A committee of MPs has warned there is “no evidence” that the government’s proposed new child maintenance system and the IT to support it will avoid a repeat of the fiasco surrounding the doomed Child Support Agency (CSA).
The verdict, citing the CSA’s “record of serial IT failures”, comes in a report by the House of Commons work and pensions committee on the government’s reforms to the child support system after the demise of the CSA.
The CSA was scrapped in July last year, hastened by a damning National Audit Office report into the £456m CS2 case management system, provided by EDS under a 10-year private finance initiative contract signed in 2000.
CS2 was commissioned to support an earlier change to the child support system, but Department of Work and Pensions figures show that at the end of December, just 42% of the CSA’s 1.4m cases had been transferred to CS2, with 58% still held on predecessor systems.
The government has pledged that the new Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (C-MEC), to be established as a non-departmental public body, will offer a “fresh start”.
But in its report, the work and pensions committee said: “We have seen no evidence that, with CSA’s record of serial IT failures, this third attempt to create a new system of child maintenance arrangements with the necessary IT support will be any more successful than the first two.”
Labour MP Terry Rooney, who chairs the work and pensions committee, told ComputerworldUK: “CSA2 failed because they had to try and invent a computer system that could carry the legacy of CSA1. Now they want a computer system that can carry the legacies of CSA1 and CSA2 – it’s a recipe for instant failure.”
He added: “In legal jargon, the government’s got form.”
Asked what he thought of ministers’ plans for C-MEC to inherit the CSA’s IT systems, Rooney said: “It shouldn’t. The new organisation should start with a clean slate, with its own system, its own staff, its own processes, everything.” A legacy body should be established to wind up the affairs of the CSA, he added.
The committee’s report warned that the government’s move to make child maintenance calculations more straightforward “does not necessarily mean a simplified IT programme as has been demonstrated by the current CSA computer system problems”.
The MPs were “not convinced about C-MEC’s ability to run what could ultimately amount to three systems of child support – the old old (1993-2003), the old new (2003 - 2008) and the new C-MEC assessment (expected post 2008)”.
The committee cited an NAO report, Delivering successful IT-enabled business change, that highlights “the complexities of the technical issues around joining new and old systems”, hoping the Department of Work and Pensions had learned from “its past mistakes with the first two CSA IT systems”.
The government should “publish detailed explanation of its plans for C-MEC’s IT system in an attempt to win public confidence before the work begins”, it said.