The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) has been warned it is at risk of repeating the IT mistakes of its predecessor, the much-maligned Child Support Agency (CSA), by relying too heavily on savings that may fail to materialise from its computer systems.
The warning was issued by government spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, which said that IT costs had already risen at the CMEC.
“The CMEC is relying heavily on the introduction of fees to parents, underpinned by a new IT system. This is a high-risk approach with no contingencies if it goes awry,” said Amyas Morse, head of the NAO.
The CMEC was established in 2008 to replace the Child Support Agency, which was crippled by computer systems that were so bad staff had to develop workarounds.
The commission is responsible for ensuring that single-parent families receive financial support from the other parent.
But the IT systems at CMEC are already mimicking the spiralling costs seen at the CSA.
The NAO reports the expected costs of a new IT system at the CMEC – which was built by Indian IT services firm Tata Consulting Services, using off-the-shelf software – rose from £149m in January 2011 to £275m by October 2011.
The NAO also noted that operational costs at the CMEC were inflated because it continued to run the CSA as a separate operational division until February 2011, resulting in duplication of the IT department, along with finance, HR and corporate affairs.
The NAO further criticised the CMEC for the costs of dealing with cases. It currently spends 56p for every £1 it collects for parents. That compares with just 35p per case for a similar scheme in Australia.
Commenting on the expected costs, the CMEC told Computing: "The £149m [expected costs] figure did not include major elements of the programme, for example all of the system testing costs and facilities for the production of management information.
"We also added budgetary provision for future policy-driven enhancements and other system upgrades in the later forecast."