Don Foster MP*


The Child Support Agency is in a "state of chaos", Bath’s MP, Don Foster has said today, following the resignation of Doug Smith, the head of the CSA amid widespread criticism of the Agency's work.

Reiterating the need to scrap the CSA, Don said:

“Having been contacted by numerous desperate parents, caught up by the inefficiency and turmoil of the CSA system, I’ve seen at first hand the immense frustration and anguish the failing system has caused.

Main Image"The Agency is in a state of chaos and it is right that the Chief Executive has gone. But he must not be allowed to become a scapegoat for the failures of both the Government and the computer company, EDS.

"Successive governments have failed to get a grip on the whole Child Support system. It is now like a worn tyre that has been patched so many times it is beyond repair and should be scrapped.

“As a matter of urgency the CSA should be scrapped and the responsibilities transferred to the Inland Revenue direct so it can get the payments to those most in need.”

"The Inland Revenue already holds information about family incomes and about children so could easily take over the assessment of child maintenance. The Inland Revenue would also be far more effective than the CSA at collecting maintenance."

Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, today tackled the Prime Minister at PMQs’ on the issue. Tony Blair told Mr Kennedy that he would “look at” the Lib Dem proposal to scrap the Child Support Agency and incorporate its functions into the Inland Revenue.

A transcript of the exchange is below.


Charles Kennedy: Mr Speaker, I again associate my honourable and right honourable friends completely with the expressions of outrage about the wicked murder of Margaret Hassan. Returning to the Child Support Agency resignation this morning: as well as the computerisation problems to which the Prime Minister rightly refers, there is of course the problem that the Government itself has been changing the specifications and that has added to the problems involved. As the CSA – as we speak today – is now leaderless, the staff are bound to be demoralised and it’s failing in its function. Will the Prime Minister as a matter of urgency scrap the child support agency and transfer its purpose to the Inland Revenue direct so it can get the payments to those most in need?

Prime Minister: I mean, I’m not sure that transferring it to the Inland Revenue would be the answer to this problem. Look, the reason there is a difficulty is this: because people have to pay child support in circumstances where they’ve got an obligation to support children on the divorce or a separation of partners with children. The Child Support Agency was established by the previous government in order to try and make sure that the system worked in an effective and fair way without the need for long, drawn out court hearings. Unfortunately that system did not work. I do not in any way minimise the difficulty we’ve got under the new system we’re introducing. It isn’t acceptable, as I said a moment or two ago. But there will be new leadership in the Child Support Agency. We will have to sort out the computer program that has been the cause of the problems at the present time. And we will then have to make sure that as many people as possible get on to the new scheme which is a lot simpler and a lot more effective.

Charles Kennedy: I still hope that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister might look at that idea. But when he’s talking of new leadership, there will have to be new leadership of the National Assessment Agency because its Chief Executive has resigned this morning as well, and he has resigned because of a three month delay in publishing the Key Stage 3 English results. Isn’t this again indicative of a central problem of this Government. They set these unrealistic targets. These quangos and agencies can’t deliver and it’s the recipients on the front line that, after seven years of Labour in power, are left languishing?

Prime Minister: I think it’s extraordinary for him to say that we shouldn’t have testing and exams for pupils. There has to be an independent authority that carries those out. They have carried it out. I may simply point out to him that they found that there was no problem either with the quality of marking or with the actual results. There has been a problem within the system which is the reason for the recognition. But we cannot have it both ways. There are either arms length agencies that carry out these functions or they’re carried out direct from government. Now his suggestion that we transfer child support in the Inland Revenue, I would certainly look at that. But I have to say to him, I’d have to say to him, it seems to me that it is highly unlikely that transferring this to the Inland Revenue would cause anything other than consternation to recipients and the Inland Revenue alike.

This article published: 17/11/2023

Published by Bath Liberal Democrats, 31 James St West, Bath, BA1 2BT. Printed and hosted by JPC Infonet, 2 St Georges Works, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, BA14 8AA. Your Privacy._blank

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