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History Of The CSA


The Child Support Agency has a troubled history, and few parents are confident in its administration.  The system has been dogged with inaccurate child maintenance calculations, creating incorrect child support arrears coupled with a lack of enforcement against valid debt.

There are now three schemes of child maintenance;

  • Old rules/CS1 (1993 cases)
  • New rules/CS2 (2003 cases)
  • 2012 rules/CS3 (from 2012)

CS1/CS2 are both administered by the Child Support Agency, whilst 2012/CS3 scheme is managed by Child Maintenance Service.   All CSA cases are expected to be closed by 2017/2018

In the late 1980’s, the increasing cost of benefits paid out to lone parent families was brought to the attention of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  This was the beginning of a scheme that started out with the best of intentions, but very quickly fell into chaos, creating financial hardship for thousands of families.

Government had two stated aims—to reduce child poverty and to make non resident parents responsible for the financial upkeep of their children, thereby relieving the taxpayer of that burden.  

Ministers initially supported the proposed legislation and its approach to tackling the escalating cost of benefits, , but despite warnings, the focus of the child support scheme was a recovery of money for the Treasury and not the welfare of child/ren.  

Parents with care who were in receipt of benefit had no financial gain in co-operating with the scheme, and non resident parents were advised that previous divorce settlements were no longer valid.  Non resident parent's were often made to pay all over again.

The Child Support Act 1991 was passed, and 2 years later, the CHILD SUPPORT AGENCY was created and became the vehicle by which this Act was to be executed.  

The system was extremely complex and, as it turned out, conflicted with the aim of reducing child poverty.  The agency was manned by inexperienced staff using an IT system that was inadequate for the work required of it. 

Beset with errors, conflicting aims, and an IT system incapable of delivering the service demanded, the agency was deemed a failure.  Staff were subjected to an increased workload which led to a high absence rate and low morale.  Before long, the agency began to demonstrate a culture that would “maximise the maintenance yield”.  Staff routinely began to target non resident parents who were more likely to pay maintenance than those who would require time and resources to pursue.

The parent with care, who had previously struggled to secure maintenance and had turned to CSA to retrieve money, soon realised this was not going to happen.  The system quickly became the target of fierce opposition and parents took to the streets in protest.

Finally, Government began to realise the truth of the concerns previously raised by Ministers and reforms began

A New Beginning for Child Support

Public resistance and high levels of criticism lead to the new Labour Government introducing a simplified system in March 2003 (known as CS2).  This system was to use a new, simplified formula to calculate the liability for maintenance.  Alongside this more straightforward process, the Government invested millions of pounds in a new IT system.  

Alas, the vision of a simple, efficient system was never realised. The reality continued with some parents receiving little/no maintenance, whilst others were unfairly pursued and faced legal enforcement action against incorrect charges.  

It was Government's intention to migrate all Old Rules (CS1) cases to the new CS2 system – but the system never proved itself to be stable enough and the idea was eventually abandoned.  The UK now had to manage with  two very different systems of calculating child maintenance.

This provoked a full report from Sir David Henshaw that found the CSA to be 'unfit for purpose' and a further reform was triggered and the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act was given Royal Assent in 2008.  

It was not until 10th December 2012 that the new Gross Income/CS3 was introduced, bringing a third scheme of maintenance calculation onto the table.   This scheme had a greater focus on the benefits of parents arranging their own maintenance payments, and promotes the option of a Family Based Arrangement as opposed to an application to the Statutory Scheme. 

In June 2014, the case closure program began, resulting in all CS1 and CS2 cases being closed, with the intention that by 2017/18, all cases will now be managed under one single scheme of calculation, managed entirely by the Child Maintenance Service. 

For more information about the new CS3, visit our page Gross Income Scheme