UK – Errors in child maintenance figures

It is estimated that the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission made overpayments worth more than 10 million pounds in 2010/11

The error-strewn accounts of the organisation in charge of enforcing child maintenance payments have not been fully signed off by a Government spending watchdog.

Some maintenance payments at the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) were based on incorrect assessments and some were paid at the wrong rate, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

Auditor General Amyas Morse also gave “adverse opinions” on the truth and fairness of outstanding maintenance arrears, which the Commission put at £3.748 billion by March last year. He said the figures do not give an accurate reflection of the true figure because of levels of error in assessments.

But the report did show significant improvements have been made by the Commission, which took over the work of the Child Support Agency in 2008, to the information available on child maintenance arrears.

Although the 2010/11 accounts show the proper amounts received and paid by the agency, Mr Morse qualified his opinions on the regularity of receipts and payments because of the level of error in maintenance assessments.

In 2009/10, there were £10 million in overpayments and £14.4 million in underpayments. For 2010/11 it is estimated there were £10.2 million overpayments and £13.9 million underpayments.

Mr Morse said: “Since the statutory child maintenance schemes were introduced, there have been problems with the accurate calculation of maintenance and with the two underlying IT systems, neither of which was capable of properly reporting arrears. The Commission inherited these problems from the Child Support Agency (CSA).

“Accuracy of maintenance assessments continues to be a challenge. The Commission is continuing to improve the accounting information available, so that the historic problems affecting the accuracy of arrears data are more visible. Nevertheless, the Commission still has a significant challenge in collecting the arrears that have accumulated since the beginning of the maintenance schemes.”

Work and Pensions Minister Maria Miller said: “The NAO has again underlined the need for the radical reforms we are bringing forward. The Child Support Agency has been saddled with defective computer systems and impractical policies.

“We are giving every parent now trapped in the CSA the chance to make their own, family-based, maintenance arrangements. This will allow the new state maintenance service to more effectively chase the irresponsible minority who refuse to support their children.”


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