CSA Blues

Ahh, the Child Support Agency. You’ve got to love it.

Today I get rung up by the CSA asking me for the $80 or so that I apparently owe them for my dear loving ex-wife. I’m not averse to paying maintenance for my kids, though I’d have rathered we lived in the same city and I contributed by parenting (but that’s another story…), but at this delicate stage in my career as a dilettante artist, I don’t make much cash and up till this fin year I was only paying $28/mth, reasonable thought I.

But last March I apparently got a letter telling me I was to pay $180/month from July 1 due to a change of policy. If non-custodial parents are reporting income lower than the rate of Parenting Allowance, they are automatically assumed to be cheating and are charged that much. Now I understand you can dispute the charge of cheating and if you can prove a meagre income, they’ll accept that and put you back on minimum maintenance. Fair enough. But that would take actually reading the letters and doing something about it. Which I didn’t.

Then my son decided to come and live with me, as of mid July, and I was re-assessed as owing no maintenance (one kid each) and I thought everything would be diddly. But there’s the interim period. And I owe for it. And it’s only $80, but it rankles. Nothing changed in my circumstances during that period, but they made a decision and until a re-assessment is done, the maintenance bill accrues and there is apparently nothing one can do about it.

I wouldn’t be so annoyed if it hadn’t happened before. That time I hadn’t lodged a tax return because I was only on the dole. The CSA, in their wisdom, advised me that since they had no information about my income, they would assume I was earning average weekly income and charge me maintenance of around $500/mth. Same story. I thought I’d eventually have a chat to them and things would be fixed up, but no, if you don’t right an error yourself, before July 1, whatever you get charged afterwards is an invincible debt.

A third example. I took a redundancy. I advised the CSA of the change in my income. Unfortunately I didn’t engage a tax agent for the purpose and, in misunderstanding how much of my payout was taxable, over-reported my income by about $7000. When the discrepancy came to light at tax time, again no recourse and around $1800 overpaid. To the ex-wife yes, who needed it for spending money… perhaps for her recent trip sailing on the Mediterranean.

I’m most annoyed at myself for not paying attention to the many CSA missives that darken my letterbox. They are, I must say, largely gobbledygook, and when one receives an endless series of them telling you, once again, that your assessment is $zero, you get in the habit of flicking them straight in the recycling. Dumb, I know.

But I would still like to know why there is no provision for retrospective assessments. The CSA cannot, I was told, ask for money back from custodial parents because it might put them in hardship. Never mind that I was on the bones of my arse, still rearing the children one third of the time and in serious debt. And in this present case, the money hasn’t hit the ex-wife’s purse so where’s the hardship? Had she made a financial commitment on the strength of an expected $80?

I would like to say here that in general I support the broad purpose of the CSA, but as a customer on the thorny, non-custodial, side of the argument, the policy and administration of it has frequently given me the shits.

Rant over.

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