Child support body under pressure again

24 Feb 2010 View Comments
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Child on swing
The body oversees child support payments

The new body responsible for enforcing the payment of child maintenance by absent parents is facing an increase in cases which cannot be dealt with by its flawed IT system, according to a report by MPs.

The work and pensions select committee said the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC), which took over from the Child Support Agency in administering child support payments, is having to process more and more cases by hand despite a £107m upgrade to its IT system in 2008.

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The Commission has seen the number of cases which have to be dealt with manually by officials "balloon" from around 19,000 in 2006 to 75,000 in September last year and a predicted 108,000 in September this year.

The committee said the CMEC had made substantial progress in clearing the backlog of cases and speeding up claims - but as of September last year, 27 per cent of absent parents were still not paying maintenance.

"The strain of managing a ballooning clerical caseload in the old and current schemes in addition to running three different IT systems in parallel, while preparing for an increase in caseload for the Options Service will be a very substantial challenge," says the MP's report.

"The success of the future scheme rests on the Commission’s ability to rise to this challenge. The successful and prompt progression to the single future scheme is essential for the future of the child maintenance system."

The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission signed a new IT contract with supplier TCS to replace the system developed by supplier EDS for the Child Support Agency when it took over responsibilities in 2008. It is currently operating both systems at once, which is inefficient.

The authority wants to transfer all cases to the new system by 2014. But transferring cases from the old EDS system to the new TCS one - which will begi n in 2011 - is expensive and time consuming.

And an increase in cases is putting the Commission under extra pressure, according to the committee report.

"We are very concerned that the escalating costs of clerical administration of cases risks placing an intolerable burden on the Commission at just this crucial moment," it says.

A spokesman for the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission said:

"The new child maintenance scheme, which will be supported by a brand new IT system...remains on track for launch next year. The Commission is confident that the issue of clerical cases will not impact on its ability to transition to the new scheme."

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