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Change of Assessment (COA) information needed

In preparation for the COA agenda item at the FACSIA meeting on Monday in Parliament House, could you consider the following questions in preparation for some small group work that we will undertake at the meeting to define the issues associated with the

Background information for Change of Assessment Agenda CSNSEG (Child Support National Stakeholder Engagement Group) agenda item

Please peruse the background information and forms related to Change of Assessment (COA) - "Your application: changing your child support assessment in special circumstances" (completed by parents applying for a change of assessment) and "Your response: changing your child support assessment in special circumstances" (completed by parents responding to an application for a change of assessment).  

The flowchart on page two of the forms outlines the COA process and provides a summary of the current steps in the process.
In preparation for the COA agenda item at the meeting on Monday it would be appreciated if you could consider the following questions in preparation for some small group work that we will undertake at the meeting to define the issues associated with the current COA process, in particular:

  1) What kinds of issues do parents involved in a Change of Assessment application raise with you?  Consider 1) process 2) timeframes 3) information/forms available from CSA

  2) Are there elements of the COA process that you think work well and that should be retained?

  3) What are customers' current expectations about the outcome of a COA? ie do customers understand the scope of the possible outcomes?

  4) What are some of the negative/unintended outcomes of the COA process?

  5) CSA's goal to assist customers to be self-reliant includes an approach to encouraging customers to seek mediation support to come to a private agreement rather than seeking a CSA decision through a COA process. While this is not workable for some customers (ie where there is high conflict or threat of violence), can you suggest ways in which we can support customers to mediate outcomes rather than putting them through a detailed and onerous COA where the decision is not of their making?
We will take any comments with us to Canberra on Monday and participate in the workshops.

Attachment
COA Application

Attachment
COA Response

Executive Secretary - Shared Parenting Council of Australia
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COA Assessment

1) What kinds of issues do parents involved in a Change of Assessment application raise with you?  Consider 1) process 2) timeframes 3) information/forms available from CSA

My ex views the COA process as she puts it "an agreement".  I, and you know this is not the case. As a 'payer' it locks me into a very difficult situation for a significant period of time as my current income changes periodically, and my assessed child support payable as a result is only amendable via another COA which is a nightmare to resolve, and takes considerable time to sort out.

2) Are there elements of the COA process that you think work well and that should be retained?

No

3) What are customers' current expectations about the outcome of a COA? ie do customers understand the scope of the possible outcomes?

First of all I would like a definition of who the 'customer' actually is… (but I digress :dry:) … The 'payee' does not in my experience have a clue about the intent… but seems to be fully aware of the outcomes…

4) What are some of the negative/unintended outcomes of the COA process?

As per the comment after question 1, plus the fact that in my current situation the COA process is a right royal pain in the bum. My work in the past has involved various periods where I was unfortuately unemployed but was being forced to pay support based on my last COA. This was calculated via last COA which assessed my income as being significantly higher than what I was actually earning at the time. This at one stage unfortunately included a DFRDB commutation payout given after 20+ years in the ADF that I at the time thought was settled as a part of our superannuation divorce agreement, but was when it came to the subsequent COA submitted by my ex was included as part of my income… that hurt a lot…

5) CSA's goal to assist customers to be self-reliant includes an approach to encouraging customers to seek mediation support to come to a private agreement rather than seeking a CSA decision through a COA process. While this is not workable for some customers (ie where there is high conflict or threat of violence), can you suggest ways in which we can support customers to mediate outcomes rather than putting them through a detailed and onerous COA where the decision is not of their making?

A process that is not so difficult to achieve a real time and fair assessment given the fact that some payers have a variable income whilst locked into a COA 'contract' would be a start…

I thank you for your advocacy and wish you well !!!

Townie
I will give it some thought based on my current experiences and try to provide some cogent arguments by pm friday.
1) What kinds of issues do parents involved in a Change of Assessment application raise with you?

Consider 1) process 2) timeframes 3) information/forms available from CSA

(i) COAs are subject to scrutiny to decide whether a case exists before they are sent on the payer/payee - cross applications should be given same treatment.  In last COA, payee put in cross-application under reason 8 with 2 lines of text (and no supporting evidence) to support it.  Despite clearly being in conflict with CSA guidelines (Payer will receive a lump sum that was not part of property settlement), the CSA proceeded with it.  If large issue is raised as a cross-application, which does not directly relate to original COA, it should be handled separately and subject to same rigorous process - namely the other party should be given the opportunity to formally respond to it prior to conference (see comments under (ii)).

