Well, that was fun: the CSA

Image: Flickr Two weeks ago, I was watching TV when the chap's mobile rang. He was in the shower so I picked up, to hear a woman to bark at me: "Is that Sally Whittle?"

Obviously, being a complete drama queen, I assumed the chap has a secret psycho patient who wants to stab me.

But it seems not: “Can I have your date of birth?

“Erm, no. Who is this?”

More barking: "It's the child support agency and we've had a request for maintenance payments and I need your date of birth and bank details to proceed, although I can do it without your consent if necessary."

Holy Shit. The chap has a secret love child! Ooh, I'll be just like Julia Roberts in Stepmom, and win the little tyke around with my sparkly personality and glossy hair. We'll have adventures in Central Park, and everything…

Eventually, I get a grip on myself and start to wonder why she wants my bank details. Have I fathered a strange child somewhere? I tell the woman I'm sorry, but I have no idea what she’s talking about and could she please explain why she’s calling, and why she’s calling me, on this number.

It turns out not to be anything to do with the chap. In fact, it turns out that The Father made an application to the CSA back on September 19th to reduce his child maintenance payments by 65%.  Of course, being The Father, he didn’t think to mention this to me. Why ruin the surprise, right?

I ask how the new figure was calculated. “Well, because he’s self-employed, he’d have told us what he earned and it’s 15% of that.”

Is the sum checked, because it suggests his earnings have fallen by around 50k. That seems unlikely to me, given I do the same job as The Father and my earnings have remained steady since Flea was born. “Well, it’s not investigated, but if you have proof he’s lying, we would look into it.”

So, basically, unless I have access to The Father’s bank statements he can pretty much pay what he likes. And he’d like to pay a lot less than he has been paying, it seems.  Brilliant.

The reduced payment comes into effect on November 1st – giving me four days notice, and a big hole in my bank account where the mortgage payment should be. Again, quite brilliant. Even more brilliant, the first slimmed-down maintenance payment? Didn’t arrive. So I called the CSA. That was fun.

Oh, well, I can't do anything, it gets passed on to collection.”

“And what happens then?”

“Well, we can take his driving license or his property.”

“He doesn’t drive and he’s just been evicted from his rented house.”

“Oh, well, we can take it directly from his pay packet.”

“He’s self-employed.”

“Well, I’m not really sure what happens then. Sorry. This does happen a lot.”

Brilliant. Just bloody brilliant. And this is an agency set up to help support children? Cause from where I’m standing it seems to be doing a fantastic job of helping fuckwit fathers dodge their responsibilities.

What makes me particularly furious is that the week before The Father submitted his CSA application, we were choosing schools for Flea. This man sobbed down the phone and begged me to send Flea to the private school against my better judgement. She had a place at the local school, but he was desperate for her to go private.

Are you sure? It’s a huge financial commitment, and I need to know you understand that. I just never want to face pulling her out of school halfway through, I'd rather not start down that road at all,” I said over and over again, and he said, yes, he was absolutely committed. And a week later, he was filling in CSA forms and claiming he was penniless. And now I have the rest of my life to listen to my mother's 50,000 different ways of saying, "I told you so." Ugh.

Of course, now there are no places at any of the local schools, leaving us with the option of an “improving” school in the next town, or upping sticks and moving. Or I get to work even harder than I already do, to earn the money to plug the gap. Whatever way you look at it, it sucks. And the CSA is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. 11th November 2009 / 11:36 am

    I feel for you I really do. My eldest daughter’s father owes her about 6k in CSA payments. As soon as they find him he changes his job, so of course no payments ever reach us. It’s in the hands of collection is all I ever get told. We know we’ll never see that money which is a shame as it would do great to her uni fees or a car, deposit on flat / house etc when she would need it most.

  2. Liz@Violetposy
    11th November 2009 / 11:42 am

    Arrgh it makes me so angry, maintenance money should be taken by the tax office at source. They who know what the self employed really earn rather than what they declare minus dividends.
    My best friend has spent the last 12 years fighting with the CSA and has managed in the 15 years she’s had her daughter to scrap back £700 rather than the thousands the father owes. Utter crap it really is – hugs to you and the other mother’s dealing with this toothless agency.

