UK Family Law Reform

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Single mother launches CSA test case.

Frances Gibb, Legal Editor

A single mother who blames the loss of her home on the incompetence of the Child Support Agency (CSA) brought a test compensation claim yesterday that could affect thousands of families.

Denise Rowley, 50, who has three children, one disabled by cerebral palsy, says the CSA’s “ineptitude, incompetence and negligence” in assessing, collecting and enforcing her ex-husband’s maintenance payments put her and her family through a living hell.

Now she is suing the Department of Work and Pensions for substantial compensation for what she and her children - twin girls now aged 19, and a son, aged 15 - have suffered.

It is the first time that the Court of Appeal has been asked to rule on whether the agency owes a duty of care to the parents and children on whose behalf it collects maintenance.

Mrs Rowley, from Leeds, began her case last year without the support of lawyers, using knowledge gleaned from a law and business studies course.

But her fight has now snowballed into a full blown case at the Court of Appeal, with top barristers on all sides and three of the nation’s most senior judges presiding.

The 4,000-strong association of family lawyers, Resolution, is intervening in the case because it is “of such significance.”

Kim Fellowes, who chairs the association’s child support committee, said: “The numbers failed by the CSA runs into thousands.

“These are ordinary families who have lost out on money owed to them. These families placed their trust and faith in the CSA and they should not be expected simply to put up with the fact that they have lost out financially because of the agency’s mistakes.”

Stephen Lawson, a CSA specialist at Forshaws solicitors, added: “This is a very important case. It is surprising that the CSA claim they can make as many mistakes on a case as they want and cause financial loss to parents...and then claim there is nothing anyone can do about it.”

Mrs Rowley split from her husband in 1997 - they were divorced in 2000 - and she and the children had to move in with her sister because they could no longer afford to live in the former matrimonial home without regular maintenance payments.

Left vacant in her absence, Mrs Rowley says the heavily mortgaged property deteriorated and later had to be sold for little more than half its real value.

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