If a COA is very complex, consideration should be given to having more than 1 conference and a 2nd SCO should review the decision - this would ensure better consistency in the decision making process.  Despite agreeing the contact costs submitted, the latest COA provided a completely different result to our previous ones (50% less reduction despite higher costs), it also contained a large factual error (SCO misread a pension document and set CSA income as $87k rather than $64k) which a second party would have spotted.  Should a purely factual error be made, there should be a fast track process rather than the lengthy objections process to rectify it.  If entirely new significant information is raised in a conference, the other party should be given the opportunity to comment on it before a decision is made.

(ii) All our 4 COAs have taken about 6 months or more to reach a decision despite them being straightforward COAs for contact costs (with all travel receipts included).  Supposedly the longer time lines are because husband is overseas - while we can understand why if payee raises a COA, more time is needed to let him receive/respond, in these 4 cases we have initiated them but have only received payees response with less than 1 week before conference (so have been unable to formally respond to any issues raised before conference).   In last example, COA sent in Sept 07, husband chased in Jan 08 and payee finally sent COA paperwork in Feb 08.  We received response which included a cross-application under Reason 8 on 1 Mar 08 for conference on 4 Mar.  Consequently husband had only a ½ hour conference (of which only 10 minutes was spent on Reason 8), to try to explain a complex property settlement and pension scheme to a SCO, who was completely unsighted on the issue.  We have raised issue of timelines with CSA before - suggesting that COA info be scanned into pdf format and emailed when dates such as conference were very close but have been told that this was not possible under Australian legislation.  Also when you receive the other parties response, you have no quick way of getting your comments quickly to SCO holding the conference - just the usual CSA front door.

iii) Better information than used to be available but still ambiguous in parts.  Says 'CSA will not normally backdate decision more than 18 months' but in reality CSA will not backdate a decision at all if it places payee in position of overpayment.  In our 1st COA, the COA was agreed but SCO would not backdate it, a decision which cost us over $2000.  Would be useful if SCO procedures for COAs were published to show how their decisions are made.
Bigred said
I will give it some thought based on my current experiences and try to provide some cogent arguments by pm friday.
Sunday is good. I will compile the responses on Sunday night BigRed so many thanks. I did note another post I owe you a reply for and will attempt a response as soon as I can get a millisecond spare. :$

Executive Secretary - Shared Parenting Council of Australia
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townie said
1) What kinds of issues do parents involved in a Change of Assessment application raise with you?  Consider 1) process 2) timeframes 3) information/forms available from CSA

My ex views the COA process as she puts it "an agreement".  I, and you know this is not the case. As a 'payer' it locks me into a very difficult situation for a significant period of time as my current income changes periodically, and my assessed child support payable as a result is only amendable via another COA which is a nightmare to resolve, and takes considerable time to sort out.
You can advise CSA at any time of a change of income. CSA will act to change an assesment on advice of a change of income.
townie said
2) Are there elements of the COA process that you think work well and that should be retained?

No
So you are telling me there is NOTHING about the COA forms or process that should be retained. If that is the case what could replace it? In entrenched conflict cases where you cannot get an agreement what would you recommend happens? I think you are asking a lot for me to go and tell the committee and the many CSA development staff there, just to abolish the process without giving me a little glimmer of hope that I might have some sensible and concrete solution to put up. Can you elaborate on this aspect?
townie said
3) What are customers' current expectations about the outcome of a COA? ie do customers understand the scope of the possible outcomes?

First of all I would like a definition of who the 'customer' actually is… (but I digress :dry:)…The 'payee' does not in my experience have a clue about the intent… but seems to be fully aware of the outcomes…
The customer is the payer and the payee.
townie said
4) What are some of the negative/unintended outcomes of the COA process?

As per the comment after question 1, plus the fact that In my current situation the COA process is a right royal pain in the bum. My work in the past has involved various periods where I was unfortunately unemployed but was being forced to pay support based on my last COA. This was calculated via last COA which assessed my income as being significantly higher than what I was actually earning at the time. This at one stage unfortunately included a DFRDB commutation payout given after 20+ years in the ADF that I at the time thought was settled as a part of our superannuation divorce agreement, but was when it came to the subsequent COA submitted by my ex was included as part of my income… that hurt a lot…
My understanding is that once the ATO return is submitted then that is used as the corrected amount. It should be significantly easier with post July 1 measures as both incomes are on a level playing field and taken into account whereas previously it was not the situation.
townie said
5) CSA's goal to assist customers to be self-reliant includes an approach to encouraging customers to seek mediation support to come to a private agreement rather than seeking a CSA decision through a COA process. While this is not workable for some customers (ie where there is high conflict or threat of violence), can you suggest ways in which we can support customers to mediate outcomes rather than putting them through a detailed and onerous COA where the decision is not of their making?

