Back thru the Looking Glass: its the CSA once more!

I had hoped never to have to deal with the bumblers at the CSA ever again.

Not because i have any great issues in principle with what they do (though some of the rules are bizarre). But because i have rarely encountered such a bunch of blethering, incompetent, procedurally inept idiots in all my dealings with government.

And that includes the other bunch of bumblers: the phone service employed by the Working Tax Credit Office.

CSA rules not quite OK

My last encounter with the CSA was way back when (about 15 years ago): my ex and I shared custody of our daughter in equal measure. 50:50 exactly…or maybe even a smidgeon more on my doorstep. But the differnce wasn’t noteworthy.

As many in that position, i jibbed enormously first at the language (the CSA then recognised two categories of parent: resident and “absent”, and i took enormous offence at being described as the latter when i was every bit as present as t’other parent). I also found the calculation ludicrous, in the sense that a rational system might reduce the parent-parent subsidy to zero once one reached 50/50…but not the system enforced by the CSA.

Oh no. That simplified matters by appointing a resident parent, deeming the OTHER parent to be absent and, in exchange for 50% of the care, reducing the amount payable by 50% (not 100%).

Still, that wasn’t their fault. What was their fault were the occasions when they lost correspondence. Mis-estimated amounts. Lost track of amounts already paid. In essence, your average everyday nightmare.

On one occasion, their losing money i’d paid them lead almost to my ex being evicted …but apology came there none.

Between the Devil and the deep blue C(SA)

Fast forward to this year. Since daughter has lived with me for the past 11 or 12 years I should probably have been receiving some maintenance from the ex. No. I definitely should have…but as many will recognise, the tone of exchanges between us was so fraught…and the language i ended up having to endure whenever i brought up issues like money so violent that i just wimped.

I couldn’t pluck up the courage to restart a war that i’d happily walked away from all those years ago. More fool me. That fearfulness has probably cost me twenty grand…or more.

But i couldn’t stand the stress.

Until this year. Times are tight. The daughter needs various things paid for in college. Turning down assistance is no longer an option.

So i have taken my heart in my hands and filled out a CSA form.

Competent Systems Absent!

Ah, well. How could i have forgotten the stupidity of their systems?

A week or so back, i received a printed form. It suggests it might be easiest if i phone to correct details on the form.

OK. I do that. On the phone, an automated, computer-driven voice steps me thru “security”. NI Number. Date of birth and such like.

Such software is not cheap.

I click all the right keys on my phone and hey presto! I am through to an operator and… Can we just do some security, he asks : NI NUmber? Date of Birth?


But i just gave you those!

Yes…but of course, the system doesn’t actually process them. Wonder who sold them that particular pup!

Then its on to the two details that need to change on the form – both minor spelling mistakes.

I walk the operator thru them and then, suspicious, i ask: you did take those down, didn’t you?

er, no.

Why not?

Well, its easiest if you just put the form back in the envelope and send it to us.

But…but…I splutter. YOUR letter tells me its easiest if i just phone changes thru to you.

Yes. That’s what it says on the letter. But it would be better if you sent the form.

I put down the phone. Apart from the time wasted, sending the stuff back means they’ll spend another 50p on postage…another couple of quid on processing info they now have.

I have no idea whether this is yet another piece of procedural idiocy on their part – or whether the guy on the phone just couldn’t be arsed to do his job.

Whatever: i am well and truly back at the mercy of the CSA. 😦



2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Liz Church said,

    You want I pay this CSA a visit on the way back from ATOS? *fires up the JCB*

  2. 2

    Circadian said,

    Not first hand knowledge, but from trade magazines I used to read when somehow some trades people found out I was in IT, and mistakenly thought I might actually be important and be able to get them new business…
    Frequently, the systems that ended up in Government Departments were *very* low cost (erm, by Gov. type numbers) for the stuff installed. The real money was earned by maintenance fees for designing queries and/or performing updates, and adding-in new features that were requested post-spec.
    So unless the spec was *very* thorough, all the types of things you mention could easily come under maintenance features (so that a remailed form would be far cheaper than actually using the system to request a change that would need to be activated by the maintaining company), or the “feature” of online updating had not been explicitly specified (coming under what most people might think of as “obvious”, but under contract as “bend over that barrel and pay up as it wasn’t in the spec”).
    I vaguely remember that the CSA system has been chucked out at least once as not being fit-for-purpose and a new, simpler system to be specced and installed. Where we are in this merry-go-round of multi-million pound wastes of mone, I have not kept up with, and probably the only people who know are the poor sods who have to work with the software. Ironically, while I have little sympathy with the department (as it was designed to screw money out of people who were likely to pay their fair share anyway to meet the department’s targets than to go after the “feckless wasters” that was the advertised aim), I do have sympathy with the people at the sharp end trying to do their best with badly broken software.

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