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Head of the National Audit Office Sir John Bourn has qualified his opinion on the Child Support Agency’s account for the ninth year running because of historical high levels of error in maintenance assessments.

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Reporting to Parliament today, Sir John said that he had taken this action because, on the basis of his examination of the account, he estimated that 28 per cent of receipts from non-resident parents and 76 per cent of maintenance assessment debts were incorrect. This was mainly the result of errors over a number of years in underlying maintenance assessments and incorrect adjustments to customers’ accounts.

Sir John further estimated that:

  • of the £586 million receipts from non-resident parents, there were overpayments of £4.5 million and underpayments of £21.9 million; and
  • the amount of £686 million shown in the account as due from non-resident parents for maintenance assessments at 31 March 2003 contained overstatement errors of £21.7 million and understatement errors of £390.9 million in debts arising from full maintenance assessment; and overstatement errors of £2.7 million and understatement errors of £6.8 million in debts arising from interim maintenance assessments.

A reform programme, Child Support Reforms, aimed at simplifying and modernising the system for making maintenance assessments, was introduced in March 2003 for new claims only. Implementation of the programme had originally been planned for April 2002 but had been deferred by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions until a new computer system could be operated to specified standards. The reform programme incorporates a new methodology for calculating maintenance assessments which will be significantly less complicated than the previous scheme.

"I have had to qualify this account yet again because maintenance assessments are still subject to high levels of error. I therefore welcome the implementation earlier this year of the Agency’s reform programme with its new, simplified methodology for calculating maintenance assessments.

The Agency believes that this will result in more accurate assessments and provide other associated benefits. The new programme has been operating for only four months and it is too early for me to assess the success of the reforms. I intend to consider their impact in my audit of the 2003-04 account."

Sir John


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