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Child support fraud neglected: Ombudsman

Several articles of interest.

ABC News
13 November 2008

Support group found negligent in risk management
Posted 10 hours 47 minutes ago

The Commonwealth Ombudsman has found the Child Support Agency has not been adequately managing the risks of customer fraud.

John McMillan says his investigation found that staff at the agency did not know what to do with fraud allegations, and generally did not regard investigating and prosecuting such cases as their job.

The Ombudsman says he has received several complaints that the agency was not acting on customers concerns that some parents were providing false information to reduce their child support payments.

Professor McMillan says the agency has since put in place a new compliance program, which has a stronger emphasis on criminal investigation and prosecution.


The Age (Melbourne)
14 November 2008

Review of child support urged
By Carol Nader

Government authorities are failing to adequately investigate allegations of child support fraud and prosecute parents who have deliberately provided misleading information, the Ombudsman has found.

Instead, the Child Support Agency's fraud control plan focuses almost exclusively on the risks of fraud by staff, rather than parents who are shirking their child support responsibilities.

Ombudsman John McMillan also found that agency staff who were told of fraud allegations "seemed not to know what to do with them" beyond checking to see whether a parent's child support assessment was correct.

"It appears that CSA staff do not generally regard investigating and prosecuting customer fraud as an appropriate strategy or efficient use of resources," he said in a report released yesterday.

"The complaints that we have investigated indicate that the allegations the CSA receives are rarely investigated beyond the point of establishing whether the CSA already has evidence in its records to show that the person has made a false or misleading statement."

The report is embarrassing for the Federal Government, which this year announced a series of measures aimed at cracking down on child support compliance to recover $1 billion owed to children.

In June the Government announced private investigators would use video and photographic evidence to identify parents considered the "worst offenders" in deception.

Other measures include intercepting tax refunds to recover child support debts.

But the Ombudsman said the agency's focus seemed to be limited to collecting debt and correcting assessments.

It "does not seem to have a robust culture of identifying, investigating and prosecuting fraud", he said.

His recommendations include that the agency review its fraud control plan and develop procedures for staff to respond to allegations. The agency has accepted most of the recommendations.

In the case of one complaint investigated by the Ombudsman, a mother believed her ex-husband had provided the agency with fraudulently altered pay slips. The agency did not investigate the allegations and relied on the payslips to assess his child support payments.

The woman had to go to court to get the right level of child support.

Professor McMillan said in some cases when staff were told of allegations of fraud, they suggested that the person making the allegation take their own legal action or approach the police.

Human Services Minister Joe Ludwig said in a statement that the Government had no tolerance for people who dodged their child support responsibilities by misleading the agency.

He expected the agency to refer cases where there was evidence of deliberate fraud to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.


The Sydney Morning Herald
13 November 2008

Child support fraud neglected: Ombudsman

The Child Support Agency (CSA) is overlooking cases of client fraud, the Commonwealth Ombudsman says.

Ombudsman John McMillan has recommended the CSA develop new fraud control measures after investigating complaints that the agency did not consider prosecuting customers as an efficient use of its resources.

One complaint, detailed in a report by Mr McMillan, was made by a mother who believed her former husband had provided the agency with fraudulently-altered payslips.

The agency did not conduct an appropriate investigation and continued to rely on the payslips as evidence to assess his child support payments.

The mother had to resort to expensive court action to have the matter resolved.

Professor McMillan said it was beyond the means of most parents to initiate court action to challenge suspected fraudulent action.

"Under the commonwealth government guidelines, the CSA is required to have a comprehensive control plan to detect, investigate and prevent fraud," he said in a statement.

"The integrity of the child support scheme hinges on the reliability of the evidence on which child support assessment decisions are made."

Edited

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