Voice of the Child has obtained copies of the minutes from the last 20 Operational Leadership Team (OLT) meetings in relation to the Child Maintenance Group. These meetings occur weekly and involve the following individuals:
Jenny Stewart – Delivery Support Director
Arlene Sugden – CSA Director
Margaret Moor – Applications and Maintenance Director
Interestingly, Stewart Richards (Arrears and Enforcement Director) does not appear to attend these meetings (or his name has been wrongly redacted out of the minutes).
The meetings focus on 3 topics:
They make interesting reading and confirm much of what we suspected. The Child Maintenance Group and the CMS are “managed” by a herd of incompetents. Every one of the topics above has a range of issues that make us wonder why on earth the Government continues with this farce of an organisation in favour of total root to branch reform.
In this piece we’ll focus on some elements of the “Performance” meetings highlighting some of the more interesting (shocking) revelations contained therein. You will be able to download and read the unaltered files by following the links at the bottom of the page. We will cover the other meetings in subsequent pieces.
The general theme in the performance meetings is one of an organisation that is drowning in its own incompetence. We suspect this will not come as news to many of the people reading this as we have been contacted by hundreds of people who are dissatisfied with the way that their affairs have been handled by the CMS.
We can see from the 21st June 2018 meeting that the CMG (Child Maintenance Group) started the year with a budget of £178.8m (which was subsequently reduced to £173.3m). This was followed by a statement around resourcing and we can see that the CMS does not have enough money to pay its staff to work any overtime from December of last year.
Tom (Mccormack) asked from a financial perspective how we start planning for the FTE shortfall which exists from the end of the calendar year and when the right time is to start thinking about it as there isn’t money for overtime from December onwards
They go on to identify areas where they can cut costs:
There was then a discussion around where CMG can reduce the forecast and [redacted] identified 2 areas – reimbursements and arrears strategy…..there is a risk around how we support increased estate costs (this is DWP wide).
CMS appears to be under a lot of financial strain which is ironic as that is exactly what their incompetence does to the households of paying and receiving parents alike.
In the same meeting, the comment is made that their systems are “feeling more stable. An interesting phrase as we would suggest that something is either “stable” or “unstable”. CMS computer systems continue to be unstable.
The comment is then made that they are
getting an “accelerated growth of switchers from direct pay to collect and pay.
Obviously, if a case is on collect and pay then the CMS is taking a “fee” of 24% for the privilege of having the entire maintenance case being run through their unstable computer system. A fee that no doubt helps alleviate their budgetary pressure. More on this shortly…
Moving on to the July 2018 meeting provides some further interesting insight.
The Government claims that the CMS fees are there to “encourage family based arrangements” and various ministers have also stated that the the family based arrangement (ie. an arrangement without the involvement of the CMS) is the preferable option. Essentially, the Government would like to see everyone with a family based arrangement and not have to spend over £170m running the headache that’s the CMS.
It was surprising then to see the following statement in the Minutes
CMS has broken the half a million children milestone – need to celebrate [redacted] to do this
We would view the fact that 500,000 children are now exposed to this horrendous inefficient shambles as an abject failure and, far from celebrating the government should be looking seriously at the “incentives” they claim exist to promote family based arrangements as well as the barriers to doing so.
We’ve had a flood of people contact us to tell us that their cases have been forced onto the “collect and pay” (fee charging) service leading some to speculate that it’s part of the performance criteria to get people onto this more expensive system. This does not help either parent as the receiving parent gets charged 4% of the maintenance they would have been due and the paying parent has to find 20% more to use the “collect and pay” service type.
For example, we were contacted by one parent who we will call Donna (not her real name) who explained the following:
My ex had a short term cash flow problem so was not able to pay the full amount one month. The CMS put him onto collect and pay and have refused to take him off. Our relationship has suffered as a result as he blames me for having to find 20% extra and I’m not getting as much as I was before because of the charges. It’s been horrible.
“Donna”, receiving parent
The change to “collect and pay” is what is called a discretionary decision and the CMS is obliged by law (Section 2 of the Child Support Act 1991) to consider the welfare of all children who may be affected by the decision. It’s not something that should be automatic and suggests a failure of either the calculation itself (which we know to be faulty for several reasons – DWP have acknowledged this), the administrative process undertaken by the CMS, or a combination of the two factors.
Each time someone is moved from direct pay to collect and pay the decision to change must be made taking into account the particular circumstances specific to the individual case taking into account welfare of the children, reasons for non/under payment and any other relevant factors.
For the CMS leadership team to say
should be working on a one strike and then change policy
seems to ignore the circumstances of the case or indeed the legal requirement to conduct a welfare analysis and therefore the children…
It appears to get worse…
Tom (Mccormack) queried the DP/CP (Direct Pay/Collect and Pay) figures and whether we would get to the 65%/35% split by March 19
Readers should note that this seems to suggest that Mr Mccormack has a target to get 35% of the cases onto the collect and pay payment type by March 2019 (the financial year end).
Looking at the statistics for the CMS available online here, it would appear that the total open cases in March 2018 was 415,000 with 138,100 on the “collect and pay” payment type. This equates to 33% of the total case load at that time. Moving to June 2018 (as figures are published quarterly) we can see the total case load has increased to 433,800 with 148,000 (34% of the total) on “collect and pay”. Both of these are below the 35% target implied by Mccormack’s minuted statement.
This is scandalous and totally contradicts any assertion that the Child Maintenance service is there to promote family based arrangements. In fact, they are trying to get people onto the payment type which gives the DWP some income and perhaps can fill their funding gap to provide overtime hours for their staff; a far cry from keeping child welfare at the centre of their decisions.
Has your case been a victim of this target driven culture? We would like to hear from you. Please leave comments below.
You can read the full files here: