John Penrose MP...

Mention the Child Support Agency (CSA) to pretty much any MP and, no matter which party they belong to, you'll get some fairly direct and colourful comments

Mention the Child Support Agency (CSA) to pretty much any MP and, no matter which party they belong to, you'll get some fairly direct and colourful comments.But if you mention the CSA to a single parent, you'd better stand well back. Some of them have been sent huge bills for child maintenance they don't owe. Others are running up huge debts because their former partners refuse to pay a penny towards their child's wellbeing. Some have even been sent bills for children that aren't theirs.A hundred years from now, when schoolchildren study the CSA in their history books, it will have the same dreadful image as a Victorian workhouse has for us today. A ghastly, inhuman bureaucracy that makes people miserable.So when my Select Committee decided to take a look at the Government's plans to sort out the CSA, we were nervous. Everyone understands the problem, but has the Government found a solution? They've tried before. In 2001 they launched a new computer system with great fanfare, but six years later there are still hundreds of thousands of people stuck on the old system. Even today no-one knows for certain when, or if, they'll be able to transfer onto the new one. Dozens of senior managers have come and gone over the last decade. Many of the staff are brilliant, but they've become wearily fatalistic as they battle with a system that fundamentally can't cope. If it was easy to solve, they'd have fixed it years ago.We've had a flood of evidence and ideas on how to make the system work better. There are dozens of heartbreaking examples of parents and children whose lives have been ruined. For their sake, if for no other reason, I hope we find that the Government's plans will work.


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