  3. 11th November 2009 / 11:45 am

    I completely know where you’re coming from. Exactly the same thing happened to me except The Father in my case is a self-employed merchant wanker and he claimed his income had dropped from the $NZD200k level to $70k. Then to make matters worse he got the NZ CSA to agree that he desparately needed to fly the children around the world and for him to fly over here costing $17k because he missed them. This is the same man who begged my lawyer to understand he didn’t have time to see the children when we all lived in Auckland! The same man who obviously doesn’t know how to operate Skype or the telephone!!! Oh yes and the guy who spent the kids’ private school fees (a few years ago) on flying to Bahamas on holiday (from NZ!!). When I tried to explain all this to CSA they just said he’s their father and he has a right to see the children. Of course, I believe (silly me) that the kids actually have rights too like having food on their table, and a warm house to live in and silly little things like that! The result is that now I have finally got my permit (after being restricted from earning in this country for nine months by the delightful Border Agency), I will have to work twice as hard to provide for the kids, all three of them! A mother can never and would never divorce her kids, but fathers seem to get away with it all the time. Sorry for the rave, but I just know exactly the shock and worry you’re going through!

  4. 11th November 2009 / 11:58 am

    It seems to me that the CSA could serve only one useful purpose and that would be as a setting for a Kafka novel – and they’re a century too bloody late for that as well.
    Would suggest donning superwomen outfits and climbing to the tops of bridges or cranes, but mothers appear to be frittering away far too many hours just, you know… working, earning and taking care of THEIR CHILDREN!

  5. 11th November 2009 / 12:10 pm

    I dont know what to say – I can not understand how anyone could do this to their child. What a complete and utter bas***d

  6. 11th November 2009 / 12:32 pm

    What an utter scumbag, how can he do this to his child? Doesn’t he care. Nightmare

  7. Insomniac Mummy
    11th November 2009 / 12:38 pm

    That really is just not fair at all.
    I hope you can find a way of bridging the gap, which of course you shouldn’t have to.
    The government really needs to get it’s finger out over the CSA and stop making it easy for absent parents to shirk financial responsibility for their children.

  8. Liz (LivingwithKids)
    11th November 2009 / 12:47 pm

    Sally I really feel for you, the system is absoutely shite. It safeguards the absent parent and leaves the one who really does have to bring home the bacon struggling to make ends meet. Does The Father have parents, and is it worth appealing to their fair sense of play? (Sorry but needs must when a child is involved). He’s a C word, he really is x

  9. Felicity
    11th November 2009 / 6:25 pm

    I’m slightly confused why your mortgage payments are being made with Child Support money…

  10. Sally
    11th November 2009 / 7:01 pm

    Hi Felicity, great name. Why are you confused? Child support is intended to be the absent parent’s contribution to a child’s care. That includes putting a roof over their head, keeping the house warm and lit, and food on the table. Simple enough, surely?

  11. John
    11th November 2009 / 7:10 pm

    “A mother can never and would never divorce her kids, but fathers seem to get away with it all the time.”
    Can I just point out that not all absent fathers are useless scum bags and that the CSA exists to help the caring *parent* – yeah I know they do a crap job of it
    As a divorced father who paid for two kids without complaining and without my ex wife having to resort to the CSA (and is still helping out now one is a single parent herself) I get REALLY p1ssed off with the assumption that the father is always feckless. Perhaps that’s the way it often is, but don’t tar us all with the same brush. Generalisations are generally not good things.

  12. Sally
    11th November 2009 / 7:16 pm

    Hi John, quite right. I certainly think my ex is exceptional. God, I hope so, at any rate…. But yes my post is about the CSA and the father not all fathers.

