This is a media release issued by the Commonwealthy Ombudsman
Commonwealth Ombudsman, Prof. John McMillan, today released a report into the Child Support Agency's response to allegations of customer fraud.
'The integrity of the Child Support Scheme hinges on the reliability of the evidence on which child support assessment decisions are made,' Prof. McMillan said. 'This evidence determines how much each parent should contribute financially to the ongoing care and support of their children.'
Complaints to the Ombudsman's office suggested that the CSA did not regard investigating and prosecuting customer fraud as an efficient use of its resources.
'Given the complexity and sensitivity of the Child Support Scheme, it is incumbent on the CSA to ensure that assessments are made on the basis of accurate and substantiated information,' Prof. McMillan said. 'False or misleading information can result in children and supporting parents being seriously disadvantaged by a CSA assessment.'
One of the complaints discussed in the report was made by a mother who believed her former husband had provided the CSA with fraudulently altered pay slips as proof of his income. The CSA did not conduct any meaningful investigation of her allegations, and relied on the payslips as evidence to assess his child support payments. She had to resort to expensive court action in order to get an appropriate level of child support.
It is beyond the means of most parents to initiate court action to challenge suspected fraudulent action by the other parent. Under the Commonwealth Government Guidelines, the CSA is required to have a comprehensive control plan to detect, investigate and prevent fraud.
The Ombudsman has recommended that the CSA:
review its Fraud Control Plan to adequately manage the risks associated with customer fraud
develop new procedures for staff responding to customer fraud allegations
educate all staff about their role in identifying appropriate cases for referral to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution
consider further action concerning the complaint about forged pay slips
provide further guidance to staff about authenticating documents and when it is necessary to investigate and verify contradictory evidence from parents.
The CSA responded positively to the Ombudsman's report and recommendations.
During the investigation, the CSA advised the Ombudsman that it was developing new arrangements for investigation and prosecution of customer fraud. The CSA's compliance strategy for 20082010, announced on 23 June 2008, includes an increased emphasis on criminal investigation and prosecution in response to concerns about this issue. The report is available at the later news item on this site