Child maintenance commission accounts qualified again

15 May 12
Auditors have been unable to sign off the accounts of child maintenance payments made by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission for the third successive year.
By Richard Johnstone | 15 May 2012

Auditors have been unable to sign off the accounts of child maintenance payments made by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission for the third successive year.

Auditor general Amyas Morse said yesterday he was unable to approve the CMEC’s 2010/11 Client Funds Account due to the level of error in maintenance assessments.

He qualified his opinion on the regularity of receipts and payments as auditors found some maintenance payments had been based on incorrect assessments, with others paid at the wrong rate.

The best estimates of incorrect receipts and payments are that £10.2m has been overpaid and £13.9m underpaid.

Morse has also given an adverse opinion on the truth and fairness of the statement of outstanding arrears, as there is so much error in the underlying information relating to each case.

No set of the commission’s Client Funds Account have been approved since it was created, absorbing the Child Support Agency, in November 2008.

However, ‘significant improvements’ to case information had been made, the National Audit Office acknowledged. Errors in the underlying case data, which were previously unknown, have now been highlighted.

The adverse opinion on the accounts, meaning auditors think a true and fair view has not been given, does not reflect any deterioration in the accuracy of data but rather increased awareness of accumulated errors.

Morse said that there have been problems with the accurate calculation of funds since statutory child maintenance was introduced in 1993.

He added: ‘Accuracy of maintenance assessments continues to be a challenge. The commission is continuing to improve the accounting information available, so that the historic problems affecting the accuracy of arrears data are more visible. Nevertheless, the commission still has a significant challenge in collecting the arrears that have accumulated since the beginning of the maintenance schemes.’

CMEC is set to be abolished this year, following the passage of the Public Bodies Act in December 2011. Its functions will transfer to the Department for Work & Pensions.

Responding to the auditors’ findings, work and pensions minister Maria Miller said: 'The NAO has again underlined the need for the radical reforms we are bringing forward. The Child Support Agency has been saddled with defective computer systems and impractical policies.

'We are giving every parent now trapped in the CSA the chance to make their own, family-based, maintenance arrangements. This will allow the new state maintenance service to more effectively chase the irresponsible minority who refuse to support their children.'

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