Government readies new child support computer system

By Parliamentary reporter
13 Jan 2011 View Comments
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The government is to launch a new child support computer system designed to enable a more consensual approach to transferring payments from parents.

The system will have direct access to income information held by HM Revenue & Customs, according to the latest proposals from the Department of Work and Pensions.

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A consultative paper claims this will "minimise the burdens on both parents while also stopping parents avoiding their responsibilities by failing to provide details of their income".

The new IT system, to be operated by the Child Support Agency's replacement, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, will go live in 2012 for new "customers" only, with six months before charges are introduced for both paying and receiving parents.

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is integrating existing commercially available systems for the Commission under a deal that is expected to cost a total of £155m over five years.

The paper claimed this would provide "a sensible window for the systems to be fully tested prior to the scheme being launched to existing CSA clients".

It said: "This would avoid the mistakes that were made at the time of the introduction of reforms when the new computer system was installed in 2003."

Cases from the old CSA system will be dealt with in tranches. The DWP said it "will ensure we can ensure the new scheme is working well and provides a better service before we start to charge customers for using it".

The DWP added that there had been continuous problems with the CSA system "not least the creation of cases that became partially or fully stuck and then needed costly handling off system".

The hope is that a significant proportion of parents will be encouraged to sign up by the threat of charges, including up-front fees of up to £100. The goal is for between 15 and 20 per cent for non-resident parents and between seven and 12 per cent for parents with care to make voluntary direct payment arrangements.

It is hoped this will leave the commission free to cope with cases where there is too much hostility between parents or there is actual or threatened violent abuse.

There will be additional enforcement charges for non-resident parents who fail to pay, including orders for the sale of property, to "ensure that the charging structure reinforces expectations of parental responsibility".

Existing cases will not be automatically transferred to the new system over the two years after its installation. Parents will be told the cases are being closed and encouraged to arrange direct payments to avoid the charges. The paper said the cost of continuing with the existing system is "unsustainable".

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