Select Committee on Work and Pensions Fourth Report

6  Transition

241. The CSA has an unfavourable history regarding transition between systems. Following the introduction of the second child maintenance system in 2003 there are still 800,000[272] old scheme cases that have yet to be converted to new scheme calculations, representing over half of the total CSA caseload.[273] As NACSA said "transition is a word now associated with moving from CS1 to CS2 and which failed in the public view."[274]

A "Clean Break"

242. Sir David Henshaw in his report recommended a "clean break" approach:

"I believe there are strong reasons to justify making a clean break with the current Agency and creating a new body with a mandate to deliver a 'fresh start' for child support. This body should be separate from the task of dealing with legacy issues from the current system, including the management of existing debt. I recommend that a new body be established to deliver child support with a residuary body responsible for pursuing the old debt."[275]

He emphasised that "given the existing operational problems facing the CSA, the task of moving cases under two parallel schemes to a third would be extremely difficult."[276]

243. However, according to the White Paper the intention is for C-MEC to have responsibilities for:

  • "the management of existing cases, with a focus on resolving current issues, such as making full use of the tools available to manage outstanding debt more effectively and taking full advantage of the changes in the enforcement regime;
  • the detailed development and implementation of the new assessment, collection and enforcement measures;
  • managing the transition of cases into private arrangements or between schemes; and
  • the closure of the existing child maintenance schemes and the CSA."[277]

This would seem to be quite a change from Sir David Henshaw's idea of a clean break although the Secretary of State argued otherwise:"He favoured a clean break. That is what we are doing."[278]

244. One Parent Families suggested:

"Although the White Paper talks of a 'clean break', in reality it would appear that the CSA (its staff and computer system) will simply be re-branded as C-MEC from 2008 onwards."[279]

245. NACSA asked whether:

"transition from CSA to C-MEC would surely also move all the complexities onto the new system?"[280]

246. Professor Stephen McKay said:

"The proposals will take until 2013 to be fully implemented, it seems. If so, it seems likely that for a while there will be 'old rules', 'new rules' and 'newer rules' cases all running alongside each other. This is likely to put pressure on who is allowed to 'convert' (and who is not) between systems."[281]

Routes into and out of C-MEC

247. The following diagram represents the routes into and out of the new C-MEC child maintenance system for both the transition phase and for new cases when fully operational. On the left hand side it shows the entry routes for current CSA clients during the transition phase. Current CSA clients who are parents with care will receive advice and guidance laying out potential options (see para 97). On the right hand side are the new cases entering C-MEC, they can stay outside of the system completely and seek no support and guidance and make their own private agreements, or they can use the C-MEC services.

Figure 10

248. An element of the proposals in the White Paper that lacks clarity is the expected life of a C-MEC order and the conditions under which it would be closed or moved to a private arrangement (or maintenance direct). When questioned about whether C-MEC would follow the Australian route of moving parents who had been compliant for 6 months out of the state system and on to private arrangements, the Secretary of State answered:

"It is not something we proposed in the White Paper. Should we be prepared to look at that? Possibly. We have got to be clear, however, on the extent to which that policy would be compatible with choice. It does not sound to me at first hearing that it is. To compel people to follow a particular route, that is essentially what we are reluctant to do."

249. Stephen Geraghty commented:

"We do currently encourage people where the payments are very steady to consider agreement but we do not force them or pressure them. […] It is something that C-MEC may consider, encouraging people, 'If the payment package is regularly established do you really need our services?'"

250. The Committee is concerned that parents who will now have a choice to opt in to C-MEC will not have the full information which they need to make an informed decision as it is not clear how they would move out of the system once they are in it. The Committee therefore recommends that the Government states what the expected life of a C-MEC order would be and under what conditions the case would be closed or moved onto a private maintenance direct agreement.

Principles of transition

251. The White Paper emphasises that the Government does not intend to have a mass migration of cases but it will be guided by two principles of transition, to:

252. However, these principles have been questioned in evidence to us. Resolution commented that the:

"Definition of "poorest families" is likely to be problematic and create additional unnecessary work for the new agency in prioritising which cases should be transferred first. The simpler and arguably fairer way forward, would be to deal with the transition of cases on a date order basis."[283]

253. Stephen Geraghty explained that "I imagine that C-MEC will prioritise those people which will be the old scheme nil assessed cases."[284]

254. One Parent Families said:

"we agree that old cases with a 'nil' assessment are a very good place to start, and likely to lead to significant immediate gains for parents with care. It should be noted, however, that, with 55% of old scheme cases having a nil liability (414,298 cases in December 2006)[285], this initial identified priority represents a huge amount of work, and will in itself require further segmentation."[286]

255. We note that Sir David Henshaw recommended that there should be a 'clean break', with a new body to deliver the new system, and a residuary body responsible for pursuing old debt. We are concerned that the Government's proposals will in time mean that C-MEC is running three different systems. This does not represent the clean break envisaged by Sir David Henshaw. We fear that, given the experience of the CSA, this will jeopardise the success of C-MEC. This means that the transition should be planned with administrative efficiency at its heart. We appreciate that the Government wants to focus on support for the poorest families first. We are, however, concerned at the CSA Chief Executive's comments that C-MEC may prioritise the old scheme nil assessment cases. This approach may be misplaced effort and result in little additional child maintenance for parents with care. We would welcome clarification on this aspect of the Government's proposals.


