Sunday, August 8, 1999
Dads wage guerrilla war on CSABy Rachel Sylvester, political editor
A GROUP of disgruntled fathers has launched a campaign to undermine the Child Support Agency by circulating information on dodges and devices to avoid maintenance payments. These include unscrupulous suggestions on how to persuade ex-wives to lie to the authorities - and how to fool the authorities into thinking that they are violent.
The National Association for Child Support Action (NACSA) produces regular newsletters and a website advising fathers how to delay, reduce or avoid contributions to the CSA.
CSA officials, who have compiled a dossier on the organisation, believe that some of the tips could be interpreted as incitement to break the law.
Ministers at the Department of Social Security are also aware of the group and have ensured that many of the loopholes it identifies will be closed when new legislation is introduced later this year. "Their activities are extra-legal if not illegal," one senior government source said.
One newsletter advises absent fathers that a good way of avoiding detection is to be portrayed as a violent man who must not be contacted by the CSA because the mother is too frightened. "Showing CSA officials the damage done to the house by an ex-partner (broken windows, etc) will usually have an instant effect and if communication is being conducted by letter a photograph will certainly help," it says.
Another advocates persuading the child's mother to deny to the CSA that she knows who the father is - in return for direct, but smaller payments. "We heard of one ex-partner who claimed to have done the rounds of many dubious parties (or was it a Club Med holiday?). It turned out the father could have been any one of a dozen or more men. She tried to be helpful by supplying a long list of possible names. Of course she was keen to co-operate, but it was so embarrassing."
The group's members - mostly fathers who have been targeted by the CSA - openly describe themselves as "pocket revolutionaries" deploying guerrilla tactics against the system. A recent publication from the group warns: "NACSA cannot guarantee its accuracy, usefulness or even legality and reminds readers that any decision to make use of the information is theirs alone."
Other publications advise absent fathers to reduce their declared income and increase their declared outgoings as much as possible. Under the heading "controlling your salary", one newsletter describes a man who asked his company for a loan to cover "unforeseen expenses" in his private life. The company agreed and took monthly payments out of his salary, leaving a reduced amount on the payslips assessed by the CSA. The document also suggests taking out a variable mortgage so contributions can be bumped up dramatically just before the CSA assesses the father's housing costs.
The group also offers tips on delaying the introduction of CSA payments, including failing to return documents or "forgetting" to include relevant information. One idea is to return CSA correspondence, unopened, with the words "gone away" or "not known at this address" emblazoned across it.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham, the minister responsible for the CSA, said the Government was concerned about a small group of hardliners working "at the edge" of the law. "Most men are decent and want to support their children but there are a core of people who do not want to pay and are seeking to duck and avoid and we will get tough on those," she said.
Maeve Sherlock, director of the National Council for One Parent Families, said she was "appalled" by some of NACSA's activities. "There will always be some cases of genuine hardship but anyone trying to persuade non-resident parents to avoid paying child support when they can afford to pay it is deeply irresponsible," she said.