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Gingerbread, the national charity providing advice and practical support for single parents is ‘shocked’ by the revelations of the National Audit Office report - ‘Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission: Cost Reduction.’
Gingerbread’s chief executive Fiona Weir said: ‘Single parents will be devastated by what this report shows: that the Commission is relying on taking money from children to pay for its own inefficiencies. We are astonished that the Commission is banking on fee charging to balance its books without any clear plan to get to grips with its management and performance failures.
‘It is shocking that the NAO has found that the Commission is at risk of repeating previous mistakes, and is a damning indictment of its ongoing poor performance.
‘We must not lose sight of the fundamental fact that many children who really need child maintenance will go without if the statutory maintenance service does not do its job properly. Government plans to charge parents to use the service run the risk of children losing out on child maintenance, as their parents try to avoid charges but are not able to agree and sustain private arrangements.
‘We urgently call on the government to suspend all plans to charge parents until the Commission is proven to be delivering an efficient, value-for-money service’.
Plans by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission to reduce its spending are high risk, according to the National Audit Office commenting on the NAO report ‘Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission: Cost Reduction.’
They say there is already a £44 million shortfall in the £161 million reduction originally expected by 2014-15 and that the Commission is reliant on raising £71 million in fee income from parents as part of its planned savings. These estimates are however very uncertain and increase the risk that additional cuts might be needed late on in the Spending Review that could have an adverse effect on services.
The existing child maintenance schemes were considered problematic from the start and large backlogs of work built up. Efficiency has improved since 2006 and the cost of administering child maintenance has reduced. There are strong indications that costs remain high.
The National Audit Office believes the planned cost reductions rely heavily on the introduction of a new child maintenance scheme and associated IT system. They are concerned that as IT costs have increased and the Commission risks repeating some of the mistakes made on the earlier child maintenance schemes. The estimates for fee income include assumptions that the NAO cannot substantiate. There is no contingency plan if forecast income for the last year of the Spending Review in 2014-15 proves optimistic.
The NAO say that according to the report, the Commission’s plans to reduce costs are high risk and not sufficiently developed to secure the savings needed. The NAO say that the Commission needs to consider alternative options for restructuring and introduce measures to improve productivity.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: ‘Faced with a challenging but achievable target for reducing its spending, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission is relying heavily on the introduction of fees to parents, underpinned by a new IT system. This is a high risk approach with no contingencies if it goes awry.
‘I do not believe the Commission can achieve value for money without developing a realistic plan for controlling and reducing its costs and this will involve making genuine efficiencies in how it delivers its services.’