back to article Child support IT fail: Deadbeat mums 'n' dads off the hook

Problems with IT systems at the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) have left it unable to report payment arrears properly, the National Audit Office (NAO) has found. CMEC, which took over responsibility for statutory child maintenance schemes in November 2008, inherited two primary child support IT systems - …


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  1. Usually Right or Wrong

    This just reinforces the belief...

    That government and IT and not happy or cost effective bedfellows.

  2. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    why is this so hard

    Sounds like they are running Access or similar as this "clerical system".

    Still the base problem shouldnt be that difficult to correct. You should know when the record was created in the new system. Therefore you can go back to the old system and calculate arrears at that date, and transfer the opening balance across.

    Obviously Im sure there are some subtleties not mentioned but it doesnt seem like rocket science.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: why is this so hard

      if you think it's that easy it's because

      you don't understand the problem

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: you don't understand the problem

        Quite possibly true, but the article does nothing to explain why this isn't essentially the same problem that squillions of commercial enterprises manage to solve.

        You have two parties and a schedule of regular payments between them. The schedule may change from time to time. Both parties need to be able to see the state of the account and its history. Even my bank can manage this, and it managed to lose several billion the other year.

        Why is it so hard? What do other countries do? If they have a better solution, why didn't we buy it off them? Why are all government IT projects so un-utterably crap?

    2. Ross 7

      Re: why is this so hard

      It's not hard - it is however a **** load of work. Work = time = money.

      The clerical system will indeed be a kludge - Access is a possibility as you state. The first problem is they didn't import all the necessary info. It sounds suspiciously like the classic mistake of missing out entire tables (they likely went two table on the transfer - current state and history). As a result they don't know how much ppl owed when the transfer to the clerical system occurred.

      To make matters worse they're hand entering details of payments that have been made and making a mess of it, so now they can't even be sure that the info on payments that they do have can be trusted! In other words, the info they have is of no value. They have to start from scratch.

      The final nail in the coffin is the fact that the database doesn't sound anything like enterprise level, so corruptions of varying sorts have probably made records even more confusing.

      Yet another case of badly specified software badly executed :(

  3. Robert Heffernan

    I hate "deadbeat"

    I really hate the term "Deadbeat" in relation to child support.

    My first child is about to be born within the next few weeks and the relationship with my ex broke down due to my ex doing EVERYTHING her mother says. My ex MIL didn't like me and when she got a granddaughter on the way she got rid of me.

    The relevance here being, I was financially well off before I met my ex and my life was pretty good, now after it all I am struggling financially, my life has been turned upside down, I have no bed because I can't afford a new one and she tool the old one when she left, and I cant pay my bills in time and often get threatened with disconnection. As such when I enter the child support system, I will do my best to make my payments but it's only a matter of time until I go under and wind up bankrupt. When that happens I am going to be labelled a deadbeat for not being able to pay even though I am working my ass off to make ends meet.

    Don't get me wrong, there truly are some deadbeats out there on welfare, drinking and smoking their money and not giving a crap about supporting their children, but immediately labeling everyone in arrears as a deadbeat is just wrong.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: I hate "deadbeat"

      Very true. Thatcher and her spin-team sold the CSA to the voter with such phrases as "dead beat dads" and "jack-the-lads bed hopping around the council estates breeding like rabbits without a care for the cost"

      All well and good until they ACTUALLY put it into practise and went after any father with a job where the mother claimed any kind of income benefit whether they were paying for the child or not, forcing the absent parent to pay not only for the child, but 100% of the mother's outgoings as well. Hence my pay packet of £800 a month suddenly having £650 a month taken out of it before I saw it and could use it to pay my £480 a month mortgage, food and bills. Letters from the bank about not paying the mortgage etc etc.

      Just don't get me started.

      1. Stuart Tomlinson

        Re: I hate "deadbeat"

        I know where your coming from , I got a bill for £44,000 and the CSA took a deduction of Earnings Order from my wages , leaving me with under 80 quid a week to live on , even although I had sent all my wage info through and they sat on it for over 2 years , took 5 months and getting my MP involved to get enough of my wages to live on, and still paying off credit card bills so I could pay rent, fuel and food for that 6 months years later. system sucks.

        and when mt revised bill came in it was for 5 grand, thats a bit of a drop from over 40,000.....

        1. Aqua Marina

          Re: I hate "deadbeat"

          I think some of you need to go make a visit to the Citizens Advice Bureau or insist on a appeal to a tribunal on the basis of financial hardship as you're paying far more than the CSA is allowed to take by law. The maximum they are allowed to take is 40% of your income when you are in arrears. There's a calculator here

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I hate "deadbeat"

            The Citizens advice bureau makes no difference. I went when I got a deductions from earnings order for far more than I could afford and while they were sympathetic there was nothing they could do. There are certain things they don't have to take into account when making a calculation such as any loans you may have, even if you took them out before the child was even conceived so suddenly you go from being able to pay your loan comfortably to not being able to afford to eat never mind paying anything else. I even went to a couple of solicitors only to be told it was a waste of time taking the CSA to court as when it was set up the laws allowing it to do things like demand payment were set up in such a twisted way that you can never win.

            Don't know if anything has improved as it's about 10 years since I had any dealings with them but then no matter what you did it was a no-win situation. It took me years to recover from the damage they did to my life.

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Crisp Silver badge

    Unable to report payment arrears properly.

    Somehow I don't think that will stop them from applying for Deduction of Earnings Order and taking the arrears anyway.

  5. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

    I'm with mr Heffernan on this.

    Paying child support, or being in receipt of it, no more makes you a deadbeat than having a beer makes you an alcoholic.

