Parents lose out as CSA struggles to migrate data

Child Support Agency is overwhelmed by task of moving to new system.

Child Support Agency is overwhelmed by task of moving to new system.

The Child Support Agency will have to keep up to one million cases on old computer equipment indefinitely, despite introducing a new £456m system on 3 March.

As CSA managers seek a solution to profound administrative problems, parents whose cases are on the new system are receiving benefits denied to those on the old equipment.

The new system supports a simplified structure of payments which has benefits for thousands of families. But up to one million cases must remain indefinitely on the old equipment, under a complex payment structure which pre-dates March this year.

Every month that passes without transferring cases to the new system is costing some parents hundreds of pounds, for which they will receive no compensation when their cases are eventually moved across.

Thousands of parents on income support whose cases cannot be transferred are also losing out on £10 a week, a benefit that is paid to those registered on the new system.

Computer Weekly has learned that the CSA needs to complete up to 14 million tasks, many of them clerical, before all of the cases on the old system can be transferred to the new one. The tasks will take at least a year to complete, but could take much longer. The working assumption within the CSA is that the old cases will move to the new system by the next general election, which is expected in 2005 or 2006.

According to the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents the agency's staff, the CSA had hoped to begin moving old cases to the new system this summer, with conversion completed by April next year.

But the scale of the tasks that need to be completed is so large that ministers have been unable to give MPs any assurances about when the cases will be transferred and the old system decommissioned.

In a Parliamentary debate on the CSA on 12 November, work and pensions minister Chris Pond said, "Owing to problems with the computer system, the service that we have given to some clients has fallen well short of what they are entitled to receive. We cannot and will not transfer the old cases on to the new system until we are certain that the computer system and the IT are working effectively."

Staff at the CSA acknowledged that there are serious problems with the new system supplied by EDS, but they said that even if these were solved tomorrow, the cases could not be transferred without the data being "cleansed".

Up to 40% of the old records contain anomalies, omissions, discrepancies or inaccuracies. The PCS has said staff are working to capacity and cannot manage the extra work.

MP Paul Goodman, who sits on the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, which oversees the work of the CSA, said, "This [Computer Weekly] story is further evidence that the CSA is in a state of chaos. Parents and children have an even longer wait to receive the benefits they are due. The CSA has been less than frank about the extent of its problems."

Last week a CSA spokesman said, "Ministers have always been clear that cases will not be transferred to the new system until they are confident it is working well."

Questioned further, the spokesman said, "As anticipated, in addition to the automated process, there is some clerical action to be done on those cases that did not transfer successfully. For example, there is a mismatch in data between the CSA's system and the Jobcentre Plus system."

EDS declined to comment.

' CSA chiefs left floundering, p16

Real-life effects

The wait in transferring cases to the new system is hitting some parents hard. IT manager James Hennessy is paying nearly 40% of his net monthly salary to the CSA. Under the new ruling, he should be paying about 20%. The CSA told Hennessy he could not reduce his payments until his case moves to the new system. When this happens, he will receive no compensation for overpayments.

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