Complaints up at CSA

Complaints about the Child Support Agency are up seven per cent, new figures show.

A report from the Independent Case Examiner’s office, which investigates complaints the CSA cannot resolve internally, shows that in 2005/6 the examiner took on 604 complaints – seven per cent more than the year before.

Problems with IT and administration continue at the troubled agency, Jodi Berg said in her annual report, with no obvious solution.

“The CSA has no holistic solution to the myriad of IT problems it continues to experience, particularly in those cases where information is pulled across from the old system into the new,” she said.

“In cases I see, this has never worked effectively and, consequently, the numbers of cases that have to be handled clerically is growing ever larger. This can cause significant further problems for agency customers.

“Regrettably, no date for conversion of old scheme cases to new legislation has yet been announced, and so the agency continues to run the two legislative schemes in parallel, to the detriment of the large proportion of families whose cases are dealt with under legislation that was recognised as inadequate years ago.”

Ms Berg added that the agency’s basic administration was also “not up to the task”.

“Too often the experiences of parents who complain to me are of an agency in which one hand does not know what the other is doing, and there is no discernable effort to place the needs of their children first.

“Until the agency establishes sound fundamental administration processes, poor customer service will continue to be an underlying theme of complaints referred to me.”

The largest number of complaints taken on by the independent case examiner were about delays in the service (41 per cent) followed by an error by the agency (25 per cent) and no action by the agency (22 per cent).

And this situation has been described as “shambolic” by opposition parties.

David Laws, Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman, commented: “[Jodi Berg’s] report is yet another reminder that the CSA is a shambolic mess which has never worked and still hasn’t been fixed.

“The same old problems are occurring year after year, with little sign of significant improvement.”

Both Ms Berg and Mr Laws looked forward to the publication of Sir David Henshaw’s review of the CSA, with Mr Laws saying this was needed “if we are to make any progress towards ending this bureaucratic nightmare”.