History Of The CSA

CSA, CMEC and CMS

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 is now three schemes of child maintenance; old rules/CS1 and new rules/CS2 are both administered by the Child Support Agency, whilst 2012 Gross Income/CS3 scheme is managed by Child Maintenance Service.   All CSA cases are expected to be closed by 2017

In the late 1980’s, the increasing cost on the Treasury of benefits paid to lone parent families was brought to the attention of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by an MP.
This proved to be the beginnings of a scheme that started out with the best of intentions, but very quickly became little more than a mechanism for reimbursing the Treasury and in so doing 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. However, despite being advised against doing so, the focus of the child support scheme was on recovering monies for the Treasury rather than on the welfare of the child and the legislation was written to reflect this. Parents with care were to see no financial gain in co-operating with the scheme, and non resident parents objecting because the legislation was made in retrospect, which overturned previous divorce settlements. Such settlements were disregarded and the non resident parent was made to pay all over again.

The Child Support Act 1991 was passed to give the necessary powers for a system to collect child support. Within 2 years of the Child Support Act being passed, the CHILD SUPPORT AGENCY was born and became the vehicle by which this Act was to be executed. The system they introduced was extremely complex and, as it turned out, directly conflicted with the aim to reduce child poverty. The agency was manned by inexperienced staff using an IT system that was hopelessly inadequate for the workload placed upon it.

Dogged by error and conflicting aims, the agency was a failure, with inefficient administration and problems caused by the IT system being evident from the outset. What MPs and Ministers had feared had come to pass.   Ill trained staff was subjected to increasing pressure to meet unrealistic targets, and as the volume of work increased, it 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 those 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 the CSA as their saviour to retrieve money from the non resident parent, soon realised this was not going to happen. Non resident parents who had private arrangements in place were told these arrangements were no longer valid and payments were to commence as instructed by the formula laid down in law. 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.

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 based on percentages and this, together with a new £450 million computer (that actually cost considerably more in the end – and still does not cope with the work demanded) was meant to be the saving of the CSA. The vision was never realised. The reality was that parents with care with errant ex partners continued to struggle to secure regular maintenance, sometimes to a worse degree than efore. Despite the CSA’s new campaign to target non paying parents Non-resident parents who had no intention of paying up were, once again, able to slip easily through the net.

Government’s initial intention was for all Old Rules (CS1) cases to migrate over to the CS2 system – but the system never proved itself to be stable, and so child support had two very different systems of calculating child maintenance. From 10th December 2012 Government introduced CS3. For more information about the new CS3, visit our page Gross Income Scheme