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Government questioned over Child Support Agency IT revelations

Tony Collins

The government has faced questions on the floor of the House of Commons about disclosures made in Computer Weekly this week about IT systems at the Child Support Agency.

Work and pensions minister Chris Pond was asked to confirm or deny the content of Computer Weekly’s articles on the CSA which disclosed that up to 40% of older records held by the agency could contain defects, omissions or anomalies, and that up to 14 million individual items related to the records may need validating.

The questions were asked by the shadow minister for economic affairs, Paul Goodman, who sits on the select committee on Work and Pensions, which oversees the operations of the Child Support Agency.

Goodman has taken a particular interest in why its staff have been unable transfer one million cases from old equipment to new systems that operate new simplified rules for dealing with claims.

In a front-page article and a two-page news analysis (18 November), Computer Weekly had said that thousands of parents whose cases could not transfer to the latest equipment were operating under an old payments regime that forced them to pay more money to the agency than they would under the new rules.

Goodman asked Pond to be candid with MPs about the reasons for the delay in transferring the old cases to the new scheme.

"Will he confirm or deny the report in this week's Computer Weekly, which claims that up to 40% of the old records could contain defects, omissions and anomalies; that up to 14 million individual items may need validating, correcting or checking; and that the CSA has "no clear solution to its difficulties, no real idea when it will transfer the million cases . . . and has not told the whole truth to Parliament about its affairs?"

Pond answered none of the specific points and went on to blame the agency’s IT systems for the failure to transfer old cases to the new equipment. "We shall ensure that we tackle the problems that we are experiencing with the IT system," said Pond.

Goodman said he was disappointed with Pond’s replies. "All vulnerable parents and children are getting from the Minister is a patronising brush-off."

Based on Computer Weekly's disclosures, Goodman plans to table a series of urgent written questions. He wants to know what is the loss incurred by each parent per month whose case is not transferred from the old to the new scheme, and how many anomalies, inaccuracies or incomplete data are contained in the agency’s records of the cases waiting to be transferred from the old to the new scheme.

The Department of Work and Pensions, which has responsibility for the agency, has to answer Goodman’s questions within two weeks of their being tabled.


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