Standard Victim Operating Procedure

Anonymous contribution – “From a CSA Victim” :

I write this as a long term ‘customer’ of the Child Support regime (previously called the Child Support Agency or CSA – not sure why they hid their old name) .

I have the following strong beliefs, which are supported by current legislation :
– both parents should financially provide for their children
– both parents deserve significant time with their children

I also believe the following, which is not supported by current legislation:
– parents should allow the other parent any care which is specified by Court Orders
– parents should at very least allow each other reasonable access and care of the children
– one parent alienating another from their children should be penalised
– costs contributed to children should be very closely aligned to the actual / average costs of raising children
– children in future relationships have as many rights and as much ‘value’ as children from the original relationship

You should conduct your own research on the many cases managed by “Child Support” (the regime hereinafter called CSA for convenience, as it’s offensive they  have taken on the positive term of Child Support as a business name). Read the resources and links available on this site, and join the Facebook group which seeks reform to the laws.

I make the following statements based on my personal experience, and have retained evidence of my dealings with CSA. Many others I have since met or communicated with echo my opinions and experiences. Maybe I have only talked to people who have been unfairly treated, and somewhere there is a large group of delighted Child Support customers keeping to themselves, but the law of averages indicates CSA is far from a properly-functioning organisation.

Here’s a basic assessment of CSA :

  1. The laws which CSA enforce are mainly two out-of-date Acts of Parliament, the majority of the considerations in these laws were put on paper in the late 1980’s. As a reminder, sky blue slacks, lemon polo shirts, perms, and bell-bottom jeans were the norm back then. The laws belong in the modern day as much as those fashionable items.
  2. The culture of CSA is vindictive and broken. The organisation is managed by career public servants, with that term used in a derogatory way – these people have forgotten they are there to serve the public, and instead behave as though they are part of a criminal justice system with most customers seen as offenders who are guilty till proven innocent.
  3. The decisions made by CSA are inconsistent and poorly-informed. During numerous discussions with CSA, a typical officer (Child Support Officer or CSO) shows lack of knowledge and understanding of the Acts under which they operate. Normally, lacking full understanding of laws governing your Govt Dept could be excused, but in the case of CSA, a low-level employee is empowered to make enforcement decisions that are meant to be carefully considered by a highly-competent, fully-informed “Registrar”.
  4. The mistakes made by CSA are sometimes financially damaging or even catastrophic. By failing to properly investigate both parties to a case, CSA has been known to allow fraud to occur, which dramatically impacts one party to the case.
  5. The consequences of CSA inconsistent and punitive behaviour are often severe. People have been pushed to bankruptcy and beyond. It is understood customers of CSA are approximately twice as likely to self-harm or suicide than national averages.
  6. The CSA lacks empathy for customers. Their spokesperson disclaims responsibility by saying CSA simply administers laws that were written by others. It’s no longer acceptable that a coherent intelligent professional person feels able to hide behind broken legislation and claim they are just doing their job, when that job is leading to death and destruction in an entire segment of the population.
  7. The financial considerations in a CSA case generally make no sense. The ‘self support’ amount allowed for adults in a case, to take care of their own living expenses, don’t even cover typical rent or mortgage repayments, meaning food, transport and clothing are not even accounted for under CSA’s budgeted figures.
  8. The children do not factor in CSA’s reporting. While this is meant to be child support, the figures transacted are often well in excess of the costs of raising children, with after-tax funds from a payer provided tax-free to a payee. This is often clearly ex-spouse support with no measures in place to ensure welfare of children.
  9. Illegal behaviour is permitted by CSA. A parent who refuses to allow Court-ordered care of children, is able to then adjust their own care percentage to increase payments due to them. These payments are then enforced by CSA.

Here are suggestions for dealing with CSA :

A. Write to them and tell them you wish to be a “write only” customer from now on. Tell them you are not in a position to receive and respond to phone calls. Ask them to communicate with you using Mygov or the Child Support Online system (it is their responsibility to provide you with a working login to these systems).  Ask them not to communicate with you in hard copy using Australia Post as you are aware of significant delays and lost correspondence, which might impact your case.

