In any normal commercial private sector organisation it is a generally accepted principle that if you do a bad job you will be reprimanded. If you continue to do a bad job then you will be made redundant or unceremoniously fired. At this point and before reading any further, we would invite you review the following organisational chart for the Child Maintenance Service: CMS Organisational Chart
Some background – The Child Support Agency (CSA)
The old Child Support Agency (CSA) was plagued with issues and derided widely as a complete and abject failure. It did not serve the children it purported to support and it certainly did not provide value for money to the taxpayer. When the announcement to shut the CSA was made, it had a backlog of 330,000 child maintenance cases and took an average of 26 weeks (6 months) to process a claim. 14% of the claims took over 12 months to go through the system.
Typically, this dismal failure was not attributed to anyone in particular. Instead, the government decided it would be better to “blame” the £462mln computer system used to process CSA claims.
The Government announced in 2008 that the CSA would be replaced. The latest iteration is the “Child Maintenance Service” (or “CMS” for short) and was launched in 2012. It is now not possible to open a CSA case and all new cases are opened with the CMS under a different set of rules to that which the CSA had to apply.
Changing the name above the door
So, what is different about the CMS when you compare it to the CSA? Well, we’ve already acknowledged that the legislative basis under which it operates is different. The calculation has been simplified to look at gross income rather than the old system of using net income (which was viewed as easily manipulated). The variations regime continues to exist (although this has arguably been simplified also) and the much maligned computer system has a sibling in the form of a newer shinier system (which incidentally can’t pull data automatically from the legacy CSA systems).
What about the people?
Many of the problems stemming from the CSA can likely be traced back to human error. The DWP themselves have acknowledged that a major source of complaints was their handling of areas where their staff had discretion to make decisions outside of the basic calculation. We will continue to examine these in detail elsewhere on these pages but for now let’s be clear, these can be traced back to decisions made by staff working at the CSA.
So, did they re-train incumbent staff or hire new people and train them from scratch? In short, no they didn’t, the staff are exactly the same people working out of the same offices and making very similar mistakes to those they made when they worked under the sign that said “CSA”. Thus, arrears continue to grow, “clients” continue to be dissatisfied and MP’s tinker around the edges of a system that everyone who has taken even a cursory look at the organisation can see is that this is the DWP version of “The Emperors New Clothes”. Essentially, MP’s and the DWP are exercising a stunning level of pluralistic ignorance leaving the children and their parents to suffer the consequences.
Who is to blame for the mess?
Parliament and successive members of both the Commons and the Lords have either been neglectful or turned a blind eye to the problems in the legislation. We will deal with these in the near future but for now, we want to examine who is responsible for the maladministration within the CMS.
For this, the blame lies squarely at the feet of a man called Tom McCormack (The Child Maintenance Group Director at the DWP). Mr Mccormack is ultimately responsible for the actions of those under him (which includes all the caseworkers, team leaders and other support staff working within the Child Maintenance Group). Mr McCormack’s LinkedIn profile shows a brief career history:
- Child Maintenance Director, Child Maintenance Group, DWP, 2015 – Present (2 Years)
- Change Director, Child Maintenance Group, DWP, 2014 – 2015 (1 Years)
- Programme Delivery Director, DWP, 2011 – 2014 (3 Years)
- Central Operations Director, Child Maintenance Enforcement Commission, 2010 -2011 (1 Year)
So, here we have a man who has worked for the last 7 years (at least) for the CSA and, more recently for the Child Maintenance Service.
In an article in 2014 he gave an interview to the online magazine, “Civil Service World” where the title was “How did you….improve child maintenance?“. Some quotes from that article make interesting reading and sound (to our ears at least) like self aggrandizing nonsense.
The new system assesses 95% of new claims accurately. The target is 97%, but they’re nearly there
On the face of it, this sounds like an organisation doing well. Let’s put it into context:
In total, there is just over 90,000 cases on the Child Maintenance Service with arrears
Tom McCormack, December 2016
According to the latest Statistics published on the 2012 scheme the Child Maintenance Service had a caseload of 346,900 cases (+7% on March 2017). So, what about arrears?
cumulative Total Maintenance Liability for Collect and Pay was £288 million and the Total Maintenance Arrears (orange area) stood at £133 million across 128,600 Paying Parents
CMS Quarterly Statistics, August 2017
Well done Tom, you’ve presided over a 42% increase in number of cases with arrears in the past 6 months.
What about accuracy of the calculation? Well, remember in that article where Tom said proudly in 2014 that his Department was “almost there” with respect to accuracy (with the level at 95% and a target of 97%)? During the month of June 2017, in month accuracy stood at 89%. So, Tom has presided over a 6.7% drop in accuracy of assessments (between when he spoke in 2014 and June 2017).
Perhaps more worryingly 11% of cases have an inaccurate assessment. This represents 38,159 cases with calculations that are wrong! Despite this shocking figure, only 245 complaints were received by the CMS that month. It would appear that people are unaware that the calculations are incorrect. Just imagine if the bank got your mortgage payment right 89% of the time……..
We at the Voice of the Child think these figures demonstrate a department that is out of control. Their ambivalence towards receiving parents coupled with their aggressive, heavy handed actions with paying parents do not improve the parental relationship. Add to this that there are a huge number of cases with an incorrect figure being charged and we have to ask the following question;
Why is more not being done to fix this shambolic state of affairs?
We think it’s about time that Mr McCormack was held to account for his stewardship of the CMS. In any other organisation, he would have been let go long before things got this bad. What is even more galling is that in order to “deliver” this terrible service he is paid a princely sum. According to data on DWP Senior Roles and Salaries available here he has a pay “floor” of £90,000 and an ceiling of £94,999. He had a total cost of “reports” i.e. the cumulative salaries of everyone under him of £4,792,557.21 with the total cost of the CMS being in the region of £114mln. We need someone who can deliver for the children and the taxpayer.
Join us in calling for Tom McCormack’s removal from his post. Write to your MP, let them know what you think; that your children, and yourselves, deserve better.
Don’t let the door hit you on the way out Tom…..
Is your case one of the 38,159 with an incorrect calculation?
Elsewhere on these pages you will find guidance on how to establish whether the calculation is correct along with a pro forma letter to send to the CMS to get the ball rolling on fixing your case.
Let us know what you think in the comments…..
In a Family Law system designed for combative parents there is no real allowance for the views of children and any understanding of how Family Law ultimately impacts on children most of all.
We speak for the children in Family Law so that, finally, the children have a voice.