Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General, has been unable to give a full sign off to the Client Funds Accounts of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission for 2008-09 and 2009-10. While the accounts properly present the amounts received and paid, he has qualified his opinions on the regularity of receipts and payments because of the level of error in maintenance assessments. He has also given adverse opinions for both years on the truth and fairness of the outstanding maintenance arrears (reported in note 6 to the account). Today’s report recognises, however, that significant improvements have been made by the Commission to the information available on child maintenance arrears and historic errors are now more visible.
The accounts have been qualified in terms of regularity because of the errors made in the calculations of maintenance assessments. Some payments have been based on incorrect assessments and some have been paid at the wrong rate. The best estimates for irregular receipts and payments for 2008-09 are £13.5 million overpayments and £15.5 million underpayments, and for 2009-10 are £10 million overpayments and £14.4 million of underpayments.
The C&AG has also given adverse opinions on the truth and fairness of note 6 to the account, the outstanding child maintenance arrears, which the Commission reports to be £3.717 billion at 31 March 2009 and £3.694 billion at 31 March 2010. These figures do not give a true and fair view because of the level of error in the underlying case data. The best available estimates of the cumulative errors indicate that the reported arrears at 31 March 2009 contained overstatements of £208 million and understatements of £288 million. It is estimated that the reported arrears at 31 March 2010 contained overstatements of £204 million and understatements of £305 million.
Since the Commission took over responsibility for the statutory child maintenance schemes, it has made significant improvements to the information available on child maintenance arrears, meaning that errors in the underlying case data, which were previously unknown, have now been made visible. The C&AG is, therefore, obliged to give an adverse opinion on the reported arrears. The opinions on arrears do not reflect a deterioration in the accuracy of data; rather increased transparency of errors that have accumulated since the inception of the statutory child maintenance schemes.
The Commission estimates that £0.482 billion (13 per cent of the total) of the outstanding balance is likely to be collectable. However, given the level of error in the underlying arrears data, there is significant uncertainty surrounding the accuracy of the estimated collectable amount.
28 April 2011