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Patrick Parkinson Supports Big Government C$A

So-called child support expert, Patrick Parkinson, claims British ministers have had a 'nervous breakdown in moving to reduced government involvement with British CSA

So, Parkinson has interest in maintaining a large controlling - and father-killing - bureaucracy!

My understanding, of the child support direction in Britain, is that while the State might be moving to downsize government bureaucracy, it is preparing for more private enterprise tracking and enforcement.

Child support expert claims ministers have had a 'nervous breakdown'
By Rosemary Bennett, Social Affairs Correspondent

The Times (Britain)
19 January 2008

The architect of Australia's acclaimed child maintenance system is so alarmed at Britain's plans to overhaul the Child Support Agency that he has flown to London to voice his concern.

The new system, which encourages separating couples to reach their own arrangements voluntarily, leaving a pared-down agency to deal with "hard cases", means that many children will get far less than they deserve from their absent father, he has said.

Patrick Parkinson, who designed the Australian model, said that the decision to scrap the CSA and replace it with a much smaller operation was the result of a "nervous breakdown" among senior politicians after years of technological and administrative disasters, but it was highly flawed.

"There is a great danger that child maintenance in Britain will now be seen as voluntary, that non-resident parents can decide whether or not they want to support their children," he told The Times. "The second danger is that the resident parent, usually the mother, ends up acquiescing to the first offer made [by the father] on the grounds that at least they will get it."

In Australia 94 per cent of child maintenance cases are overseen by the CSA, which calculates how much the children are entitled to, although half of parents arrange the transfer of money themselves. In Britain, the new Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (C-MEC), which will replace the CSA this year, will be involved only in cases where fathers refuse repeatedly to pay maintenance or regularly default. For everyone else, it will publish a formula suggesting how much absent fathers should pay.

Professor Parkinson, an academic and expert in family law, led the government taskforce into child maintenance in Australia that drew up its system. He said that he understood why ministers and opposition politicians wanted to make the role of the new agency as small as possible.

"You can understand the thinking. The previous system with all the problems and IT disasters made everyone think 'we've got to do it simple'. It has come as a result of a sort of nervous breakdown. Closing down one agency and starting up another to carry out similar functions is a desperate measure by any standards," he said.

Mothers on benefits will no longer be required to have their maintenance claims decided by C-MEC and, crucially, they will be able to keep the first £40 a week of child maintenance before their benefits are clawed back by the Treasury. However, Professor Parkinson said he believes that £40 a week will soon be regarded as the only sensible amount of money absent fathers should pay, given that the rest will be offset in benefit withdrawal.

"There is no incentive for the father to pay more since he is paying it straight to the Treasury, or for the mother on benefits to try to get more since she isn't going to get to keep any of it," he said.

Here and there

In Britain

- 19 per cent of child support cases go through the CSA. Even fewer under the reformed system

- Flat-rate formula suggests that absent fathers pay 10 per cent of salary for one child, 15 per cent for two and 20 per cent for three

- Separating couples encouraged to make own arrangements, with new C-MEC for difficult cases only

- No incentive for fathers to have greater contact with their children within maintenance system

- Conservatives exploring plans for family relationship centres to help separating families to reach agreement

In Australia

- 94 per cent of cases go through child support agency, although in half of cases parents set up transfer of cash privately

- Formula based on income of both parents, based on needs of child, and changes with age

- Agency deducts maintenance from pay packets in 40 per cent of cases

- Discounts for fathers who care for children at least a day a week

- System is backed by network of Family Relationship Centres to help to resolve disputes

I wouldn't get excited about copying the Australian system - it creates more problems than it solves and is designed to save the state money more than look after the childrens welfare. The system is inflexible and very costly for parents to get reviewed as circumstances change. It is typically over-bureaucratic, as all Australian systems are, and always makes sure the Government can levy its high taxation on both parties - without any relief at all, plus everything of course is means-tested.

