Memorandum submitted by the Department
for Work and Pensions (DWP) (CS 02)
1.1 The Child Support Agency (CSA) was established
in April 1993.
1.2 Its aim is to deliver a professional,
efficient and sensitive child support service which plays its
part in ensuring that children whose parents do not live together
are financially supported and kept out of poverty. To do that
it seeks to make a speedy and accurate assessment of child maintenance
due, to ensure that this is paid and to help clients through this.
It recognises that despite recent improvements it still has some
way to go to meet this ambition and is dependent on the successful
implementation of the changes within the child support reform
programme to do so.
1.3 The CSA's main operational targets are
set by the Secretary of State on advice from the Children's Client
Director. These targets are published in the CSA's annual Business
Plan and include:
the proportion of assessed maintenance
entitlement collected; and
the accuracy of assessments made.
1.4 The values of these targets are kept
under review and adjusted annually. Information on performance
against them is set out in the CSA's Annual Report and Accounts.
In year performance reporting against these and other operational
targets and objectives takes place within the Department's overall
performance management framework.
1.5 The first phases of the child support
reform programme have already been implemented. These include:
the "early legislative changes"
which provided greater powers:
for tracing non-resident parents;
to seek information from third
to prosecute for failure to provide
information or for providing false information;
restructuring the front-end of the
CSA business to create "new client teams";
introducing new debt management arrangements
backed with an enhanced debt management computer system and supported
by new bailiff arrangements;
implementing "sign posting"
training for all staff involved in day to day contact with clients.
This ensures that clients with particular difficulties are given
the opportunity to contact partners in the voluntary sector to
gain specialist help;
introducing new performance management
arrangements and invested in a major training programme for managers;
acting as a pilot for and implementing
a new desktop computer system.
1.6 Against that background of successful
implementation it was disappointing that the Agency's IT partners,
EDS, were unable to complete testing of the new IT system in time
to permit them to commence the next stage of the reform programme
and implement the new rules for maintenance calculation from the
planned April 2002 start date.
2. ABOUT THE
2.1 The Agency employs around 12,000 full
and part-time staff based in six main centres, 18 Satellite Processing
Centres and 88 Local Service Bases for our face-to-face work.
There is a headquarters unit based in Longbenton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
2.2 It is managed by a 10 member Board chaired
by the Chief Executive, Doug Smith. The other nine seats are filled
by four executive directors and five non-executive directors (of
which two are drawn from outside the Department). The four executive
operational delivery and the management
of the office network;
change, primarily delivery and implementation
of the child support reform programme;
staff and client relations; and
2.3 The Agency is committed to a programme
of continuous improvement and has structured its planning around
the business excellence model promoted by the European Foundation
for Quality Management. Within that model it has recently achieved
re-accreditation to Investors in People and 24 teams within the
Agency (including one whole Business Unit) have achieved Charter
2.4 The Agency's total spend in 2001-02
was £223.5 million. Its budget for the current year is £227.8
million. Its caseload now totals just over 1.1 million and it
will receive during the course of this year around 300,000 new
applications. Around 92 per cent of these are likely to be from
clients in receipt of state benefits and around 8 per cent will
be from private clients.
3.1 During the last year the "front-end"
of the Agency's business was re-organised to create new client
teams. The intention of this was partly to prepare for the changes
which would be needed when the new rules for calculating child
maintenance were introduced. But the Agency also sought to seize
the opportunity to improve the quality of service offered to clients
when they first approached the Agency.
3.2 It therefore invested in a training
programme for all staff involved in these new teams to ensure
that they were properly skilled in relation to handling clients
at what is often an emotionally difficult phase in their lives.
They were also given negotiating skills training to assist them
in working with non-resident parents to ensure an early and regular
flow of maintenance. This training has paid off in terms of achieving
improved accuracy and improved compliance. It has also significantly
improved the productivity of those teams.
