Deas labels Government's CSA changes 'major disappointment'

THE LAWYER who brought the country's attention to the failings of the Child Support Agency has criticised the Government's reform package, saying it has not adequately dealt with the issue of clean break settlements.

Susan Deas, partner at Liverpool-based Brabner Hol-den, represented clean break father Gary Crozier in a high-profile test case against the CSA.

She says: “one of the major disappointments of last week's announcement is the decision to refer clean break appeals to a tribunal rather than sending them to the county court.

“Although they appear to have addressed the clean break issue, I think when people actually sit down and work it out they're going to realise that it isn't the Godsend that perhaps they thought it was.

“The people who have had clean breaks in the past are now going to have their settlements re-worked on a new formula. These matters should go to district judges who are the experienced judges dealing day in-day out with divorce settlements.”

Deas says the Secretary of State for Social Security has also failed to allow for backdating to correct assessments already made.

She adds that the system is further flawed in forcing parents to keep maintenance payments up to date if they want to appeal an order.

“If the Government has got it wrong again, I don't see much future for the CSA,” says Deas.

The Law Society has welcomed the changes but called for further support to be lent to parents with care.

Chair of the society's Family Law committee, Eileen Pembridge, says the changes are “weighted towards absent parents without balancing this with sufficient steps to help persons with care”.

A spokesman for the Department of Social Security says the department has long held the view that a discretionary system such as that provided by the courts is not appropriate in deciding maintenance.

“We've said all along that we have no wish to replace the existing formula-based system with a discretionary system or a return to such a set-up,” says the spokesman.