MPs back child maintenance reform implementation

A report by the Public Accounts Committee has praised the launch of the new child maintenance service, and said that it fixed a number of problems encountered by the previous two systems.

The new online system for payments launched by the Department of Work and Pensions was said by the committee to have “no evidence of the backlogs or IT failings with which previous child maintenance schemes have struggled’.

The 2012 child maintenance scheme replaced two previous ones that had struggled with IT problems, and was designed to both maximise the number of children benefiting from maintenance arrangements and reduce government spending on administration.

The report said that the DWP had learned from its mistakes and built a far more robust system.

It also praised the ‘pathfinder’ approach used, where the scheme moved forward only when the department was confident it could introduce each stage, rather than trying to meet pre-announced deadlines.

However, the report said that the department still faced IT problems in realising its plans to close more than 800,000 ‘legacy’ maintenance cases, which it estimated would cost around  £370m.

It said the process was already several months behind schedule and added that much of its “functionality remains undelivered”, it asked for the department to rectify the problem sooner rather than later.

Some MPs also voiced concerns about the introduction of a £20 charge for using the government-run service, which could have an impact on some of the poorest separated families.

Child maintenance minister, Steve Webb, said MPs had recognised the progress in making child maintenance simpler.

“The old CSA system was massively costly yet saw thousands of children get no regular financial support,” said Mr Webb. “The new service we’re introducing provides better support for parents and gets more money to more children.”

Time will tell whether the new child maintenance service will be ‘fit for purpose’.