4 June 2009
Commonwealth Ombudsman Professor John McMillan today criticised the Child Support Agency (CSA) for making too many mistakes when issuing Departure Prohibition Orders (DPOs) to prevent child support debtors from leaving the country.
Releasing the findings of his investigation into the CSAs administration of DPOs, Professor McMillan criticised the CSA for a lack of quality in decision-making processes that could lead to serious errors or result in the invalidation of some CSA-issued DPOs.
The Ombudsman pointed to the case of Mr H to demonstrate weaknesses in the CSAs use of its DPO powers and to highlight the need to consider all relevant information when making decisions that affect a persons basic right to freedom of movement.
Professor McMillan saidDepriving a person of the freedom of movement is a serious act.
The CSA must not make mistakes when exercising this power.
Mr H was issued a DPO when the CSA learned that he intended to travel overseas to see his mother, who was sick in hospital. Mr H explained to the CSA that he had no personal income his current partner was supporting him while he undertook full-time caring responsibilities for their two young childrenand his parents had paid for the airline tickets.
As at 8 May 2009, the CSA had 1,004 DPOs in force. The CSAs compliance strategy for 200810 includes an increased emphasis on the use of DPOs as a means of collecting child support, with a target to issue an additional 4,500 DPOs by 2010.
Professor McMillan saidIn making the decision to issue the DPO to Mr H, the CSA did not take into consideration his capacity to pay his $5,000 child support debt. Further, it would appear that the CSA took the decision to issue the DPO only because it had failed to successfully make an arrangement with Mr H to pay the debt.
It would seem that Mr H did not attempt to go overseas after the DPO was made, nor did he complain to my office. I learnt about his case via a complaint made by an unrelated person with a similar name, who was stopped at the airport in error.
Professor McMillan was pleased to note that the CSA had acknowledged the report findings and advised that immediate steps had been undertaken to improve CSA policies and procedures, including administration of DPOs.
Professor McMillan saidIt is questionable whether it is appropriate for the CSA to have such targets for matters of this type.
The immediate challenge is for the CSA to focus its attention on the quality of its DPO processes, including the provision of advice to recipients on their right to challenge an Order.
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