CSA fails to answer third of calls

Last updated at 13:04 28 October 2005

A third of all telephone calls to the Child Support Agency fail to get through, figures released today have shown.

The revelation led to calls for the controversial agency to be scrapped and its functions taken over by the taxmen at HM Revenue and Customs.

And the Government minister with responsibility for the CSA acknowledged that the agency needed to "improve dramatically".

Between April 2004 and July this year, some 1,140,675 of the 3,350,629 calls to the CSA went unanswered, according to the agency's own statistics.

Each month, thousands of callers got an engaged tone or gave up their call while on hold waiting to speak to someone.

The figures were included in a letter from the CSA's deputy chief executive Mike Isaac in response to a parliamentary question by Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman David Laws.

Mr Laws said: "The CSA is a failing organisation.

Seven years ago we were promised that there'd be an end to all the frustration and anger caused by the CSA, but the reforms they've introduced have made matters worse.

"Even since the (Commons work and pensions) select committee's report on the CSA in January which said that 'rapid, radical action is needed' and that if it didn't improve within weeks it should be scrapped, things have deteriorated.

"There is no more time for excuses or delay.

"The CSA's functions must be transferred to the Revenue so that it better serves those who are trying to pay their maintenance and properly pursues those who aren't."

Failed calls

Mr Isaac said that thousands of the failed calls could be put down to temporary problems with

technology at individual CSA offices.

For instance, a crash in the telephone system at a centre in Dudley which lasted less than 24 hours in January led to 7,107 calls being greeted by an engaged tone. Of these, some 6,686 were made by callers who rang repeatedly in the hope of getting through.

Lord Hunt, minister for the CSA, said: "The latest figures show that the Agency is now demonstrating a steady level of performance compared to last year, but we obviously need to improve dramatically if we are to provide an acceptable service to our clients.

"That is why the chief executive and his team are carrying out a root and branch review of the Agency this autumn, which will be announced to the public before the end of the year."

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