Friday, June 25, 2010

Australia - $1bn child support debt puts pressure on agency

$1bn child support debt puts pressure on agency

Seperated parents owe their ex-partners more than $1 billion in child support payments, the Auditor-General reported yesterday.
The Australian National Audit Office investigation into child support reform found that half of separated parents are failing to pay all, or any, of their child support liabilities.
The audit report, tabled in parliament yesterday, criticises the Child Support Agency's performance, despite a five-year reform process that cost taxpayers $877 million.
Clients were more likely to complain about the CSA after the costly reforms than beforehand.
The number of parents lodging formal complaints about the CSA to the Ombudsman and members of parliament rose 43 per cent between 2005-06 -- before the funding increase -- and 2008-09.
The number of child support cases dealt with by the CSA rose only 5 per cent during the same period.
Yet the proportion of complaints upheld when reviewed by the CSA rose from 19 per cent to 28 per cent.
The CSA itself received 12,874 complaints in 2008-09, of which 70 per cent related to service delivery -- a 52 per cent increase in the number of gripes over staff decision-making, inaction, behaviour, process or timeliness.
The report said half the CSA's customers were not paying all, or any, of their child support payments.
"The high level of customers that pay less than, or none of, their liability (approximately 50 per cent of customers), and the increase in the total amount of child support debt to more than $1bn, indicates that seeking the appropriate balance between service delivery and compliance enforcement roles remains an ongoing challenge for CSA," the report says.
The deficiencies were noted despite a 60 per cent increase in funding and 20 per cent increase in staffing for the CSA between 2005-06 and 2007-08.
The audit found that staff turnover cost the CSA $15m in 2007 -- with half the cost relating to fresh recruits quitting entry-level customer service positions.
The CSA has 1.5 million separated parents on its books, and assisted in the transfer of $2.8bn in support payments in 2008-09.

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