egregious example of an overzealous child support agency who apparently ignored the alleged fathers' repeated cries. Unfortunately, too many child support agencies are virtually accountable to no one."

Reports from an investigative journalist at KOBTV in Albuquerque finally brought enough pressure to bear that Trevino was ordered to produce the child in court. On the day of her hearing, Trevino convinced a grandmother and her two-year-old grand-daughter that they should all go to see Santa Claus. Instead, Trevino took them to the courthouse, snatched the girl, and tried to pass her off as the missing daughter. The panicked grandmother could not keep up with Trevino and got left behind in the parking lot. She stated, "I thought I was never going to see my baby girl again. It's the scariest thing."

Consider one scenario. A custodial mother swears under oath to have given birth and perhaps provides false documents. In many states, if she also swears that the absent father is violent, her statement can result in a restraining order that de facto terminates the father's visitation rights. If a subsequent order to pay child support is delivered to an invalid address, which is often provided by the mother, then the father may not respond within the window of time provided for a protest. Now he must pay, go to jail, or endure a process similar to that of Barreras.

19th December 2004

More sympathy for Blunkett than Quinn

Including more women, apparently!

If he's the biological father it is obvious that he must have access. She is coming to terms with that. 

Friend of Kimberly Quinn

People are generally sympathetic to the former home secretary but are hostile - particularly women - towards Kimberly Quinn, his ex-lover. The poll shows ... [people] also think he was right - 75% to 12% - to take legal action to seek access to the son of Quinn he believes he fathered. Only 14% sympathise with Quinn, who is heavily pregnant with a second child, while 77% have little or no sympathy. Among women, just 12% sympathise.

Kimberly Quinn ... accepts that David Blunkett will have access to her son, her friends say. The 44-year-old is said to be "coming to terms" with the fact that he is entitled to see the boy if he is proved to be his father....

Mr Blunkett remains angry that Mrs Quinn has sought to give the impression that his decision to go to court has put the unborn child at risk.... "The baby has never been at risk at all - because I have had all the medical reports ... she's done a pretty good job of presenting herself," he said yesterday.

20th December 2004

CSA statistics for August 2004 released (incomplete)

As previously acknowledged, IT difficulties with the new computer system have impacted on the quality of management information on the new scheme. The Agency is currently revisiting its statistical data. We expect to include new scheme figures in our next publication. 

Department for Work and Pensions

These statistics continue the trend reported in this Blog in September.

The new scheme is still a shambles. But, since the new computer system can't provide reliable numbers for various aspects, it isn't clear just how much of a shambles it is. (It is covering up its own failings!)

The total number of cases on the old computer system continues to fall. Some have been transferred to the new computer system, but there are no recent details available.

While there are plenty of statistics from the old computer system, such as ages, amounts, etc, there are no such numbers available from the new computer system. Even where in previous months a few figures were provided, that appears to have ceased. The statistics for the new scheme simply quote the statement in the box above right, unlike earlier months when at least a few figures were provided!

We are now promised more figures with the next publication of statistics. That will be about 2 years from the much-delayed start of the new scheme, which was promised to provide much better information such as statistics! Promises, promises ....

New Scheme applications, in 1000s
  By end May 03 By end Aug 03 By end Nov 03 By end Feb 04 By end May 04 By end Aug 04
Total applications 48.6 126.2 217.1 290.5 378.0 Unknown
Total calculations 2.5 20.8 52.3 79.8 107.4 Unknown
Total closed/withdrawn 2.6 14.3 34.8 53.6 73.6 Unknown
Work in progress 43.5 91.1 130 157.1 197.0 Unknown
No. of NRPs who have made at least 1 payment of regular maintenance 0.1 3.3 13.1 25.6 41.0 Unknown

 

Numbers of Old Scheme live cases, 1000s
  Aug 00 Aug 01 Aug 02 Aug 03 Aug 04
Live cases on old computer system 1046.9 1036 1067.4 888.3 711.8
Cases transferred to new computer system       ? ?
Total 1046.9 1036 1067.4 ? ?

21st December 2004

"Batman" in his own words

I live 75ft away from my children, but I can't get to see them. I can write them a postcard every month, but that's all. It's called "indirect contact". I haven't seen them properly for three years. 

Jason Hatch, "Batman" and national co-ordinator of Fathers 4 Justice

These are his own words, so I won't attempt to paraphrase or summarise them here, except for the initial quote on the right.

23rd December 2004

"Appeal Court condemns demeaning discrimination against fathers"

... a failure to provide a rational framework for how the social security system deals with shared care has the effect of forcing the substantial minority carer and the children to live on an income that is substantially below the poverty line. 

