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A parliamentary committee says that IT problems at the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission are causing a 'rapid increase' in manual casework.

In its report on the operational improvement plan for the CMEC and its troubled predecessor, the Child Support Agency, the Work and Pensions Committee expresses concern at the "almost exponential rise" in the number of clerical cases.

It blames persistent problems with the CS2 IT system, an upgrade of the former Child Support Agency's software, for a large number of cases "getting stuck" and having to be processed manually.

Furthermore, the committee found that CMEC was only able to identify that cases had become "stuck" after a software upgrade. The agency had previously only been able to deal with them if a client notified it of a problem.

In March 2006 19,000 cases were being managed manually outside IT systems. By March 2009 this had trebled to 60,000 and by the end of September last year this had reached 75,000.

The committee estimates that, at this rate, the figure could reach about 108,000 cases by September 2010.

It says that the operational improvement plan has failed to rectify problems with CS2. In October 2009 the National Audit Office (NAO) identified more than 1,000 reported problems. Some 400 of these, which are responsible for new cases getting "stuck", have no known resolution.

The NAO has put the cost of managing each case at £967, compared to £312 per case if administered through IT systems.

CMEC had told the committee that it is procuring a new IT system, which will use commercial off the shelf software packages already widely used in the financial service industry.

Although the committee welcomed this development, its report points out that it is often the process of making different software packages work together that creates IT problems.

Terry Rooney, chair of the committee, asked CMEC to deliver the successor Work and Pensions Committee, formed after the general election, with six monthly progress reports on the development of the new IT system.

"We are concerned that it (CMEC) is struggling with an ever increasing number of cases that cannot be managed by its IT systems," said Rooney. "The committee is concerned that the extra costs of clerical administration will place too heavy a burden on the organisation as it prepares to launch the new child maintenance scheme."

Chris Pennell, senior analyst at Kable, said: "CMEC is in a rare position of being able to draw a line in the sand with regard to legacy systems, but there is an awful lot riding on CMEC being able to deliver a working system for the new child maintenance benefit.

"Even though the organisation is using off the shelf software from Tata Consulting Services, BaNCS, there is still some £10m worth of integration work to be undertaken to make the system usable for CMEC, as well as integrating the case management system."

This article was originally published at Kable.

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