Select Committee on Work and Pensions Fourth Report

Appendix 2

Memorandum by BBC Radio 4: You and Yours

You and Yours is BBC Radio 4's flagship consumer and social affairs programme broadcast between 12 noon and 1pm every week day lunchtime.

The programme has 3.181 million listeners per week. Their average age is 59. 56.1 percent of You and Yours listeners are female. 43.9 percent are male.

The social grading of listeners breaks down as follows:

  • A and B: 36 percent
  • C1: 36 percent
  • C2: 14.4 percent
  • D and E: 13.6 percent.


Between 20th February and 6th March, working in conjunction with the Work & Pensions Select Committee, we gave our listeners the unique opportunity to contribute directly to the committee's inquiry into the Child Support Agency.

Our phone in programme 'Call You & Yours' - which invited listeners to air their views on the Child Support Agency - was broadcast between 12.00 - 13.00 on Tuesday 6th March 2007 on BBC Radio 4. We asked our listeners to give us their views on:

"ideas and solutions- what would make the failing system work better"


We had a reasonably large response; within two weeks we received 299 emails, calls, texts and letters. For this report we have used a sample of 100 calls, emails and texts. They break down into 7 broad categories:

  • 28% (28 listeners) responded with their negative experiences of the Child Support Agency.
  • 27% (27 listeners) responded with their suggestions on what would make the agency work better.
  • 18% (18 listeners) said the biggest problem was to do with contact issues and the bias towards the parent with care.
  • 9% (9 listeners) contacted us with regards to benefits
  • 6% (6 listeners) said voluntary agreements were an issue (when they worked and when they didn't)
  • 6% (6 listeners) contacted us with regards to problems with tracing and assessing an absent parent
  • 6% (6 listeners) made general comments on the Child Support Agency

1. Examples of those who responded with regards to mistakes being made by the Child Support Agency

I am a lone parent and have been fighting the CSA for over five years - my ex husband walked out of me and our two children aged 5 years and 6 weeks at the time. He was self employed and at first was assessed to pay £5 a week because he claimed he earned such a small income that he was unable to pay more. Then he had another child with a new partner and was then assessed to pay zero. I have appealed, complained and a new assessment was made. However he was never chased up or enforced to pay the money and now arrears have built up. The CSA knows where he lives and works but nothing is done. Their excuse is that he is self employed and unless he tells them what he is earning there is no way of them knowing for sure. I feel the Child Support Agency has let me and my children down. I was told by the CSA that it wasn't worth me pursuing the case but I believe the agency should hound absent parents to make them pay. This situation is not fair on me or my children.

My wife's ex-husband remarried and has refused to declare his new wife's income to the CSA. He subsequently gave up work to live on her income (which was likely to be much greater than his). This meant that my wife received just £5 a week to help care for their 13 year old daughter. Whilst her ex-husband and his new wife bought a new house and moved up the property ladder! I had disclosed my income to the CSA as requested. There should be some way of compelling parties to provide all of the information required by the CSA so that fair and complete assessments can be made of parental responsibilities.

2. Examples of Solutions

Absent parents details including national insurance numbers should go to the Dept of Revenue & Customs and the money for their children should be deducted from their wages via a tax code so that everyone including the employer knew exactly what was happening

There has been lots of talk about enforcement but what about offering a 'carrot' to those parents that pay on time a bit like when people pay their utilities bills on time. Maybe that would encourage more people to pay on time?

3. Examples of shared access and contact

Yes it is terrible that there are many divorced fathers that are not morally and financially supporting their children. However, the family law in the UK is so biased towards the mother (when did you last here of a father having residential custody?) and slow to resolve matters that for many divorced dads a financial protest is often the only real option open to them.

Tony Blair and David Cameron can talk about swift action on fathers who do not contribute to their children, but what about the thousands of mothers who withhold access or play visiting 'right games' with their children? Currently it can take 2 years and countless hours of negotiation and penalising legal costs to resolve such matters if one goes through the legal channel; is it any wonder that dads refuse to pay when they are being refused their rights to see their children.

If you want reform of family law it should be from the bottom up, don't just select easy political targets for a quick vote. I think withholding money is a way for dads to protest against the laws which are so biased towards the mother.

The battle would be over in a day if maintenance and access were agreed as part of an overall deal. Most reasonable people would agree that they should be separate issues but when a relationship breaks down people stop being reasonable. There is everything to gain & literally nothing to lose. Maintenance and access both have to be agreed so why not do it together and remove the "I'm not paying because she won't give me access" and "I'm not giving him access because he won't pay maintenance" arguments at a stroke.

This should release the resources to concentrate on those who simply refuse to pay anything and that go to great lengths to hide their income and assets.

4. Examples of benefit issues

Scrap it completely and go back to taking non paying non resident ex partners to court to arrange private payments without taking step children into consideration. My ex got into a relationship with a woman who already had 2 children (by two different fathers) and they plan to marry so his stepchildren will be considered when assessing his expenditure. Their fathers should be paying for them just as my ex should be paying for our baby. Income support should not be affected by non resident parent's contributions; after all isn't it CHILD maintenance not paying off mum's Income Support!

I pay 180 pounds per month to the CSA for the support of my 4 year old daughter. My ex partner, who is living on benefits, does not receive a penny of this. Am I right in thinking that the amount I pay is deducted from her benefits? If so, it seems grossly unfair that money I pay over to support my child is not being used for that purpose, but instead to save the government paying out to support my ex and her other child by another father who pays no maintenance. Surely there must be a way of ring fencing the money paid out for my child, or at least letting the mother keep the money for the purpose intended. At the moment my daughter is being kept in poverty by the system even though she has a responsible father who thought he was paying for her up keep.

5. Example of voluntary agreements

My husbands ex wife complained to him that she was not getting any maintenance money regularly but this was despite the fact that the money was coming straight out of his bank account every month. Because the CSA didn't seem to be able to pay her on time every month they decided to come up with a private agreement and now she gets the money paid straight into her bank from her ex husbands account every month. Private agreements really are the way forward.

6. Example of problems tracing and assessing an absent ex partner

My baby was born in December 2005. In February 2006 I applied to CSA for maintenance but heard nothing from them for 6 months. It was only when I called THEM I was told that my application had been archived because they couldn't prove the identity of my ex partner because they couldn't trace his NI number. Why didn't they write to me to let me know - I could have taken the action I have been forced to take now a year ago. The only way I can get evidence for the CSA is to take my ex to court under a Declaration of Parentage order. I will then be issued with a "court decree" in my favour which I can then take to the CSA to process my case. Because I am on Income Support I will only receive £10 p/w if I'm lucky because the remainder will pay back my income support, so it won't be child support it will be government support and my son and I will be no better off!

You and Yours feedback:

This programme prompted a very good response on 'Call You and Yours'. The majority of emails and phone calls came in during the one hour broadcast (approximately 200 emails and 50 phone calls). The vast majority of listeners who contacted us were keen to share their personal experience of the Child Support Agency and a good number had well thought out suggestions and solutions to make the agency work better. Most were keen to be involved with the radio programme because of the potential to help shape the Select Committee's final report.

BBC Radio 4: You & Yours March 2007

Producer: Rabeka Nurmahomed

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