Memorandum submitted by the Public and
Commercial Services Union (PCS) (CS 1)
1. PCS, the Public and Commercial Services
Union, represents the overwhelming majority of staff employed
by the Child Support Agency (CSA). We submitted evidence to the
Select Committee last year at the time that the Secretary of State
had announced the delay to the implementation of the Child Support
2. At that time PCS supported this decision
as we felt that it would have been disastrous for the Agency,
its staff and its customers to have proceeded without a fully
operational IT system. After an eleven-month delay the Secretary
of State eventually decided to implement the new legislation for
new customers of the Agency from 3 March 2003.
3. Unfortunately, despite this delay, the
IT system is still not operating at anything like full strength.
This is causing significant problems for staff and customers alike.
4. The introduction of any new piece of
legislation, combined with the introduction of a completely new
IT system, would expect to face teething problems and difficulties
in establishing a steady state of operations. However the performance
of CSA since 3 March has been extremely poor.
5. The basic problem is that the IT system
has not bedded in at all and is effectively preventing CSA staff
from performing their job properly. This is perhaps best summed
up by the most recent performance statistics that we have seen.
These show that since 3 March CSA has had a total intake of approximately
60,000 cases to process on the new legislation, using the new
IT system. Of these, less than 100 cases have resulted in the
Parent with Care receiving at least one child maintenance payment.
6. The problems associated with the new
IT system are many and complicated. Some of the worst problems
are as follows:
System availability has not been
high enough. This means that the IT system has not been available
for much of the working day. This prevents staff processing any
cases at all, as all work has to be done using the new IT system.
The IT system is very slow. This
results in very long delays (hours rather than minutes at times)
as staff try to move between screens. This in turn effects how
quickly a case can be dealt with.
The IT has a tendency to "hide"
cases from staff dealing with them. Staff can be in the middle
of processing a case when it simply disappears from the screen
with no indication where it has gone. These incidents are raised
with the IT support teams but it can take weeks for the cases
The electronic interface with Jobcentre
Plus has not operated properly. Far fewer cases than predicted
have come across the interface leading to a marked reduction in
the Agency's average weekly intake. Unless there has been a sharp
reduction in lone parents having babies or in couples separating,
these cases are out there somewhere but are not being referred
to CSA. At some point they will have to be dealt with.
Many of the cases that actually do
make it across the Jobcentre Plus interface cannot be actioned
for a variety of technical reasons. This has the cumulative effect
of greatly reducing the number of cases that staff have available
to them to action and is delaying the progress of these cases
towards maintenance calculation and establishing compliance.
The new telephony system that was
introduced simultaneously with the new IT has failed to work as
planned. Many staff cannot use it for a variety of technical reasons.
This has resulted in many in-bound calls from customers being
sent to a limited number of extensions. This leads to engaged
tones being heard or the call being sent to the wrong member of
staff. This in turn leads to the caller having their call diverted
around the agency until, if they are lucky, they get to speak
to the correct member of staff.
The IT system has so far failed to
provide reliable electronic management information. This has resulted
in staff having to produce management information clerically.
An indication of the crisis in CSA is that managers are insisting
that these clerical returns have to be produced on a daily basis
by 9.30 am.
The IT seems incapable of allowing
staff the correct levels of access to the system. This results,
for example, in non-managers being given the system access profile
appropriate to a manager or to staff in one office being given
access to cases held in another office.
7. These problems, taken as a whole, are
very serious. Especially when you consider that EDS, the IT provider,
were allowed an extra 11 months to get the faults out of the system
before go-live. This does not appear to have happened. As a result
an important strand of the government's welfare modernisation
programme is at risk of being seriously undermined. It is PCS'
view that serious questions need to be asked about their future
involvement in public sector IT projects as a result.
8. The Secretary of State has consistently
avoided declaring when existing CSA customers would be migrated
onto the new IT system and then have their cases converted to
the new legislation. For a long time CSA was planning on the assumption
that the migration of existing cases on to the new scheme would
begin in Summer 2003, with conversion to the new legislation to
be completed by April next year.
9. But the CSA's Chief Executive told staff
in May that this was no longer the working assumption and, indeed,
the bulk migration of cases onto the new IT system has not yet
begun. Now there is no timescale by when existing clients will
begin to benefit from the new legislation.
10. This results in existing customers facing
an even longer delay in having their case converted to the new
legislation and increased uncertainty over their future finances.
This in turn lengthens the period that CSA has to operate two
IT systems and two sets of rules in tandem, but more importantly
delays the anticipated benefits of the reforms such as easier
calculations and quicker payments to children.
11. To date the impact has been largely
hidden from most CSA's customers. This is because the vast majority
of customers are still on the old scheme and the old IT system.
Their principal problem is that they have no idea when they can
expect to be assessed under the new rules.
12. Ministers have always said that they
would not declare when existing customers would be moved onto
the new scheme until they were confident that the new scheme was
working satisfactorily. It seems inconceivable that this decision
can be delayed much longer, as the pressure from customers will
inevitably increase. But at present the new system is not working
properly and shows little sign of improvement.
13. This uncertainty also puts staff in
a difficult situation. They are the ones who have to explain to
customers that there is no date by when their cases will be moved
over. As time goes by this is becoming an increasingly difficult
line to maintain and increases the pressure on frontline staff.
14. It is the new customers of CSA who are
being effected most. Tens of thousands of cases have been stockpiled
and had no action taken on them at all. In many of these, the
cases have not even been registered on the system. These cases
are already suffering lengthy delays in maintenance calculations
being processed and to the flow through of money to children.