256. The timescale outlined in the White Paper is:


A Bill will be introduced to Parliament to reform the child maintenance system.

Key appointments will be made on a provisional basis pending Royal Assent to ensure that the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission's prospective Board members can input into the preparatory work necessary to launch the new organisation.

Investment in the Operational Improvement Plan will continue, improving performance for parents using the existing arrangements.

Piloting will take place to inform C-MEC's decisions on how to structure information and guidance services.


The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission will be in place with statutory authority. Its priorities will be to:


Parents will be supported to make choices - existing clients will have the options available outlined to them, either to make private arrangements or where both parents agree, continuing with their current arrangements supported by a simple cash transfer service or becoming a client of the new system.


New applications will be accepted under the new assessment regime.

The significantly higher disregard for all parents with care claiming benefits will be introduced and the transfer process for existing clients will begin.

The transfer period is expected to take around three years.


All clients will be on a single set of rules managed by a single organisation."[287]

257. Citizens Advice stated that:

"The pace of reform is disappointingly slow. Although the CSA will begin to be wound up as soon as legislation can be passed, it is unlikely that the new Commission will be fully up and running until about 2013."[288]

258. The Secretary of State has been questioned both in the House of Commons Chamber[289] and by the Committee over the time it will take to implement the proposals. He told the Committee that:

"If you rush these reforms you get them wrong. Do you really want me to overrule the advice I have had from people in the Department, people like Stephen, people I have a very great deal of respect and trust in, and say, "No, I think I can do it faster". I would not if I were you put any trust in someone who turned up and said they could do it quicker. We have got to do this as quickly as we can. We have to avoid the mistakes we have made in the past, and there have been many."[290]

Role of IT

259. An important area of transition is the potential role for IT. John Wheatley from Citizens Advice told the Committee:

"Although the Government has rejected the idea of a complete new IT system, it does talk about developing supporting IT, and that needs to be robust. All of these things have led us to be a little sceptical because we have been here before about radical reforms to child support delivering the step change that is necessary. We wait to be convinced."[291]

260. The Secretary of State tried to reassure the Committee that:

"We have learned a lot from previous exercises and I think in EDS we have a partner which has worked very hard with us to try to fix this system. There is a very considerable amount of painfully learnt experience that now must be applied and will be applied to the resolution of these outstanding problems both between now and when the new scheme starts and when C-MEC starts itself."[292]

261. We have seen no evidence that, with CSA's record of serial IT failures, this third attempt to create a new system of child maintenance arrangements with the necessary IT support will be any more successful than the first two. The Committee recognises that the proposed reforms simplifying the child maintenance calculation does not necessarily mean a simplified IT programme as has been demonstrated by the current CSA computer system problems. The National Audit Office report on IT projects, Delivering successful IT-enabled business change, highlights the complexities of the technical issues around joining new and old systems and we hope that the Department has learnt from its past mistakes with the first two CSA IT systems. Our predecessor Committee wrote in depth about these problems and recommended that the DWP should be significantly more open about its IT projects. In this light we recommend that the Government publish detailed explanation of its plans for C-MEC's IT system in an attempt to win public confidence before the work begins.

Current public information on transition

262. We heard evidence that there is a concern as to how people will be informed of the transition process based on the public's reaction so far to media stories. Citizens Advice told us that it had already faced people confused by the announcement of changes:

"Much of publicity surrounding the publication of Sir David Henshaw's report, and the Government's initial response, in July 2006 suggested that the CSA was being scrapped. This caused some people seeking advice from our bureaux to wonder whether their liability for child support had come to an end, and prompted others to seek advice about how an outstanding application for maintenance would be affected."

They argued that:

"Clearer information to all individual users of the CSA should have been provided so that no-one was left in any doubt about how the announcements affected their current position, and how changes in the future might alter it. Large numbers of the enquiries received by Citizens Advice Bureaux are from parents who are paying or receiving money under the child support scheme dating from before 2003, and these people, as well as everyone else, might reasonably expect to be told what the proposed reforms meant to them."[293]

And also recommended:

" the CSA should now take greater responsibility for informing people currently in the child support system about their current position and about the effect any changes may have on them."[294]

263. Parentline Plus stated that it was conscious of the huge impact the announcement that changes to the child support system could cause: "We anticipate a massive increase in parental anxiety as the changes are introduced."[295]

264. We are disappointed that having emphasised the importance of advice services in the White Paper there is evidence that the Government has already failed in explaining to current CSA clients what the potential meaning of the White Paper is to them. This is a vulnerable client group whose needs must be anticipated and met and we ask the Government to address this urgently.

272   White Paper, figure 3.1 Back

273   Current caseload 1.39 million CSA quarterly Summary of Statistics, December 2006 Back

274   Ev 85 Back

275   Henshaw Report para 73 Back

276   Henshaw Report para 87 Back

277   White Paper, para 3.9 Back

278   Q 214 Back

279   Ev 76 Back

280   Ev 85 Back

281   Ev 105 Back

282   White Paper para 3.21 Back

283   Ev 61 Back

284   Q 217 Back

285   CSA Quarterly Statistics December 2006 Back

286   Ev 77 Back

287   White Paper, p54-56 Back

288   Ev 113 Back

289   HC Deb, 13 December 2006 cols 873-887 Back

290   Q 208 Back

291   Q 85 Back

292   Q 221 Back

293   Ev 114 Back

294   Ev 113 Back

295   Ev 110 Back

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