Updated: Wed, 24 Feb 2010 12:58:33 GMT | By pa.press.net

Child maintenance body 'struggling'

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


Report asked CMEC to provide regular reports on the development of its new IT system

Report asked CMEC to provide regular reports on the development of its new IT system

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

Despite a £107 million upgrade to the IT system when it took over from the Child Support Agency in 2008, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission has seen the number of cases which have to be dealt with manually by officials "balloon" from around 19,000 in 2006 to 60,000 by March last year and 75,000 in September and a predicted 108,000 in September this year.

The report by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee warned that the cost of the additional clerical administration was "mounting alarmingly". And the cross-party group of MPs warned it could affect CMEC's ability to manage its transition to a new scheme for child maintenance due to be introduced in 2011 as a "clean break" from the problems of the past.

The committee said that CMEC had made "substantial progress" in clearing the backlog of cases which built up under the CSA arrangements, reducing the time taken to process new claims and improving accuracy and customer service.

But the report warned that, as of September last year, 27% of absent parents were still paying no maintenance. CMEC missed its targets for collection of arrears in 2008/09 and is "struggling to meet targets" this year, said the MPs.

The report cited a National Audit Office study which found more than 1,000 problems in the CS2 computer system provided to CMEC by private company EDS, of which 400 could not be worked around and resulted in cases getting "stuck". CMEC told the committee it experienced around 3,000 IT incidents a week, down from 7,000 before the latest upgrade in 2008.

The Commission estimated the cost of managing cases manually at around £3.7 million per month, with the NAO putting the annual cost of managing each clerical case at £967 compared to £312 per case administered through the IT system.

"We are concerned at the almost exponential rise in the number of clerical cases caused by shortcomings in information technology," said the committee. "The additional costs of clerical administration of cases are mounting alarmingly."

Committee chairman Terry Rooney said: "The Child Support Agency's Operational Improvement Plan set out in 2006 to establish a 'stable platform' for future reform of the child maintenance system. Whilst we congratulate the Commission on the successes that it has achieved, we are concerned that it is struggling with an ever-increasing number of cases that cannot be managed by its IT systems."

The report asked CMEC to provide regular reports on the development of its new IT system, the management of clerical cases, progress in reducing arrears and management of the transition process.

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