Weblog archive for January 2006

4th January 2006

Is John Hutton really considering tagging non-compliant NRPs?

I want to get tough with those dads who are not paying for their kids. 

Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton

... once against we seem to have double standards with one rule for dads and another for mums. 

Matt O'Connor, founder of the Fathers 4 Justice campaign group

The CSA is fatally flawed and further attempts to patch it up are again likely to fail. 

Liberal Democrat work and pensions secretary David Laws

... the idea was an attempt to distract attention from the CSA's real failures. 

Conservative shadow minister Philip Hammond

In November 2005, this Blog briefly discussed the rumours about tagging non-compliant NRPs.

In the same month, this Blog identified that John Hutton is now the Cabinet Minister responsible for the CSA.

Now he is making macho statements. Yawn!

"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". (February 1996).

"The Government has promised a "major reform"". (February 1998).

"ABSENT fathers who fail to pay maintenance to their ex-wives face jail sentences under government reforms that could result in thousands of middle-class professionals having criminal records. For the first time it will become a criminal offence not to co-operate with the Child Support Agency (CSA) - the body set up to cut the welfare bill by clawing back cash from divorced and separated parents. Alistair Darling, the social security secretary, plans to announce the new powers in the Commons on Thursday". (June 1999).

"CHILD support payments should be regarded as a statutory tax on fatherhood, and not a voluntary contribution, the government minister in charge of reforming the Child Support Agency has said. Baroness Hollis of Heigham, Social Security Minister in the Lords, said she was determined that payments by absent parents should become as widely accepted as income tax". (January 2000).

"The CSA has been given wide-ranging powers to make sure there is no hiding place, at home or overseas, for fathers who abscond". (February 2001).

"REFORM of the Child Support Agency is finally to go ahead after the Government announced yesterday that it was confident that problems with a new computer system had been overcome". (January 2003).

Let's just wait and see!

News.scotsman.com, "Fathers warned: 'Pay up or face tagging'", JAMES KIRKUP

Telegraph, "Courts may tag fathers who don't pay", Toby Helm

Sun, "CSA: Tagging for dads", By MICHAEL LEA

Mirror.co.uk, "TAG BAD DADS - Shake-up will hammer absent fathers who don't pay for kids", Bob Roberts

7th January 2006

New Year Honours

Awards to people in, or who used to be in, the Child Support Agency:

Officers of the Order of the British Empire

John Kevin Laurence CANAVAN
Lately Resources Director, Resources Directorate, Child Support Agency, Northern Ireland Executive.

Members of the Order of the British Empire

Anne-Marie, Mrs BATT
Administrative Officer, Child Support Agency.

Susan, Mrs GULLICK
Executive Officer, Child Support Agency.

Tracey, Mrs WHITEWOOD-NEAL
Higher Executive Officer, Child Support Agency.

Josephine Mary, Mrs PACKER
Senior New Client Team Manager, Child Support Agency.

Jane, Mrs PARSONS
Executive Officer, Child Support Agency.

Scott PEACOCK
Administrative Officer, Child Support Agency.

Full list (PDF)

15th January 2006

More speculation about what the report will say

... the Prime Minister would be told not to duck the opportunity for a fundamental root and branch reform - as he did in 1998. 

"A Government source"

The new Child Support computer system [CS2] is now more stable technically and performance has improved to the point where service levels are generally being met. A number of defects do remain but EDS has agreed to resolve these as a part of an agreed forward programme of enhancement. 

Stephen Geraghty, head of the CSA

When Stephen Geraghty became Chief Executive of the CSA he started a review of the CSA with an investigation into options and recommendations. The report, due to be published soon, has now been seen by ministers. (Child Support Analysis will analyse the report here when it appears).

The Sunday Mail gives the impression that it knows what the report says:

"TONY BLAIR will be told to scrap the Child Support Agency this week - by the man who runs it. Chief Executive Stephen Geraghty's damning report calls for the agency's work to be shared between other Government departments.... Government ministers have been shown the report and privately say they are embarrassed by its findings."