Richard Drabble, QC

TO BE FORCED TO TREAT ONLY ONE (PARENT) AS RESPONSIBLE WHERE THERE IS A SHARED RESIDENCE ORDER IN OPERATION IS GROTESQUE.... A LAW SO FRAMED IS SO FAR REMOVED FROM REALITY THAT IT BRINGS THE LAW INTO DISREPUTE. 

Lord Justice Ward

The Court of Appeal has ruled that the official UK Government policy of only paying certain benefits, after divorce, to the parent receiving Child Benefit is in breach of European Anti-Discrimination laws. (That parent is normally the mother, because that is the default for Child Benefit, and it cannot be split between the two parents). One down, lots more to go. That still leaves similar discrimination in the Child Support law - will that go next?

The problem starts with the fact that Child Benefit cannot be shared between the parents, and by default it goes to the mother. (An explicit bit of sex-bias in UK law). That is what Kevin Barber challenged, and lost. Child Benefit then acts as a gateway to other benefits, and so the impact is far more than half the value of the Child Benefit. What will now happen to Kevin Barber?

The Child Support implication of this bias is horrifying - if the parents share care equally, the one who receives Child Benefit is judged the Parent With Care, and the other parent the Non-Resident Parent. (So these phrases do not mean what they appear to mean). This would have been avoided if the government had acted on my proposal, made during the consultation stage for the new scheme, for a fairer shared-care formula. (Families Need Fathers and I also made this case in our evidence given to the Social Security Select Committee).

Although this judgement does not directly affect Child Support, it is a good Christmas present! It provides the basis for getting a fairer Child Support formula, which I have been pursuing for about 5 years! (Since well before the 2000 Act).

Fathercare.org, "Appeal Court condemns demeaning discrimination against fathers"

30th December 2004

"Mother Christmas protests at court"

It's absolutely ridiculous. The CSA doesn't know why I received this cheque and I want people to know how it's insulted me like this and how it's wasting taxpayers' money in seeking another liability order. 

Janice Crowley

Perhaps it is about time for more visible protests against the CSA. And here is one:

A MUM chained herself to railings outside the Courts of Justice to protest against the Child Support Agency (CSA). Janice Crowley, 41, of Lullingstone Avenue, Swanley, dressed up as Mother Christmas to highlight how the CSA has not sorted out payments from her ex-husband since it was established 11 years ago....

With her sons now 17 and 15-years-old, she is angry the CSA is seeking another liability order after her ex-husband's alleged failure to pay the £11,000 a judge ordered should be paid eight years ago. She was receiving £20 a week from him until the CSA intervened in 1993. All she has received since is £100 compensation for the delay and a cheque for £1.10 last October.

31st December 2004

Gongs for gaffes?

This Honours List is part of a picture: if you fail or mess things up in Tony Blair's Government, you get rewarded. Crime is out of control, immigration is a shambles, our railways are in a mess and the Child Support Agency is in chaos. And what happens? Top civil servants at the Home Office, the Strategic Rail Authority and the Child Support Agency all get gongs for their gaffes. 

Conservative Party Co-Chairman Liam Fox

First, let's acknowledge an award to someone who has not been implicated in the CSA's recent failings. An MBE for Pamela Pearce, for her work as an higher executive officer for the Child Support Agency, based in Hull.

But former Child Support Agency chief executive, Doug Smith, has been made a Commander of the Order of the Bath, despite serious criticism of the agency earlier this year. Is this right?

We need very competent, even outstanding, people to turn the CSA around. This won't happen if such people are inhibited from taking on the job because their whole career will be judged on this job, not all the others too. Was Doug Smith such an outstanding person?

But we can't afford to have people taking on the job without sufficient motivation to succeed. Did Doug Smith actually lose out in any way from the fact that he left the CSA in a bad state? If not, why should we expect any future incumbents to decline the job unless they are certain they can succeed? And if they take the job, why should they do everything in their powers to succeed? That is just a recipe for ensuring that the next decade is no better than the last decade.

There has to be both risk and reward for the job of CEO of the CSA. There need to be clear objectives to be met, with penalties of some kind if they are not met, and rewards if they are. We can't afford to have someone taking the job just because they want such a position - they must be confident that they will succeed, and have a plan to do so. If no such person can be found at the salary, then the objectives must not be reduced. Instead, perhaps the salary and/or rewards must be raised, but conditional on meeting the objectives.

Accompanying such objectives must be sufficient authority to make things happen. It has been reported that the government and the CSA made so many change-requests to EDS that it was inevitable that the computer system project would slip. Gosh - tell me something I don't know! On 13th August 2002, an interview with me was broadcast on the "Today" programme on Radio 4, and I predicted then that the government had delayed things by lots of changes. (That is one of things governments do!) Perhaps the CSA can only be turned round by someone who tells the government "this is what we are going to do, change the law to correspond".

Hm! Governments don't like that, do they? Especially not this one, which must surely take a prize for control-freakery.

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