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CSA will fail to meet its backlog target, Tories claim
The Child Support Agency will not meet its target for clearing a backlog of cases despite recruiting 1,000 extra staff, the Tories claimed yesterday. The body's quarterly statistics show that it has cut the number of outstanding cases by just under 10% since March 2006. It has promised to slash the figure by 25% by March 2007.
Its administration costs have risen to £465m, almost £40m more than last year, according to the agency's quarterly statistics.
Members of the public accounts committee warned that Stephen Geraghty, chief executive of the CSA, and Leigh Lewis, permanent secretary at the department of work and pensions, will face a grilling over the "shambolic" administration of the system when they give evidence this afternoon.
MPs were angered when it emerged last week that the government is likely to write off £1bn of the £3.5bn debt owed to parents by their former partners - affecting as many as 130,000 households. Another £0.9bn has been classified as "probably uncollectable".
The CSA has struggled since the Tories introduced it in 1993 and John Hutton, the work and pensions minister, will announce plans to drastically reform it in a white paper next month. He is expected to follow the recommendations of a review which called for the government to leave maintenance arrangements to parents, with a new slimline agency taking on only the toughest cases of non-payers. But the changes will not be implemented until 2008.
Philip Hammond, shadow work and pensions secretary, warned: "This is yet another deeply disappointing set of figures from the CSA. Despite transferring 1,000 staff to the CSA to work specifically on reducing the backlog, the agency is failing to meet its own target.
"Labour has let down thousands of vulnerable families and wasted millions of pounds of taxpayers' money through its chronic mismanagement of the CSA."
But a DWP spokesperson said officials were confident of meeting the target as the rate of improvement was expected to increase in the second half of the year due to greater staff experience and better training. She added: "Although we are in the process of bringing forward radical reform to the whole system of child support we are also committed to ensuring that the CSA gets more money to more children now.
"The figures out today show that we are indeed making good progress on this. Since we implemented the CSA's improvement plan in April more children than ever before are receiving maintenance - twice as many as in 1997 - and 4,500 cases had been referred to private debt collection agencies, while the introduction of card payments has resulted in 20 payments of over £3,000."
Yesterday's figures show the proportion of requested maintenance received stands at 61%, three points lower than the previous quarter and below the 2003 level.
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