  13. 11th November 2009 / 7:37 pm

    This is awful. Why can’t money be taken at source, that’s what happens with student loans these days after all – you earn above a certain amount and they take a percentage.And as for the phone manner?? Perhaps some customer service training is required!As for your ex, comment is impossible without using numerous expletives. I hope you find a way to sort this – without making yourself ill by working even harder xxxxx

  14. 11th November 2009 / 7:45 pm

    Unbelievable, both from him and the CSA. It makes me appreciate all over again how good my ex was, like John he was totally committed and totally reasonable. I did realise how lucky I was at the time but had slightly forgotten!
    Really hope you get this sorted out.xx

  15. 11th November 2009 / 7:56 pm

    That all sounds fairly flippin’ unfair. I hope you manage to sort things out and I hope you actually had that cupcake sitting on your desk and chomped it all down in one go!

  16. 11th November 2009 / 8:18 pm

    Hey John, you’re quite right there are lots of great guys out there. My husband for example provided for my ex’s kids when he wouldn’t and I have a number of fantastic Dad’s amongst my male divorced friends. I didn’t mean to offend you, nor others like you, just to illustrate that unfortunately there are many men out there who do beat the system.
    And Sally, we call our Felicity Flissy..

  17. Sally
    11th November 2009 / 9:11 pm

    Crikey Natalie, its as though you’ve met him! Thats a very accurate view of my ex. He is totally divorced from reality. He thinks he is a Great Dad because he has paid his share of the school fees, and really doesnt see how this affects me and Flea. In fact he says he will sue me if I take her out of school without his consent.
    As a measure of how reasonable he is, he has offered to make “additional, entirely voluntary payments in recognition of the fine home environment you provide the child”. When I told him to go and f**k himself, he said he was sad I felt the need to use such a hurtful tone. Idiot.

  18. ella
    11th November 2009 / 9:37 pm

    Ugh, I’m sorry, Sally. It’s just crap and I’m so sorry you and Flea have to be on the receiving end of it.

  19. 12th November 2009 / 1:58 am

    If he’s lying to the CSA about his earnings, he must be lying to the Inland Revenue too? He must be treading on thin ice here, whatever. Sorry you’re having such a shit time of it.

  20. 12th November 2009 / 10:08 am

    Wow Natalie, that sounds exactly like my ex, and it sounds very apt about The Father too. Are you a professional counsellor? Sally the only upside is that although Flea is too young to know now the sacrifices you’re making for her she will learn in time and you will benefit from a closer bond with her than her father has (unfortunately for him!).

  21. outraged
    12th November 2009 / 11:14 am

    Unbelievable. If he wants a fight, give it to him. If he wants to sue you for taking Flea out of school let him try – your actions are a result of his, it’s his fault. Stop his access until he pays up. Loathe as I am to recommend someone stoop to the level of such a scroat, I think it might be time to take the fight to him. Don’t let him get away with it.

  22. 12th November 2009 / 10:08 pm

    I have given up completely on the CSA. I filled out their form when I was pregnant, gave them the bio-dad’s name, address, DOB, employer’s details (even phoned them up to confirm their address), and got a response saying “We do not have enough information to confirm his national insurance number”. End of CSA involvement.
    He buys his daughter clothes from time to time, and pays for all the food when we visit him. I’ve sort of talked myself into believing this is a reasonable level of contribution, because trying to get any more would just be a massive headache.

  23. Sally
    13th November 2009 / 10:49 am

    I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for commenting.
    It’s lovely (if infuriating) to know there are others in the same boat, who get through it, and I know many of them will have faced far tougher decisions than private versus state education.
    The Father has now engaged a lawyer to fight for his “rights”. Apparently he has said any mutual friends who talk to me are “Quislings” (Nazi collaborators) who deserve to get cancer.
    If nothing else, I have to give him kudos for providing such a rich source of comedy in my life.

  24. 16th November 2009 / 5:34 pm

    CSA = Complete Stupid Arses

  25. 17th November 2009 / 11:10 am

    What a terrible thing to happen. And what a bastard. Especially after pressuring you into that school. xxx

  26. 17th November 2009 / 11:37 am

    I have no idea how the spaces work in your county… but in ours they don’t keep a wait list — you just have to keep calling until a spot is available. That may mean calling every day. Friends of mine have done that, and finally ended up with a space. Though it is a huge pain, it may work? Hang in there…