B. They will still call. You will find CSA invariably continue to attempt calling you. The caller line ID will be blocked so you only see Private Number.
Their excuse will likely be something such as :
– “too much information to discuss to put it in writing”
– “very complex matter, easier to talk through”
– “just wanted to talk to you before we send a letter”
– “we always just give you a quick call…”
etc.

You have two choices :
i) Accept the call and listen to what they have to say. Be careful not to state you understand anything if you do not understand it. Tell them you want what they have just told you sent to you in writing when you are in a better position to absorb it. If they refuse, send them an email detailing what was just discussed, repeating what they told you, and ask them to put it on your file for completeness.
ii) Refuse the call, you’ll find they left a voicemail saying they tried to contact you – this is to cover their backside by adding a note in their system that they attempted to call you.  Instead of calling back as requested, send them an email saying you noted a missed call from a Private Number, you have requested to be a Write Only customer, and remind them they should only contact you in writing as reasonably requested. Ask for no further phone calls and suggest they note that you no longer check voicemail, and should make a clear note of this on your file/case.

C. Send all communications in writing using Child Support Online or Mygov. Keep personal copies and screenshots of every communication sent. If either of the above methods fail, email webmaster@humanservices.gov.au in the Subject Line include “Child Support Case number {your case number} – please onforward”

D. The CSA will send you details of a number of decisions in your case. There may be Provisional Notional Assessments (often outlining changes to how much you pay or are to be paid) which become Notional Assessments. There may be notices of Change of Assessment initiated by the other party (your ex), or a range of other formal communications. They are generally disjointed and include numerous messages – for example a new Provisional Notional Assessment might consist of six emails each with PDF files attached, which will be a covering letter and then changes to past, current and future payments assessments. They’re almost impossible for a normal person to understand, but look for changes in income amounts and payments due. Read them carefully. If you are comfortable the changes are fair and make sense, no action  is needed.

E. Object to any decision which is unclear or seems unfair. The rules for objecting are clearly spelled out here. You usually have 28 days to lodge an objection to any decision. You are also able to apply for an extension to an objection period due to extenuating circumstances.  The types of decisions you can object to are outlined here.  Note the language they suggest you use and content they suggest you include. Adhere to all their guidelines so they cannot reject your communications for not following their expected red tape.

If you miss the 28 day deadline to lodge an objection, you can apply for an extension of time as outlined here.

If the type of decision you have received is deemed one you’re not permitted to “object” to, lodge a formal complaint instead. Using CSA Online you can lodge this using the Messages section / Send Us a Message.  There is also a standard complaints contact. Your wording will be focused on a complaint rather than objection. While CSA claim to be able to deem what you are permitted to object to, they can’t tell you what you are allowed to complain about.

F. In all communications with CSA, ask them to justify their decisions based on the legislation. eg. “When advising me of your decision, please refer to the Specific section of the Act/s you have considered and include your interpretation of the Section/s that have informed your decision”. Should they fail to clearly and specifically show they understood and applied the legislation, reply immediately and insist “I note that you have not clearly explained the Section/s of the Act/s that you have considered and interpreted when reaching this decision. I understand it is the role of the Registrar to adminsiter the legislation to ensure correct treatment of this case. I repeat my request for your clear explanation of your interpretation of the Section/s of the Act/s that informed the decision you have made.”

G. Use all legal avenues available to you.  You have rights to all information on your case under Freedom of Information requests.  In some states you are legally permitted to record phone conversations you are a party to, without advising the other party.  You can write to many official contacts in the Child Support regime if you are unhappy with the treatment  you receive.

H. Share positive results. Post to the Facebook group (anonymously if you prefer) regarding any instances of succesfully defending yourself again poor and unfair decisions made by CSA.  If posting elsewhere on line, support the need for urgent reform and use the hashtag #reformcs

I. Look after yourself. CSA is possibly the only Government sponsored organisation in Australia that operates above and outside the law. Your fate is at least partly in the hands of an organisation with a poisonous and broken culture and a track record of punishing people till they are on the brink, with absolutely zero regard for the actual welfare of our children. You will be dealt with by an individual who might even be a reasonable person, but has no real understanding of the law and things the numbers game played by CSA constitutes a fair service. Seek help elsewhere. Stay mentally and physically fit and strong. You are not alone. We will achieve reform together.#reformcs