Child Support Agency forced to pay back wrongly accused men
The Guardian, U.K., David Hencke, Westminster correspondent, Monday November 28, 2005
The Child Support Agency has had to refund hundreds of thousands of pounds in maintenance payments to more than 3,000 men after DNA tests revealed that they had been wrongly named by mothers in paternity suits. One in six men who took a DNA test to challenge claims by women that they were the fathers of their children were cleared by the results, according to official figures disclosed by the agency.
Under CSA rules, men must start paying maintenance the moment they are named by mothers as the father of the child. They can challenge the ruling by asking for a DNA test but have to pay for it themselves.
Figures released by the agency after a freedom of information request reveal that since 1998 3,034 men have been found to have been falsely accused by women of being the father out of 15,909 who have taken the test. The CSA has not recovered money from any of the mothers. Refunds to the wrongly accused men have come from the taxpayer.
Frank Field, former social security minister and Labour MP for Birkenhead, said yesterday: "The situation in the CSA is getting so absurd that even Lewis Carroll would have rejected it as a script for Alice in Wonderland."
The revelation comes as the agency faces yet another government review, ordered by Tony Blair. Last week it emerged that the agency had failed five of the seven performance targets set by ministers, has a backlog of 350,000 cases and is still chasing 100,000 fathers who will not pay maintenance. It has also failed to register 150,000 fathers on benefit who fail to pay any money - because it cannot get the information from Jobcentre Plus.
Concerns were raised by Mr Blair again in an interview with the Sunday Live programme on Sky News yesterday. Emphasising his determination to reform the agency, he said there were "basic design problems" that needed to be addressed.
"We inherited this system, we made changes to it that have undoubtedly simplified it, but even though I made those changes seven years ago, I think I'm right in saying that over half the cases of the CSA are still under the old system," said Mr Blair. "There has got to be a change, because otherwise if you are not careful, you end up spending more and more money."
Under a deal negotiated with Cellmark, which provides DNA tests for the CSA, men who agree to pay for a test in advance pay 194.13. It goes up to 257.58 if they pay for it afterwards. The normal commercial charge is 495. Fathers who are cleared of paternity receive a refund for the DNA test and all maintenance they have paid.