3.3 Those and other customer-facing teams
were also given "sign posting" training. This was developed
and delivered in conjunction with our partners in the voluntary
sector. It recognised that the Agency was unlikely to be able
to deal with the full range of problems being faced by many of
the people with whom it was coming into contact. Staff are now
trained to guide people toward organisations in the voluntary
sector who are best placed to offer specialist help. Initial feedback
from the voluntary sector is positive, clients appear to value
the information the Agency staff give them and staff themselves
feel that they are making a positive contribution toward helping
clients resolve difficult issues.
3.4 Agency senior managers meet quarterly
with all major stakeholders to discuss both operational issues
and issues arising from the child support reform programme. Client
consultation panels have been established in each Business Unit
to help measure client satisfaction and to seek input on how it
might best improve its services. Through the panels the Agency
are able to test plans and ideas, obtain quick feedback and maintain
a focus on issues from a client perspective.
3.5 In response to client demand the Agency
provides a "face to face" service so that people who
have difficulty in resolving issues by telephone or in writing
can meet with an experienced caseworker either in a local office
or exceptionally in their own home.
4.1 One-third of the Agency's staff are
aged under 30, over a quarter have been with the Agency for two
years or less and over half earn £12,500 or less each year.
That means that many have not fully developed "life skills",
they are relatively inexperienced and they are relatively low
paid. The current wastage rate is around 14 per cent. Sick absence
levels remain high at around an average of 12 days per year, per
member of staff.
4.2 All this adds a particular premium to
developing first-rate management skills so that the Agency encourages
everyone to give of their best. The Agency has therefore invested
in management training and development. This has been underpinned
by a published set of "management standards" against
which managers will, for the future, be appraised.
4.3 The Agency has sought to limit wastage
ensuring that new potential recruits
are aware before joining of the real nature of the job;
incentivising staff through team
performance bonuses; and
conducting exit interviews to understand
why people are leaving.
4.4 The Agency have sought to limit sick
encouraging a healthy lifestyle through
the appointment of occupational health advisors and the creation
of a health screening programme;
keeping in touch with people on sick
absence and offering support and encouragement to return to work;
ensuring that managers act when an
unjustified absence occurs; and
ensuring that appropriate referrals
are made to external medical support and where appropriate employment
4.5 In June last year the Agency conducted
a staff attitude survey. On the whole the Agency was regarded
as a good employer but not surprisingly staff had some concerns
about pay and levels of stress.
4.6 The Agency works in partnership with
the main staff trade union, the Public and Commercial Services
Union. Examples of the benefit of partnership working include
joint reviews of security concerns of face to face workers and
the difficult issue of how we use alternative working patterns
to create a full service to clients beyond the traditional working
day. They also worked closely with us on implementation of team
5.1 Annex A to this note sets out the Agency's
year end results on operational targets agreed with the Secretary
5.2 The picture painted by these annexes
is positive. In short productivity is higher over the year than
the Agency expected, accuracy is better and compliance has increased.
The increased productivity has not shown through in making the
expected in-roads into work on hand reductions only because work
intake has outstripped its ability to work faster.
5.3 The Agency is seeking to sustain similar
levels of performance in the current year which will also contain
significant change as it implements the next stages of the child
support reform programme. The Agency are again seeking to incentivise
performance through a team bonus scheme.
6. CHILD SUPPORT
6.1 A number of key elements within the
child support reform programme have already been implemented successfully.
But the key change, the adoption of new rules for new cases, planned
for April had to be deferred because the computer system required
for implementation had not at that time completed testing. This
is being developed under a private finance initiative contract
by the Agency's IT partners, EDS.
6.2 The Secretary of State has indicated
that he will not be able to indicate a date for the commencement
of the new rules until he is satisfied that the IT system is available
and has been properly tested.
6.3 The deferral was disappointing, particularly
as the Agency had geared itself up to and was fully prepared for
implementation in April. Senior managers have worked hard with
staff to ensure that this disappointment did not impact morale
in a way which diminished operational effectiveness.