A leading family lawyer has sharply criticised claims by the Child Support Agency that it has significantly improved performance in the past year.
Susan Deas, chair of the Child Support Act committee of the Solicitors Family Law Association, said figures in the interim end-of-year report should be taken "with a large pinch of salt".
The CSA claimed a 10-fold improvement in the amount of money collected in the agency's first year - more than £300 million in maintenance payments have been collected or arranged, with over £136 million passing through the agency's collection service.
It also claimed that of a total £61 million collected and passed on to parents with care, 97 per cent of maintenance payments were passed through the agency's collection service within 10 working days.
The report also claimed that paternity was established in 93 per cent of all contested cases against an eight-fold increase in the number of cases pursued.
And it claimed that 50 per cent of all assessments were cleared within 26 weeks and that 79 per cent of assessments were correct, compared to just over 50 per cent in 1995.
The paternity figure, in particular, is seen by Deas as a "drop in the ocean" given the resources piled into the CSA.
The 1,637 men taken to court were "easy cases to track down", she said. Deas added: "I would estimate that the magistrates courts country-wide probably dealt with 10 times that number in a year."
She also described the assessments clear-up figures as "outrageous" given that more than 50 per cent of claimants wait for more than six months for assessments to be cleared, far longer than would be expected if cases had gone through the courts.
She said: "The old court system was by no means perfect but in my view the CSA has not achieved what it was set up to do. What really worries me is the lack of independent data."