A process that is not so difficult to achieve a real time and fair assessment given the fact that some payers have a variable income whilst locked into a COA 'contract' would be a start…

I thank you for your advocacy and wish you well !!!!

Townie
I know these sorts of questions look extremely daunting but unless we do try and respond to FaCSIA and the CSA then things will never improve. I am an eternal optimist and I do know there are many good people working to make it better. I met some wonderful people from the CSA last weekend at the SPCA National Conference. We are not alone ! :$ I assure you that views here count and I do make a promise the views will get to the working groups.

Executive Secretary - Shared Parenting Council of Australia
 Was my post helpful? If so, please let others know about the FamilyLawWebGuide whenever you see the opportunity
 
Some more thoughts:

2. Some sort of COA process is required so it cannot be discarded in toto.  Both parties need opportunity to comment on the COA, but person submitting COA should have adequate time to comment on other party's response before conference.  Use of conferences is necessary - although more time should be allocated for complex issues - and any new information that may affect decision raised by one party should be passed to other.  I believe that if the current process was run more efficiently and subject to more independent scrutiny before decisions were released (perhaps an independent review officer to go through all decisions and regular meetings with other areas to ensure that there was consistency across the organisation), that it would be ok.

3. Expect COA to be long drawn out process and expect to be subjected to unsubstantiated, unpleasant remarks in the other party's response which invariably imply payer is a deadbeat father.   We understand that a decision can go against us but normally would expect to have some expectation of what decision is likely to be (saving our last COA).  Still surprised that COA reports use emotive language still - these should be objective decisions.

4. The financial statement is very detailed and not necessarily relevant to the COA  - i.e. for contact costs, CSA only look at gross income and contact costs so details of household expenditure is irrelevant.  In our case, payee has carefully chosen some parts of our statement to show the kids to make it look like their dad is trying to duck out of supporting them (funny how she never tells them that she is trying to stop their contact visits) and generally he gets a hard time from them during the process.  Any irrelevant information to the COA should be removed from form before being passed to other party.

5. All I can think of is CSA offering a mediation service for COA type issues like a joint case conference, provided both parents are agreeable.  However not convinced that if payee is on welfare whether CSA would let them potentially come up with an agreement which would mean less CSA is paid, so more welfare payments would be due.
I do not think that divorce settlement should be included in a persons income as this only seems to happen for a payer, after all if you have a settlement you would legitimatly have establishment costs, that is you need to live off the money  and re-settle because you have worked towards having asessts. a divorce settlement is an asesst and not an income.  

Rarghhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!

Han Solo routine "We're all fine here, thanks. How are you?" *weapons fire* "It was a boring conversation anyway!"
Hope this helps:

1) What kinds of issues do parents involved in a Change of Assessment application raise with you?  Consider 1) process 2) timeframes 3) information/forms available from CSA
1, process: The CSA has adopted a silo approach to administration by dividing their assessment operations into business lines: Assessment; Objection; and Change of Assessment.  The 3 lines seemingly operate independently of each other.  Each defends their status in the organisation.  No boundaries are crossed.  What this means is that if someone subject to an assessment points out in the initial stages that there is a problem, eg significant salary sacrifice arrangements ignored, the aggrieved party is forced into the objection or change of assessment line, with subsequent very lengthy time frames.  

I make the point that the CSA is able to initiate its own change of assessment under their cutely titled reason 8 - the guide makes this point.  However, they only seem to use the power to support their compliance activity.  Further, s74 of the Assessment Act seems to compel the registrar to take such an action through inclusion of the word must, yet the business model ignores this requirement.

Also, for relatively simple changes of assessment the requirement that there be a full disclosure of financial arrangements seems convoluted and an invitation to increase tension between parties.  From my readings, it appears that in a significant number of cases this information is not considered.  Therefore, I contend that the collection is a breach of the IPPs - see s14 of the Privacy Act.   

In response to the issue that COA needs to be just and equitable, I would respond that for 7 of the 10 reasons the law actually creates a 2 step process.  If you fail at the first hurdle on the merits of the evidence, you don't proceed to the second test which is around if such a decision was just and equitable.  

I would also suggest that a "short" Change of Assessment form could be produced to cover the less complex matters, with the use being described on the cover to avoid time wasting.

2) Are there elements of the COA process that you think work well and that should be retained?