15. Those new customers who are having their
cases dealt with on the new system are suffering from the impact
of the IT and telephony problems mentioned above, as staff struggle
to process their application with inadequate IT support.
16. PCS remains concerned that, as backlogs
of work grow and the defects in the new IT system impact on productivity,
customer reaction and complaints will become more pronounced.
It is a common assumption amongst CSA staff that it is only a
matter of time before this situation in CSA begins to attract
wider publicity. Publicity that is unlikely to be beneficial or
positive for our members.
17. The insistence on the part of Agency
managers to increase the number of maintenance calculations on
new system cases has led to the radical decision not to check
the accuracy of any cases until after the calculation has been
done and the decision passed to the customer. This can only lead
to a fall in the rates of accuracy. On old rules cases, checking
a case before an assessment was made was a tried and tested method
of ensuring the Agency met its accuracy targets. However the drive
for quantity seems to have pushed quality to the back of the queue.
18. CSA staff are very keen to see the Child
Support Reforms work. They realise this is in everyone's interests,
not least heir own. But the problems for staff on the New Client
Teams dealing with new cases are becoming so acute that they are
rapidly losing confidence in the whole reform process. Sickness
levels remain very high and CSA continues to have significantly
higher staff wastage rates than the rest of the Department for
Work and Pensions.
19. CSA staff are having to bear the brunt
of the new scheme's problems. The effect on staff morale of having
to endure the inadequate IT system is huge. Staff at all levels
are being placed under intolerable pressure. Demands are made
to hit ever-higher targets with deficient equipment. Priorities
are changed constantly and there has been an unwelcome trend for
senior management to blame the performance of their frontline
staff for the Agency's problems in delivering the reforms.
20. It is most definitely the view of PCS
that it is not the fault of the Agency's frontline staff that
CSA has got such serious problems. The same staff have, year on
year, improved the Agency's performance and ensured increasing
compliance before the new system came in.
21. The fact is that the vast majority of
CSA staff had no say in the design of the Agency's new computer
system let alone in building it. But it is clear to all CSA staff
that it is the computer system that is the principal cause of
the recent problems. It cannot be the fault of those staff if
that system now does not work properly. The view of many of our
members is that they are being asked to operate the new IT system
with one arm tied behind their back.
22. Problems are compounded by the loss
of any case ownership for individual caseworkers. The new system
is designed so that cases are handled by several different caseworkers
as the case is progressed. Staff therefore find it harder to build
up any rapport with customers and are constantly having to familiarise
themselves with new cases, only for that case to be moved by the
IT system to another caseworker just as they were beginning to
get to grips with it.
23. Staff were promised that the new system
would finally relieve them of having to work with inadequate IT
and poor legislation. The legislation is undoubtedly improved
but the new IT system is not yet working as it should. Indeed,
in the view of many staff, it is appreciably worse, than the old,
much-derided IT system. The general consensus is that the job
in the frontline of CSA has got harder and more demanding since
the new system went live and that the promises of a more satisfying
job have turned out to be empty.
24. On top of all this, staff morale has
been badly hit by the decision to reduce staffing levels in CSA
by a third over three years. The plan is to cut CSA staff from
12,000 now to 8,000 by March 2006. A reduction in staffing was
always expected as part of the business case for the whole CSA
reform project. But the scale of these cuts has taken staff by
25. The fact that there was an eleven-month
delay in introducing the reforms has not led to an equivalent
delay in the expected efficiency savings and staffing reductions.
As a result, in the 2003-04 year, a staffing cut of 12% has been
imposed. This would be bad news for staff at the best of times,
but given the current problems affecting CSA it is too much for
staff to bear. The inevitable result, already manifesting itself,
will be greater levels of pressure and stress and consequentially
lower levels of performance. It is worth remembering that most
staff in CSA are paid less than £13,000 per year. There is
only so much that people will put up with for that level of reward.
26. Even Agency management will admit that
CSA has far more work to do if the new scheme is to be extended
successfully to existing customers. But to try and do this with
less staff and inadequate IT is a recipe for disaster. PCS is
strongly advocating that the staffing reductions are cancelled
until, at the very least, there is clear evidence that tangible
improvements in performance have materialised, that real signs
of efficiency savings are apparent and that all existing customers
have been successfully converted to the new scheme.
27. It is the view of PCS that the Child
Support Reforms are in serious difficulties. After just three
and a half months it may be too early to be sure how serious these
difficulties are. But the fact is that PCS members are contacting
their Union constantly to complain about the pressures and stresses
of implementing these reforms.
28. It appears evident to us that the primary
cause of these difficulties has been the inadequate support for
staff provided by the new IT system. The taxpayer does not appear
to be getting the value for money on its investment that would
normally be expected. We were promised a simple, state of the
art IT system. Sadly that has not materialised as yet.
29. There can be no doubt that serious problems
are emerging the longer that the new system is operating. These
include increasing backlogs of work and an apparently indefinite
delay in the decision to convert existing clients to the new scheme.
In turn customer service is affected with the inherent risks of
negative publicity, more complaints, and even heavier MP's postbags.
30. PCS is very fearful that CSA does not
lurch back to the chaos of its early years. But to many staff
that were around at that time, similar danger signals are present
31. Through all this, CSA staff, our members,
are struggling to keep the Agency afloat. The pressure they are
under at present is totally unacceptable. There is a real fear
that this bad situation could get even worse.
20 June 2003