Graham Casey, Perth, Australia
Just for the record I pay almost £600/month to a mother with a good job, house I paid for and a car. What about fathers having some life after divorce?

Steve, Midlands, UK
Child contact is voluntary. I see no reason why it shouldn't cut both ways.

Charles, London
The CSA system over there has been in total meltdown for the past 12 months with the Government almost ready to throw up its hands - scrap it and start over again.

I think (not 100% certain) that CSA rates are after total NETT and not on taxable income.

Executive Member of SRL-Resources, the Family Law People on this site (look for the Avatars) Be mindful what you post in public areas. 

What is required for a child support scheme to work efficiently and fairly

An administrative system of child support that works efficiently and fairly, and has the support - however grudging - of a sizeable majority of the people in a democracy requires (and has always required) that the scheme:

(1) levies child support at MODERATE and equitable rates - i.e., rates that are not so high as to represent a strong incentive to (mainly) women with children to divorce their spouses for what they believe (often wrongly) will be a boost to their command over money and power:

(2) ensures that the money paid as "child support" goes ultimately to the benefit of the CHILDREN, rather than the government or the custodial parent;

(3) has a collection system that is EFFICIENTLY ADMINISTERED using a government agency that is experienced, capable, and clothed with sufficient power to raise money efficiently - only a taxation office or another agency using the taxation office as a platform can do it;

(4) covers the national territory reasonably UNIFORMLY - a policy that has (e.g.) 50 separate State systems, such as in the US, can never work properly, and leads to corruption at the State level; and

(5) has adequately functioning links with the BROADER SYSTEM of family law and social security.

Tha Australian child support scheme probably scores three stars under 3. and two stars under 4., and may rate one star under 2. and 5.  The old Australian scheme didn't rate any stars under 1.,  but the new scheme might deserve one star under that criterion.  The high scores under 3. and 4. are mainly the result of constitutional arrangements, and are not (as such) a reason for self-congratulation by the Australian CSA.

The UK scheme appears, on the above criteria, to be markedly inferior to the Australian scheme - in that it bombs out completely under criterion 2., and also scores much lower under criterion 3. (and the modifications now proposed to the scheme will make the situation even worse)

The UK Department of Social Security consulted the LFAA before the introduction of their scheme in the mid-1990s, and were strongly warned against designing a scheme whose obvious purpose was to transfer money from separated fathers to the UK Treasury (as opposed to the children). The UK authorities ignored the advice, and went on to produce the long-playing disaster we have been observing for the last ten years.  They still don't seem to understand what went wrong. As possible compensation, there may now be an improvement in the UK scheme under criterion 1.


Last edit: by lfapolad

Just a few points on the topic.

UK system is based on net income not gross.  UK CSA is very badly administered - although 'new' system came in several years ago, payers who were on old system (under which they pay more) are still not assessed under the new system.  Agree that UK CSA is poor at following up debtors, although from other forums, it appears that Australian CSA can be pretty poor at getting money off those who are not bog-standard wage earners.

When this news first hit press in UK, some time ago, I wrote to ministers about dangers of moving wholesale to Australian system due to my husband's dreadful personal experiences.  On the whole the rates under UK system are a lot fairer, provided payee doesn't rely entirely on state benefits (as was mentioned, idea was to stop payees completely abdicating responsibility for supporting themselves).  Under UK CSA, my husband paid around £800($2000) /month with no second family (his ex-wife still got £600($1500)/month in family welfare support on top of this and her part time wages) - post July, under the Australian system he will be expected to pay £1000(2500AUD) /month (on same wage) despite now having 2 dependents.  Although new system will make it fairer for most people with regular contact with their kids, anomalies still exist.  With his kids living in Oz, husband can only see kids once a year - under Oz rules, it is deemed perfectly reasonable for him to spend 5% of his gross income, regardless of his personal circumstances, on contact before they start to slightly reduce the CSA assessment - this in effect means that they agree that it costs him £5000/year to see them (which is about 8% of his net income), they only reduce his CSA by a few hundred dollars.
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