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Minister Bowen gets a win in the Senate

Minister Bowen gets a win in the Senate.

The legislation covering a range of common sense Child Support amendments passed in the Senate yesterday.

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The new legislation is simplifying processes and the way families deal with the Child Support Agency (CSA) and Family Assistance Office (FAO).

From 1 July 2010, parents who choose to estimate their income for child support purposes will only have to provide the CSA with an estimate one financial year at a time.

The estimate will be automatically updated when parents lodge their tax return, helping the CSA to ensure the correct amount of child support is paid in a timely manner.

Currently, CSA customers are required to estimate their income over a period of up to 15 months, which can include income from up to three financial years.

The current process also leads to delays as the CSA needs to wait until all relevant tax returns are lodged before they can update an estimate.

The changes will help ensure children receive the appropriate level of financial support from their parents.

A more important measure is the new legislation that will also align care determinations for Family Tax Benefit and child support payments.

This means that the FAO and the CSA will use the same consistent set of rules to work out the level of care each parent provides.

From 1 July 2010, most separated parents will need to have their level of care assessed through only one agency, either the FAO or CSA.

The agency notified will then advise the other agency of any changes. If the parents are receiving family assistance and have a child support assessment, these details will be automatically updated.

The alignment of care determinations are in line with the Governments Service Delivery Reform agenda, which aims to give Australians the ability to tell us once.
The Hon. Minister Chris Bowen addressing the LFAA conference yesterday said
Part of the rationale for service delivery reform and the co-location of agency offices is an attempt to move towards a tell us once policy. This means that, rather than explaining your situation over and over again to a range of different people at every agency, you should only have to tell us your story once.

One area where we are making progress on this front involves the work of the Family Assistance Office and the Child Support Agency to align the rules regarding care levels for separated parents.

The Alignment of Care initiative was announced as part of the 2009/10 Federal Budget and the rules are due to come into effect in just over two weeks.

From 1 July, the Family Assistance Office and the Child Support Agency will use the same consistent set of rules to work out the percentage of care each parent provides. This new co-operation between the two agencies will make life a little simpler and easier for parents.

Parents will only have to tell their story once and their percentage of care will then be assessed by either the Family Assistance Office or the Child Support Agency. The other agency will then be notified of the decision, including any changes, and will update details automatically.

The benefits are obvious. By aligning the rules, we aim to reduce conflict and remove the strain on parents who currently have to deal with two agencies and two different sets of rules.

Subject to the passage of the legislation, the new rules will be implemented from 1 July. It will apply to all care determinations made on or after that date. The Child Support Agency and Centrelink will automatically transfer care determinations for mutual customers from July.

As part of the same Bill, which was introduced into Parliament by Minister for Families Jenny Macklin and is currently before the House, the Government is simplifying the income estimates process by changing the child support income estimates period from 15 months to 12 months.

Aligning the child support period to the financial year will provide simplified arrangements for customers estimating their incomes. The current 15 month estimates period can result in the period crossing over three financial years so customers and the CSA have to wait for up to three tax returns to be lodged before an income estimate for child support can be reconciled. This delay to reconciliation is not acceptable to both paying and receiving parents, and this measure fixes it once and for all with an automated reconciliation process aligned to financial years.
All of this aims to address customers concerns and improved the income estimate provisions for child support and aligned care across government agencies to cut red tape and provide easy, high-quality and more efficient service delivery to all Australians.
Secretary of the Shared Parenting Council Wayne Butler said
The alignment of care will be a terrific improvement for those who have benefits coming from FAO (Centrelink) and are in the CSA system with different assessments at the CSA and FAO (Centrelink). It has been a hot issue for some time and there are cases where payers have a 35% assessment of care at FAO and 22% at CSA so aligning these care levels will reduce much confusion. The SPCA and LFAA have worked with FAHCSIA on the early forming of this legislation some two years ago.

Philippa Godwin, Deputy Secretary of the Child Support Agency, was kind enough to attend and addressed the Lone Fathers Association conference today in more detail about these measures and further expanded on the comments Minister Bowen had made yesterday. Philippa advised that the measures start from July 1 2010 for all new assessments, but any one with a requirement to have a change made should contact FAO after this date to discus their case.

The only concern we have currently is the range of penalty provisions around incorrect income estimates but this will be reviewed later once we get feedback on its operation.
For more detail review the previous news item on our site or contact the ministerial advisor:

James Sorahan
Adviser to the Hon Chris Bowen MP
Minister for Human Services
Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services & Corporate Law
02 6277 7200 (Canberra)


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