I am in the middle of a CAO at present and have found the staff I have spoken to so far to be very helpful, albeit tied to rigid process.  I like the way they try to broker resolution through agreement and feel this is a real added value.  I must admit I am poking and prodding their processes at every turn so they are getting quite a workout.  

3) What are customers' current expectations about the outcome of a COA? ie do customers understand the scope of the possible outcomes?

4) What are some of the negative/unintended outcomes of the COA process?

The negative outcomes I can see so far is that people who are trying to move on with their lives are required to declare their current situation to their previous partner and a group of anonymous administrators who give the impression, at times, that they are trying to extract additional funding.  This actually entrenches conflict.

5) CSA's goal to assist customers to be self-reliant includes an approach to encouraging customers to seek mediation support to come to a private agreement rather than seeking a CSA decision through a COA process. While this is not workable for some customers (ie where there is high conflict or threat of violence), can you suggest ways in which we can support customers to mediate outcomes rather than putting them through a detailed and onerous COA where the decision is not of their making?

If more relevant information was obtained at the assessment stage, I would expect a significant number of COAs would not be lodged.  Eg, while COA is required to have salary sacrifice arrangements regarded, seeing it is Government policy for them to be included, as evidenced by the Budget changes, there is nothing stopping the CSA collecting such information at first contact.
While I agree with most of Bigred's comments, in all our 4 COAs, an SCO has never tried to broker an agreement or ask what we thought would be a reasonable reduction.  Possibly this may be because the payee has written that the payer should have no reduction for contact costs or possibly because the CSA can use a set formula to calculate the reduction.  Having said that, in all cases bar 1, the SCO has actually taken a very hostile stance towards payer - despite full evidence of contact costs - more or less saying that we were trying to disadvantage the children through seeking a reduction.

Also perhaps this is an anomaly in the Overseas CSA department but staff have not been helpful in the COA process - COAs haven't been acknowledged, one was erroneously returned as being incomplete to a wrong address (the staff did not believe that husband had no assets other than a car so returned form dealying process by 4 weeks - a simple email/call would have clarified it for them) and for all of them we have had to chase up progress after 3 months with no acknowledgement.
monster said
I do not think that divorce settlement should be included in a persons income as this only seems to happen for a payer, after all if you have a settlement you would legitimatly have establishment costs, that is you need to live off the money  and re-settle because you have worked towards having asessts. a divorce settlement is an asesst and not an income.
Monster I do not think we are on the same page. OR in the same topic… :offtopic: The topic is "Change of Assessment (COA) information needed" (About the COA process. If you want to explore this new subject please set up a new Topic (not in this forum) as this forum is about changes to Child Support legislation.


Executive Secretary - Shared Parenting Council of Australia
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greebo said
…in all our 4 COAs, an SCO has never tried to broker an agreement or ask what we thought would be a reasonable reduction. 
So the delivery here is "CSA to provide some "brokearage skillset/mediation service around COA"
greebo said
…Possibly this may be because the payee has written that the payer should have no reduction for contact costs or possibly because the CSA can use a set formula to calculate the reduction.  Having said that, in all cases bar 1, the SCO has actually taken a very hostile stance towards payer - despite full evidence of contact costs - more or less saying that we were trying to disadvantage the children through seeking a reduction.
With the new discount for care as part of the formula.. The new lowered protected amount on both sides, the fact both incomes are taken into account.. Does that have an improved impact now for you?
greebo said
…Also perhaps this is an anomaly in the Overseas CSA department but staff have not been helpful in the COA process - COAs haven't been acknowledged, one was erroneously returned as being incomplete to a wrong address (the staff did not believe that husband had no assets other than a car so returned form delaying process by 4 weeks - a simple email/call would have clarified it for them) and for all of them we have had to chase up progress after 3 months with no acknowledgement.
Firstly you say "the Overseas CSA department" I was not sure what this is all about. Are you dealing with an overseas assesment here? and in respect to "COAs haven't been acknowledged" the deliverable here is that COA needs to be formally acknowledged as received and then what? I thought CSA do send out a standard letter when a COA is received.


Executive Secretary - Shared Parenting Council of Australia
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1) What kinds of issues do parents involved in a Change of Assessment application raise with you?

Process:

The COA forms give very clear instructions of what an applicant or respondent has to provide in the way of substantiation in all areas except Reason 9, yet these forums show that there are still concerns about unsubstantiated claims, especially from respondents. Perhaps could you suggest that responses are screened before the conference in the same way that applications are and necessary supporting documents requested.

