Pressure On Ritchie To Outline Future Of Child Support Agency

SOCIAL Development Minister Margaret Ritchie is under growing pressure to spell out the future of the Child Support Agency after a highly critical report on the body from the Stormont Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Her department is responsible for the running of the CSA and is due to absorb it at some date yet to be set.

The call for action comes after the PAC found that the agency was owed £71 million by absent parents; that a third pay nothing; and that only 12 people were successfully prosecuted for offences during the first nine months of this financial year.

The committee was also critical of the fact the CSA could not produce a list of parents who owe money.

Many of the agency’s problems have been blamed on poor IT systems, but there are also major issues around the recruitment, retention and absenteeism of staff.

Sean O’Neill of single parent organisation Gingerbread said: “The CSA has failed familiesfor far too long – the system needs to be simple and effective with fast enforcement.

“The failure to collect and enforce maintenance makes it more difficult for lone parents to move from benefits to work, it reduces family incomes and hampers the fight against child poverty.

“It is too easy for non-resident parents to avoid paying child support.

DUP PAC member Simon Hamilton said: “The idea behind the CSA is a sound one but the history of the agency has been disappointing.

“On one hand you have parents who don’t face up to their responsibilities escaping the net and on the other, responsible parents being penalised by an inept system.”

The DSD said it could not comment until the Executive considered the report.

“However, the CSA welcomes the publication of the report and will consider the PAC’s recommendations fully,” said a spokesperson