MPs’ Fears Over CSA Replacement

A committee of MPs has warned of possible “pitfalls” in government plans to replace the Child Support Agency. The Work and Pensions Select Committee welcomed the decision to scrap the CSA, but warned of a return of the problems it was set up to solve 14 years ago.

Encouraging parents to make voluntary contributions was nothing more than “an impossible dream,” the committee said. The Department for Work and Pensions said those needing help would be backed up by a tough body with more powers. A spokesman for the DWP said while parents would be encouraged to make their own arrangements, anyone needing help would have this support.

Ministers want to abolish the CSA because they say it has failed hundreds of thousands of families. But the committee’s report warned that the proposed Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (C-Mec) may not be able to deliver the help single parents need to get fair maintenance from absent partners.

Committee chairman Terry Rooney said: “Thousands of non-resident parents, parents with care and – most importantly – children, have suffered over the last 14 years because of the failure of the CSA. It is right to wind it up. But we must get things right this time. For too long, some non-resident parents have been able to get away without paying maintenance for their children.

“We hope that the move towards private agreements and the focus on enforcement will prove to be effective, but the government has yet to show how it will make this system work.” He said resources should be made available to create a “state of the art advice service”.

In its report Child Support Reform, the committee also expressed concern over plans in the government White Paper to transfer existing CSA cases to the C-Mec.

Conservative family welfare spokeswoman Maria Miller said the report underlined “a worrying lack of detail in the government’s thinking”. This new system of child support should be properly scrutinised so that previous mistakes are not repeated, she said. And David Laws, the Liberal Democrat work and pension spokesman, said: “Urgent action is needed now to create a single coherent system.”

John Baker from the campaign group Families Need Fathers warned C-Mec could make the same basic mistake as the CSA. He told BBC Radio Five Live: “The premise is that when parents separate there is one parent who has all the care and all the sacrifice and of course all the joy. The other parent is excluded or marginalised but has financial responsibilities.

“And I think it’s this polarisation of the two parents is the strategic, fundamental error that was wrong with the CSA and I’m afraid that C-Mec is at risk of going down the same path.”