Unsupported or inadequate applications are rejected before they are sent to the other parent. Could you suggest that unsubstantiated or frivolous cross-applications are treated the same way?

Applications which are assessed as having no grounds are currently rejected before they are passed on to a Senior Case Officer. Could you suggest that such applications are looked at by a Senior Case Officer before they are rejected to make sure the reason for rejecting them is both based on the legislation and adequately explained in the rejection letter?

Information/forms available from CSA:

Both the application and response forms say that documentation must be provided to make or dispute claims. The application form gives good examples of the documentation needed for each Reason, but the response form gives few details. Could you suggest significantly enlarging the print for the sentence after each reason saying that the respondent must provide documents when disputing any claims made by the applicant?

The application form does not remind an applicant to provide details of the income of a dependent adult under Reason 9. As we have seen recently, this has held up Cam's application.

The flow chart does not show that applications are looked over and assessed for validity before they are sent to the other parent, and may be rejected at that stage.

This is petty, but I have had to answer accusations of hiding income three times because there is no place on the form to declare the amount of child support currently being received. Perhaps that could be included somewhere on the form?

2) Are there elements of the COA process that you think work well and that should be retained?

Conferences are really helpful - I don't think COA should ever be done just on the papers.

The forms provide useful re-direction to simpler processes such as lodging an estimate, applying for extension beyond age 18 and applying for exemption of additional income without going through a COA process.

3) What are customers' current expectations about the outcome of a COA? ie do customers understand the scope of the possible outcomes?

I can only speak for myself, and yes I do understand.

4) What are some of the negative/unintended outcomes of the COA process?

It can be very stressful. A suggestion to help with that would be to set up for the customer to be able to track the progress of the application through CSA online. A very basic progress indicator of when the application is received, when it is looked over and accepted for processing, when it is posted to the other parent etc would relieve some of the stress of being in a 'process' of unknown duration.

The COA process can be unnecessarily intrusive and lead to arguments about irrelevant details. I agree with Bigred that there are some COA applications which could be lodged on an abridged form. For example, the full household expenditure details could be deleted for the payee in Reason 2 and 3 applications where the sole source of income for the payee is Centrelink benefits, and replaced with documentary proof of the actual additional expenses. The issue in those claims is whether there is additional cost, and whether the parents are liable to share the cost,not whether an applicant on income support can afford to pay the full cost. Similarly, if the payer is not claiming financial hardship or inability to contribute to the additional costs, there is nothing to be gained by having them reveal the fine details of their household budget.



I have printed out this thread and numerous emails I have received on this topic and will prepare a summary during the travel down in the morning in preparation for the workshop. Thanks to all who have participated. :thumbs:

Executive Secretary - Shared Parenting Council of Australia
 Was my post helpful? If so, please let others know about the FamilyLawWebGuide whenever you see the opportunity
 
Secretary SPCA said
I have printed out this thread and numerous emails I have received on this topic and will prepare a summary during the travel down in the morning in preparation for the workshop. Thanks to all who have participated.
Why not suggest the CSA actually READS the legislation by Parliament, ie "departure FROM assessment" (advisory only) and not the "creature of their own creation" the Change of Assesment (COA)?

Or, IF the legislation might be CHANGED, then give it Rules of Evidence so that COAs are subject to s4A, ie Criminal Code, and not just a walk in the park where the truth is not all it seems. Accountability and proof are required here.
Secretary,  In response to your comments on my entries.

The new formula for contact does not help us.  My husband and I live in UK so seeing kids (who were taken to NSW) for 52 days/year is impossible (we both only have 25 days holdiay a year).  COA is to get a reduction to pay towards travel/accommodation costs for a 3 weeks annual visit to Oz/kidsvisit to UK.

My reference to Overseas CSA is that we deal through the Tasmanian regional branch who have a department who deal with all cases where either payer/payee is outside Australia.  It may be that this department's erratic treatment of the COA process is at odds with other regional offices.  We never receive acknowledgement letter and after our 1st COA (which as I said was incorrectly rejected and returned to wrong address), we like to check that the process has been started.  As stated, we chased up our last COA more than 4 months after submission and found that nothing had been actioned.  Allegedly no decision had been made on whether the COA was valid before sending it to the payee  - we wonder whether the COA would have sat in a pile more or less indefinitely if we hadn't had chased it up as a COA for contact is straightforward if you provide all proof of costs (copies of flight tickets, accommodation, car hire etc), which we had done.  For our objection, we received an acknowledgement letter and a rough end date for the process - a similar letter/email/phonecall for the COA would put our mind at rest that the process was working.

Fully support all Briar rose's comments.
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