Auditor General of Ontario
2012 Annual Report Follow-up of Family Responsibility Office FRO of 2010
Chapter 4 Follow-up Section 4.03, page 333
Ministry of Community and Social Services
Family Responsibility Office
Follow-up to VFM Section 3.03, FRO 2010 Annual Report
All court orders for child and spousal support related to divorce or separation proceedings are automatically filed with the Family Responsibility Office (Office), whose job it is to enforce family-support obligations-aggressively if necessary-and remit support payments to their intended recipients on a timely basis.
The Office's clients are among society's most vulnerable; many of those who have their support orders enforced by the Office also collect social assistance, often because their former partners failed to pay spousal or child support.
Enforcing court orders for spousal and child support can be difficult, and while many willingly meet their support obligations, many others go to great lengths to avoid making their required payments. While acknowledging this, our 2010 audit found that the Office was still not successful in achieving its mandate of collecting unpaid child and spousal support payments. We had a similar conclusion the last time we audited this program. We concluded in our 2010 Annual Report that the Office must take more aggressive enforcement action, enhance its case-management process, and improve its information technology and communications systems. As well, management needed to work to instill a culture of achievement to make the needed changes. Some of our other observations at that time included:
- The Office was slow in following up, where necessary, and in registering completed court orders for family support. Such delays make cases in arrears much more difficult to enforce and can result in undue hardship on recipients awaiting support payments.
- Although the Office assigned responsibility for each case to an individual enforcement services officer, this case-ownership model continued to have significant shortcomings, including that payers and recipients did not have direct access to their assigned officer.
- Call volumes at the Office's toll-free call centre were so high that nearly 80% of calls never got through. Of those that did, one in seven callers hung up before the call was answered.
- The status of almost one-third of outstanding bring-forward notes-intended to trigger specific action on a case within one month-was "open," indicating either that the notes had been read but not acted upon, or that they had not been read at all.
- For ongoing cases, the Office took almost four months from the time the case went into arrears before taking its first enforcement action. For newly registered cases that went straight into arrears, the delay was seven months from the issue of the court order
- The Office acted in only one in four or one in five cases each year to, for example, take enforcement action, update case information, or track down delinquent payers.
- The Office had no quality control process or effective managerial oversight to assess whether enforcement staff have made reasonable efforts to collect outstanding amounts.
- The Office could not provide us with a detailed listing by individual account that added up to $1.6 billion, which was the figure provided to us as the total outstanding arrears as of December 31, 2009.
- The statistical information supplied monthly to the Ministry of Community and Social Services did not provide a useful summary of the Office's successes and failures in collecting outstanding support payments or in achieving its other key operational objectives.
- Security weaknesses in the Office's information technology system put sensitive personal client information at risk of unauthorized access.
- On a positive note, accounting controls covering payments from support payers and the subsequent disbursement to intended recipients were generally satisfactory, and most support payments received were disbursed to clients within 48 hours of receipt.
We made a number of recommendations for improvement and received commitments from the Office that it would take action to address our concerns.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
The Standing Committee on Public Accounts held a hearing on this audit in March 2011. In May 2011, the Committee tabled a report in the Legislature resulting from this hearing. The report contained 16 recommendations and requested that the Office report back to the Committee with respect to the following:
- the results of its review of a pilot project in which a clerk employed by the Ministry of the Attorney General had been loaned to the Office to process documents passing between certain court districts and the Office and so reduce backlogs, the impact of the project on the Office's enforcement of family-support court orders, and whether the project will be expanded to other Ontario court districts;
- recent monthly statistics on calls to the call centre (calls answered, abandoned and blocked, broken down by local versus 1-800 calls) and the Office's efforts to report them quarterly on its website;
- recent monthly statistics on office staff absen-teeism and attendance trends by branch;â€¢t he Office's progress in obtaining suggestions for improvement from MPP constituency office caseworkers;â€¢t he current status of outstanding bring-forward notes (notes requiring follow-up action on a case to be taken within a month's time), the date by which the Office is to finish revising its policies and procedures for the proper use of these notes, and the Office's plan to routinely check and ensure that staff are issuing the notes appropriately;
- how other jurisdictions approach the enforce-ment of support orders to payers whose financial circumstances have temporarily and/or unexpectedly declined;
- any steps the Office will take to determine whether enforcement officers are taking the most effective and appropriate enforcement actions, including using its new management system technology to proactively flag recom-mended enforcement actions;
- the Office's progress in negotiating with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to have OHIP provide it with up-to-date payer contact information to help the Office enforce support orders;
- the best option for a caseload management model as determined by the Office's review 335Family Responsibility OfficeChapter4â€¢Follow-upSection4.03of caseload management models in other jurisdictions;
- whether the Office is using its capability of determining at the end of each month if a payer has made his or her support payment, and if it is, whether the Office is sending a letter informing payers who have not paid that they are in arrears and have 15 days to respond or face further enforcement action, and if it is not, its reasons for not doing so;
- the results of the Office's analysis of support payments in arrears, including the amount the Office believes is recoverable and whether other jurisdictions can "write off" amounts deemed unrecoverable;
- highlights of the Office's expected September 2011 report on operational performance measures and its progress on instilling a more results-oriented culture in its workforce;
- whether the implementation of the Office's new case-management system is on schedule for spring 2012 and the timeline for the system's key phases;
- whether the case-management system will be able to search other ministries' databases-within the bounds of privacy laws-for contact information on support payers in arrears; and
- the Office's strategy for training its workforce on each phase of the case-management system and its plans for evaluating whether the system meets its business needs.
