Child Support Agency Facing Axe

The Child Support Agency (CSA) could be axed, while absent fathers face being electronically tagged, under plans to be announced by the government. Parents will be encouraged to make their own arrangements over child maintenance, with a new agency focusing on parents who refuse to co-operate. New powers would prevent absent fathers from going out after work and allow passports to be confiscated.

The plans will be unveiled in response to a review of child support. The review findings, compiled by Sir David Henshaw, are to be published on Monday afternoon.

The planned reforms, to be announced in the Commons by Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton, are intended to allow parents to keep more of their maintenance allowance before it affects their benefits.

It is believed ministers want to encourage parents to make their own arrangements – so charges could be levied for using the new agency.

The agency may also have the power to use debt collectors, while a residual agency will be created to deal with the massive backlog which has grown under the CSA.

Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman David Laws urged the government not to write off the £3.5bn of child maintenance arrears and 330,000 strong backlog of cases.

He said: “The government must not abandon the hundreds of thousands of families failed by 13 years of CSA incompetence.

“The reforms which are being announced must be judged by one test only – will they get more money through to the children living in broken families?”

He said there might be a temptation for ministers to “wash their hands of many of the most difficult cases”.

Chris Pond, from the National Council for One Parent Families, was hopeful that the changes would provide a more effective agency. “It’s got to be much tougher in enforcement, it’s got to be much more effective in administration, and we’re hoping that these changes will bring this about,” he said.

The plans are to be put out to consultation over the next few months and it could be 2008 before they take effect, BBC political correspondent Gary O’Donoghue says.