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Child support IT fail: Deadbeat mums 'n' dads off the hook

NAO: Child maintenance computers unable to keep tabs on payments

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Problems with IT systems at the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) have left it unable to report payment arrears properly, the National Audit Office (NAO) has found.

CMEC, which took over responsibility for statutory child maintenance schemes in November 2008, inherited two primary child support IT systems - the Child Support Computer System (CSCS) and Child Support 2 (CS2) - from the former Child Support Agency.

In its report on CMEC's client funds, the NAO says that neither CSCS nor CS2 has full reporting functionality for arrears and that the commission believes the cost of rectifying all the known issues on the two systems would outweigh the benefits.

In March last year CMEC was using a clerical database to manage some 100,000 child maintenance cases, against 86,000 in March the previous year. The NAO says these cases were transferred from CS2 because problems with that system prevented them from being processed further.

But the report says the commission had discovered that the opening arrears balances on these cases had not been entered onto the clerical database when the cases were transferred from CS2.

"This meant that arrears on these cases would be understated by reporting only the closing balance on the database as the arrears for each of these cases."

In addition, CMEC had identified a system fault on CS2 affecting cases which have been cancelled or withdrawn on the same day that a maintenance assessment is completed on the case.

As a result, about 3,000 cases continue to charge arrears as the maintenance assessments do not have an end date. A system fix has been introduced which is expected to resolve the issue going forwards, but the cases already affected have yet to be corrected.

The NAO also found that a number of cases managed using the clerical database, had "not been maintained accurately in respect of the maintenance due".

Examples of the problems include some child support cases showing that no payments from non-resident parents are due, when the absent parent should be shown as being required to pay.

The report says that although the commission has made some progress to correct cases retrospectively, this work has not yet been completed.

More positively, the NAO found that CMEC is improving the accounting information available from its inherited IT systems and there is now increased evidence about historic problems.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: "Accuracy of maintenance assessments continues to be a challenge. The commission is continuing to improve the accounting information available, so that the historic problems affecting the accuracy of arrears data are more visible.

"Nevertheless, the commission still has a significant challenge in collecting the arrears that have accumulated since the beginning of the maintenance schemes."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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