Ottawa Citizen
Thursday 6 April 2000

What's in a man's name?

Money

Dave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen

Being male in Ontario got more costly this week with the announcement of new "administration fees" by the provincial agency tasked with collecting and distributing court-ordered family support payments. About 95 per cent of payers are male.

In the five areas that will have fees, there's one that will affect me personally. Although I am not in the system, I can be touched as a third party. My problem is I've got a common name.

The Family Responsibility Office (FRO) in an announcement this week outlined the new charges that went into effect April 1.

Brendan Crawley of the Ontario Attorney's General's communications office, handled questions from this desk, and the main one was: Why the charges? He pointed to the preamble in the announcement: "The government is keeping its Blueprint commitment to save taxpayers' dollars by running more efficient programs."

With a name like mine I've never been able to clear a real estate transaction without proving along the way I was not another Dave Brown who was in financial trouble someplace in Canada. Usually there are several. The problem could be made to go away through Credit Bureau records.

If there's a Dave Brown in arrears with FRO, it will show up in a credit check and I will likely be asked to prove I am not that Dave Brown. FRO will provide me a "confirmation of identity letter" assuring all interested I am not that person. The letter will cost me $150. There are telephone listings in Ontario for 285 Dave Browns. We're lucky. There are 558 John Smiths.

The biggest new fee on the list is aimed at those who have had their driving permits suspended for being in support arrears. Want your licence back? Make arrangements with FRO, then add a $400 administration fee. It's a fee that's easy to avoid, said Mr. Crawley. "Don't be in arrears."

The fees are a surprise. Few people keep a closer eye on the workings of FRO than does Judy Poulin, founder of SCOPE, Support for Children and Organizations for Public Education. The organization was formed 10 years ago to challenge and monitor bungling in the system when the province went into the support collection business.

"I heard it (a fee system) was being talked about last fall. Then in mid-February I heard the idea had been dropped."

The announcement the fees were up and running went out in a message dated March 24. Ms. Poulin received her copy Tuesday. It's over the signature of FRO director Sharon van Son.

As she read through the list of fees, Ms. Poulin kept repeating the word "ridiculous." She said it was unlikely there were "stakeholders" at the table when the fee schedule was drawn up.

Want a printed statement of your FRO account? The first one is free but after that they cost $25. "Avoid those fees by using the (automated) telephone system," says Mr. Crawley.

Post-dated cheques will be processed for a fee of $10 each. That can be avoided by pre-authorized electronic payments. In the past when payments were hung up in the system, the payer would make payments directly to the family. The new system puts a firm no to that. All payments must go through the agency. Breaking that rule carries a fee of $100 to the payer. It creates extra bookkeeping, says Mr. Crawley.

As bureaucracies go, this one has been caught in a storm of complaints since its inception a dozen years ago. It announced in February it had sorted out the kinks. SCOPE wants to provide a public overview by checking that assertion, and is inviting stakeholders to write about their experiences, good or bad. Mail them to SCOPE at Box 381, Cumberland, K4C 1E7. (E-mail poulinjr@sympatico.ca ).

FRO managers have promised to attend a public meeting with stakeholders in Ottawa after the survey is completed. Watch this column for details.

Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor. His e-mail address is dbrown@thecitizen.southam.ca .

Read previous Dave Brown columns at www.ottawacitizen.com

Copyright 2000 Ottawa Citizen