The Committee also recommended that the Minister of Community and Social Services request early in the next Parliament that a government motion be introduced to establish a Select Committee under Standing Order 112(a) to undertake a comprehen-sive and comparative review of the Office.
The Office formally responded to the Committee in September 2011. A number of issues raised by the Committee were similar to our observations. Where the Committee's recommendations are similar to ours, this follow-up includes the recent actions reported by the Office to address the concerns raised by both the Committee and our 2010 audit.
Status of Actions Taken on Recommendations
On the basis of information provided by the Office, we concluded that it had made some progress on all of our recommendations, with significant progress being made on several of them. Signifi-cant improvements have been made in registering support obligations and in introducing a case-management client-service model, and further improvements are expected once implementation of the new case-management technology system is completed. Efforts to reduce payments in arrears and suspense account balances and to improve performance measurement are ongoing.
The status of action taken on each of our recommendations was as follows.
REGISTRATION OF SUPPORT OBLIGATIONS FOR ENFORCEMENT
To maximize the likelihood of successfully collecting support obligations, and to help minimize hardships for recipients awaiting their support payments, the Family Responsibility Office should:
- work proactively with family courts in Ontario to encourage them to provide complete and accurate information on a more timely basis so that family-support obligations can be registered and enforced more promptly; and
- register and begin to administer new cases requiring no additional information within the Office's internal target of 30 days of receipt of the court order.
In our 2010 Annual Report we noted that the Office received court orders, on average, 48 days after they had been issued by the courts, and there were no ongoing initiatives to encourage the courts to forward all support orders or separation agreements in a timely manner. We also found that on
Ontario's Family Responsibility Office has many problems
Quote from Ontario Government Ombudsman -"an equal opportunity error-prone program,."'
Support recipients not getting their money.
Men who've been meeting their court-ordered obligations have trouble getting the FRO to stop taking payments when it's supposed to. Read More ..
March 25, 2000
Divorced fathers get a bad rap for not supporting their children. The truth is, many can't. And, tragically, some are driven to desperate measures, including suicide.
In his suicide note, Jim, the father of four children, protests that "not all fathers are deadbeats." Jim hanged himself because he couldn't see any alternative. Even now, his children are unaware of the circumstances of their father's death. Meeno Meijer, National Post George Roulier is fighting to regain money wrongfully taken from his wages by the Ontario child-support collection agency. Chris Bolin, National Post Alan Heinz, a Toronto firefighter, has gone bankrupt fighting for the return of his daughter, 3, from Germany. No one will help him, but German authorities are trying to collect child support from him.
Whenever fathers and divorce are discussed, one image dominates: the 'deadbeat dad,' the schmuck who'd rather drive a sports car than support his kids. Because I write about family matters, I'm regularly inundated with phone calls, faxes, letters and e-mail from divorced men. It's not news that divorced individuals have little good to say about their ex-spouses. What I'm interested in is whether the system assists people during this difficult time in their lives, or compounds their misery. From the aircraft engineer in British Columbia, to the postal worker on the prairies, to the fire fighter in Toronto, divorced fathers' stories are of a piece: Though society stereotypes these men relentlessly, most divorced dads pay their child support. Among those who don't, a small percentage wilfully refuse to (the villains you always hear about).
What you haven't been told is that the other men in arrears are too impoverished to pay, have been ordered to pay unreasonable amounts, have been paying for unreasonable lengths of time, or are the victims of bureaucratic foul-ups. Read More ..
Edmonton and Calgary Sun
Feb 5, 2005
EDMONTON -- An Edmonton judge has decided a divorced dad has to make child support payments, even though the child isn't his. Justin Sumner had an on-again-off-again relationship with the woman he eventually married, Dawn Sumner.
She already had a child from a previous relationship with a man named Rob Duncan, and as she and Justin broke up and reunited, Dawn was sexually involved with both men.
When she found she was pregnant, she called Justin, who recognized there was a possibility that Duncan was the father, but later concluded he was the dad.