    I expected better of the Reg and am dissapointed to see it sink down to the level of the rag-tabloids when it comes to creating headlines.

    1. Annihilator

      Re: I'm with mr Heffernan on this.

      The phrase "deadbeat" is being used to describe the people who are being let off the hook and subsequently *not* paying CS. I presume there are plenty of people who are impacted by this IT failing yet continuing to pay child support under amicable arrangements instead of having to get it taken at source.

  6. HelenaHandcart

    Government IT system fails

    Pope is Catholic

    Bear defecates in woods

  7. Scotty

    Arrears my arse!

    That will explain the 9.5K arrears they demanded i pay omitting the fact that i have made regular payment of over the last 18months.

    Thank god ive got signed receipts of every payment that the evil ex received :/

  8. Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face

    Maybe the problem is the bureaucracy itself? Wouldn't it be simpler to publish guidelines, then put it in front of a judge if there is any dispute? I beginning to agree with Ronald Reagan when he said that the scariest words in the English language are "I'm from the Government and I am here to help..."

  9. Steven Roper

    I noticed

    'the commission had discovered that the opening arrears balances on these cases had not been entered onto the clerical database'


    'a number of cases managed using the clerical database, had "not been maintained accurately in respect of the maintenance due"'

    So, that's a data entry problem, not a design issue. It always annoys me when programmers are given the flack for system failures when it's the fault of the client for not inputting the data correctly in the first place, an issue I and my team have to deal with on an almost daily basis. Does nobody understand GIGO* any more?

    *A principle of information processing established way back in the dim depths of the 20th century, meaning Garbage In, Garbage Out.

    1. Aaron Em

      Sure, but

      it's easier to blame developers, who are generally competent, motivated, and responsible, than it is the affirmative action cases in the clerical office, which are generally very quick to sue and scream to the press.

  10. The last doughnut


    I sympathize with some of the comments above - I narrowly avoided getting into a similar situation (dumped her before she got preggo). But I also feel very sorry for many of the single mums and their kids out there struggling to get by with no support from their ex's whatsoever.

    The problem with El Gov is surely the way that an important government function that basically combines enforcement and financial accounting, is managed by a bunch of classically educated intellectual snobs who don't know a mouse from a database.

    1. Dog Faced Boy

      Re: Moose

      What about single dads that do not get any support from the ex? There is many negligent females out there as there is males, it is just that the media automatically assume and reinforce the stereotype that there is only single mums in the UK.

    2. Annihilator
      Thumb Down

      Re: Moose

      "I narrowly avoided getting into a similar situation (dumped her before she got preggo)"

      Yes, if only there were some way for *you* to be responsible for birth control.

      1. Aaron Em

        Not fucking her any more doesn't count?

        Sounds responsible enough to me --

  11. mr.zee

    Hardly surprising

    I used one of these systems and was shocked to find it was a java-based AS400 console running within an instance of IE6. The work I was doing involved removing real deadbeats; parents who had snuffed it without paying their child support. Quite a few of them had been gone for for over 10 years and owed thousands.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: java-based AS400 console within IE6

      I presume they had plans afoot to migrate all that to a cloud-based VM?

  12. Anonymous Coward

    It's all about the design

    Of the hardware, the software, but most importantly THE PROCESS. These systems could be designed to work and their execution successful if you get the preliminaries right. The problem is that those who oversee things don't even know the right questions to ask, and decision-making is dictated more by public relations and crony capitalism than by actual requirements. That's something that government IT shares with its private sector counterparts. High incidences of project failure are endemic in the private sector. We just don't hear about them because they're ... private.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The key problems run much deeper

    The original CS1 was designed to leave the absent parent on benefit levels of income and take everything else, the second version encouraged the recepients to block contact as they got more money for less shared care.

    Bad law, badly implemented in a badly designed system has created all sorts of problems.

    Add in the other factors from the family courts and all in all it was a disaster waiting to happen.

    Of course had they modelled it on the Australian system we wouldnt have these issues, but why replicate a tried and tested approach that works when you can pay a bunch of management consultants 100's of millions to come up with the abomination we currently suffer.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: had they modelled it on the Australian system

      By "it" I assume you mean "them". This crawling horror has been re-invented every few years for a couple of decades. On *each* occasion it would have been possible to chuck the old one in the bin and remodel on the basis of something that works. On *each* occasion, the politicians have given no indication that such an obvious course of action was even permitted, let alone considered. Even laboratory animals will copy a solution if they see another animal doing something that works. That's two whole generations of politicians being out-performed by guinea pigs.

      Perhaps we should put the MoD in charge of child support, just to see what happens?

  14. Rampant Spaniel
    Paris Hilton

    The system is broken. My uncle suddenly found his wages docked every month for child support, for his kids, that he lives with, with his wife. They haven't split up in any way shape or form at any point. There was no paperwork to suggest why this happened and it took lawyers (years) to get the deductions stopped and the money eventually, begrudgingly refunded but apparently it was their fault. I have zero time or respect for these disgusting winnets on the arse of our society.

    Even Paris isn't that retarded.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You know what, the odd slightly less than factual article is a bit annoying at times, but sometimes it is worth reading the comments to see some sense has been added to the rather poor journalism. This article though I couldn't even see through the rage to read, The Reg should really think before calling all people involved with the CSA (or whatever they are called now) deadbeats as the whole organisation is generally inept\corrupt\incompetent, all three or more. Many people who are supposedly deadbeats are in fact innocent victims of the general shoddiness of this organisation.

    Last article I read or comment on, RSS feed unsubscribed from.

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