Silicon.com reports that the new computer system is improving. (It has only one way to go! It could hardly get worse).

"EDS is still working to resolve technical defects on the controversial and problematic £450m Child Support Agency (CSA) computer system but the government claims performance has improved and that service levels are now "generally being met"....

17th January 2006

Another US mother sues for child support from a priest!

It was reported here in August 2005 that a mother managed to get child support from a Catholic order in the US. Now another such case has hit the headlines there:

"When a sad twist of fate reunited Sandra Ring with her former high school sweetheart in 2003, it seemed to prove to the heartbroken Canadian that God works in mysterious ways. Ring's one-time sweetheart Jason Martin was a Roman Catholic priest.

"Within seven months, Martin vowed to leave the priesthood, proposed marriage and fathered a son, according to allegations in a lawsuit that Ring filed in a Canadian court. But in July 2004, Martin's religious order, the Discalced Carmelite Friars, transferred him to Chicago, where he now recruits candidates in the Midwest. Ring sued Martin, 33, and the Carmelites for child support. "In essence he played house and decided he liked priest life better," said Ring, 32, of Ingersoll, Ontario. "And the church is protecting him without any regard for [his son]."

"According to the lawsuit, he proposed marriage, implored her to stop using birth control and insisted that the son from her previous marriage call him "Daddy." A wedding date was set for Aug. 28, 2004, the lawsuit said. But on July 7, 2004, Ring said Martin had a change of heart and ended the engagement.... Ring said she learned she was pregnant two weeks later."

23rd January 2006

How radical will the review & reform be?

The whole structure for calculating liability, for example, which is incredibly complicated in the primary legislation - I think we need to look very carefully at all of that. 

John Hutton, work and pensions secretary

It is simpler than that suggests. Probably simpler than the methods used with more success in other countries.

Child Support Analysis

... critics were wrong to blame the staff or work of the organisation, because it is doing what the government and parliament has asked it to. 

John Hutton, work and pensions secretary

Not true. But this doesn't mean the front line staff should be blamed for everything. One problem is that there are many relatively low-paid junior staff trying to do a more complex and stressful job than other areas of the civil service. They have to deal with two, often antagonistic, people. Until ministers accept that, they may make the same errors again.

Child Support Analysis

There are hints that changes will be proposed to the basic principles of child support in the UK, not simply to the way it is operated. That is good. It always has been partly a problem with the primary legislation, (the "Acts of Parliament"), not just with the administration of the CSA. In fact, Child Support Analysis was created in 2001 mainly as a result of the flawed primary legislation, (the 2000 Act), rather than the administration problems.

A problem that ministers will have to face is that they themselves can't stop meddling, and they use the child support system to support other agendas. For example, they use it to try to reduce benefits expenditure as well as getting extra money to children's households. Then they add layers of complication to the legislation, even while key systems are being designed and built. ("Moving the goalposts").

Another problem, of course, is that changing primary legislation takes a long time, especially if sufficient attention is paid to consultation. (Although, perhaps they could re-use the consultation that preceded the 2000 Act). The "new scheme" had a Green Paper, or consultation phase, in 1998, a White Paper in 1999 followed by a Select Committee report, then the 2000 Act itself, then perhaps 40 or more pieces of secondary legislation, such as Statutory Instruments. They surely cannot wait until (say) the next general election year (2009?) before getting the new-new scheme working!

In the meantime, there are already two schemes operating! We all know the massive faults with the "old scheme". We are aware if the serious problems with the "new scheme", (although it genuinely is a simpler scheme, in spite of what some people are saying). Will we have to the run the "new scheme" and the "new-new scheme" in parallel for years? Or will they try to cancel the "new scheme" and revert to the "old scheme"? (The answer to that latter question is surely "impossible!")

One thing the government needs to do to make things easier is to stop using the child support system to reduce benefits expenditure, and so stop having any cases where neither parent wants a CSA case. That will increase the options for alternatives, and reduce the caseload.

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