Andrew T. Renouf committed suicide on or about October 17, 1995 because he had 100% of his wages taken by the Family Responsibility Office, a child support collection agency of the Government of Ontario, Canada.
He asked for assistance for food and shelter from the welfare office and was refused because he had a job, even though all of his wages were taken by the Family Responsibility Office.
Andy was a loving father that hadn't seen his daughter in 4 years.
A memorial service was held in October, 1998, for Andy in front of the Family Responsibility Office at 1201 Wilson Avenue, West Tower, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This is in the Ministry of Transportation grounds in the Keele St. & Hwy 401 area. All members of the Ontario Legislature were invited by personal letter faxed to their offices. Not one turned up. The Director of the Family Responsibility Office and his entire staff were invited to the brief service. The Director refused and wouldn't let the staff attend the service although it was scheduled for lunch time. There was a peaceful demonstration by followed by a very touching service by The Reverend Alan Stewart. The text of the service will soon be able to be read below.
The service made the TV evening news.
It was Andy's last wish that his story be told to all. YOU CAN READ HIS SUICIDE NOTE
Auditor General of Ontario
80% of Telephone calls don't get answered
Payers and recipients do not have direct access to their assigned enforcement services officer
"There is only limited access to enforcement staff because many calls to the Office do not get through or are terminated before they can be answered."
"The Office is reviewing and working on only about 20% to 25% of its total cases in any given year."
"At the end of our audit in April 2010, there were approximately 91,000 bring-forward notes outstanding, each of which is supposed to trigger specific action on a case within one month. The status of almost one-third of the outstanding bring-forward notes was "open," indicating either that the notes had been read but not acted upon, or that they had not been read at all, meaning that the underlying nature and urgency of the issues that led to these notes in the first place was not known. In addition, many of the notes were between one and two years old."
"For ongoing cases, the Office took almost four months from the time the case went into arrears before taking its first enforcement action. For newly registered cases that went straight into arrears, the delay was seven months from the time the court order was issued."
The Ottawa Citizen
January 14, 2012
TORONTO - Ontario's controversial Family Responsibility Office has been overbilling 1,700 parents, mostly fathers, for as long as 13 years, the province admitted Friday.
The 1,700 parents were overbilled by an average $75 each month, after the agency wrongly applied a cost of living adjustment that was eliminated in 1997.
Those who were overpaid will not be forced to give the money back.
Instead, taxpayers will foot the $5.3 million bill for the agency's mistake.
"This error's been found and it's being corrected," said Liberal cabinet minister John Milloy. "We're going to be reaching out to those individuals (who were overbilled) and talking to them about their situation, formally alerting them."
The Family Responsibility Office, or FRO, is responsible for ensuring court-ordered child support payments are made. Read More .. than 97 per cent of all payers overseen by the office are male.
Milloy said the agency discovered the problem at some point in 2011. No one will be fired for the mistakes, he added.
"I see this as something very serious," he said in an interview. "I'm not trying to minimize it, but â€¦ there's been lots of action taken to reform FRO, to update computer systems, to update customer relations and it's on a much firmer footing."
The billing mistake is only the latest controversy to engulf FRO. Read More ..
"Canada's national newspaper for professional women"
On June 9, 2005 the McGuinty government announced the passage of Bill 155, legislation that promised to increase enforcement, improve fairness and enhance efficiency at the Family Responsibility Office (FRO).
However, the legislation did not address the problem of accountability and, as things now stand, the FRO is a threat to every Canadian affected by a government regulated support and custody arrangement system. Think of George Orwell's 1984 and you'll have a good picture of how issues are handled at the FRO.
They have legal power to extort money from Canadians, but are not responsible or accountable for their actions.
Last year an FRO staff member decided not to wait for a court date to review the financial status of an out-of-work truck driver and took it upon themselves to suspend his license because he was, understandably, behind on his payments, having lost his job earlier in the year. Although he was looking for work, the FRO cut off the only way he knew of to earn a living. His suicide note explained how he'd lost all hope. Is this what we want FRO to be doing? Read More ..
The Truth About Deadbeat Dads
"Canada's National newspaper for professional women"
When families fall apart, they can make for the bitterest of enemies. The intensity of their hostility, the personal rhetoric, the posturing and positioning, and the utter faithlessness of remembrance in the relationship's good deeds and consequences is a breathtaking phenomenon. It's as if the positive qualities and countless achievements are struck from history as a revisionist might strike the Holocaust. Into all of this the family court system wades, often inelegantly. Divorce lawyers drive up the emotional and financial toll of separation and transformation. Family and friends frequently collude to make things worse.
And when government decides to rear its head, well, it's a mess for all the world to see. Witness the recent attention on Ontario's euphemistically branded Family Responsibility Office. A job in advertising doubtlessly greeted the person who came up with its title, because it suggests some sort of feel-good missionary work to hold together the sanctity of the institution. Read More ..