The objective of the audit was to assess the Child Support Agency's effectiveness in managing the implementation of the Building a Better Child Support Agency program.



1. Commencing in 1988, the Child Support Scheme was designed to address concerns about the poverty of women and children following separation and divorce; and the increasing government expenditure required to support children where parents were not meeting their financial obligations. The Child Support Scheme provides an administrative avenue to determine and enforce the transfer of child support between separated parents, without the involvement of courts.

2. The Child Support Agency (CSA) was formed in 1988 as part of the Australian Taxation Office to administer the Child Support Scheme. In 1998, CSA was transferred to the Department of Family and Community Services before becoming part of the newly formed Department of Human Services (DHS) in 2004. While established as part of DHS, CSA largely operated as a separate agency until July 2008, when a departmental reorganisation brought the enabling functions (such as information technology, human resources, finance and legal) of CSA within the department.

3. CSA's functions and operations are legislatively based. Its role includes the registration of separated parents and their children; the assessment of child support liabilities; and the collection, enforcement and transfer of child support payments. CSA also manages customer complaints and objections, and reviews assessments when requested by customers through the change of assessment process. CSA has over 1.5 million customers and, in 2008¬–09, assisted in the transfer of approximately $2.8 billion in child support payments.

Child Support Reforms

4. In February 2006, the then Australian Government announced the Child Support Reforms program as part of its response to the 2005 report of the Ministerial Taskforce on Child Support, In the Best Interests of Children – Reforming the Child Support Scheme. The Taskforce made 30 recommendations covering all aspects of the Child Support Scheme including changes to the child support formula, the broader Child Support Scheme and CSA's role and resources.

5. The Child Support Reforms comprised three key initiatives aimed at addressing growing concerns in the community about the adequacy of the Child Support Scheme and its administration, namely the:

  • Child Support Scheme Reforms (CSSR) — $582.2 million ;
  • Improving Compliance program — $165.1 million ; and
  • Building a Better CSA (BBCSA) program — $146.6 million.

Building a Better CSA

6. The BBCSA program was funded for five years, from 2005¬–06, to assist CSA to manage the complex work of implementing the Child Support Scheme Reforms, negative public perceptions of CSA's administration of the Child Support Scheme, and shortcomings in CSA's culture, structure and capability.

7. The BBCSA program comprised 15 projects which were collectively aimed at achieving three objectives, namely:

  • Develop a customer-focused approach to service delivery, characterised by more accessible, consistent, responsive, professional, accountable and empathetic interactions with customers (‘customer service improvements', $106 million);
  • Develop a customer-focused organisational culture that eliminates bias and community perceptions of the need for greater procedural fairness in customer outcomes (‘organisational change and improved customer service skills' , $23 million); and
  • Increase proactive engagement with parents and stakeholders to provide a better understanding of their rights, responsibilities and options under the child support system, and the role of CSA within the family law system (‘improved communication and stakeholder engagement', $22 million).

8. Table S.1 shows how CSA grouped the 15 BBCSA projects into four programs to support the achievement of the three objectives.

Table S.1: BBCSA objectives, programs and projects

Source: ANAO analysis of Child Support Agency, BBCSA Outcomes Report, 2008.

Audit objective and criteria

9. The objective of the audit was to assess CSA's effectiveness in managing the implementation of the BBCSA program.

10. In conducting the audit, the ANAO examined the BBCSA key performance indicators to determine the degree to which the three identified BBCSA program objectives had been achieved and, in that context, how CSA's planning, implementation and performance monitoring and evaluation activities had been undertaken.

Overall conclusion

11. The BBCSA program was established to assist CSA implement the Child Support Reforms and address identified shortcomings in its operations and culture. The BBCSA program was expected to develop an organisational culture that was more customer-focused, and improve CSA's engagement with customers and stakeholders. To this end, CSA identified three objectives to measure the success of the BBCSA program. Based on an analysis of the performance indicators in CSA's evaluation framework, greatest progress has been made in improving communication with customers and stakeholders; with limited progress being made in the two remaining areas, customer service and broader organisational change.

12. Feedback from customers and stakeholders, gathered by CSA, shows an increase in general satisfaction levels with communication and, particularly, a greater level of awareness and knowledge of CSA, its role in relation to the Child Support Scheme and the services it provides. CSA made progress in some areas of the remaining two objectives during the rollout of the BBCSA program (such as customers' satisfaction with CSA services and customers' perceptions of CSA's fairness in dealing with customers). However, in many cases where performance indicators and information was available, the momentum has not been sustained. As a consequence, the overall improvement has been limited. These results were, in part, a reflection on the limited effectiveness of some areas of CSA's implementation of the program, particularly the planning and monitoring and review aspects.

13. Commencing in 2005–06, and expected to run for five years, the BBCSA program formed part of the broader $877 million Child Support Reforms. As the most significant change to the Scheme since its inception, the Child Support Reforms affected each of CSA's approximately 1.5 million customers and 3500 staff.

14. The BBCSA program was a key component of the Child Support Reforms that was designed to complement the policy and operational changes of the CSSR and the Improving Compliance program. Through providing a focus on delivering high-quality customer service, the BBCSA program was intended to be the central element to operationally and strategically position CSA to implement the reform agenda.

15. The BBCSA program was also an important part of addressing the acknowledged perceptions of customers, their representatives and stakeholders, that CSA's approach was ‘insensitive, inconsistent and unaccountable'. This included better educating customers and stakeholders on CSA's role given their views can be influenced by factors such as child support policy, which are outside of CSA's control or responsibility.

16. CSA faced challenges in planning and implementing the BBCSA program, particularly its relative inexperience in implementing an organisational change program, and having to introduce the changes in conjunction with the CSSR and the Improving Compliance program—which resulted in the initiatives becoming competing organisational priorities. Such an environment emphasised the importance of having in place, from the outset, a strong project management framework to support the achievement of the objectives.

17. Underpinning the BBCSA program and its three objectives were 15 projects. Limitations with the implementation of the BBCSA program and some of the projects impacted on CSA's capacity to achieve its objectives, particularly those of improved customer service and a changed organisational culture. These limitations included inadequate planning and project management arrangements (including risk management), undefined project scopes, incomplete project activities and insufficient ongoing monitoring and evaluation that could be used to identify and rectify issues.

18. In positioning an organisation to achieve planned outcomes, CSA's implementation of the BBCSA program demonstrates the importance of:

  • developing defined project scopes that reflect intended objectives;
  • reviewing an organisation's existing and future operational environment to determine achievable objectives;
  • articulating the future vision and communicating it to the organisation in a way that engages staff and instils a commitment at all levels; and
  • prioritising program initiatives (including resourcing and scheduling) and establishing appropriate performance measures that are monitored on an ongoing basis, and provide the basis for review and remedial action.

19. Improvements in performance indicators, such as customer satisfaction, demonstrated during implementation of the BBCSA program have not been sustained in many cases. To assist CSA to build on the work undertaken as part of the BBCSA program and improve its customer service offering, the ANAO has made six recommendations aimed at improving the outcomes delivered by some of the BBCSA projects that continue to operate (such as Regional Service Centres); and enhancing CSA's ability to monitor the ongoing impact of the BBCSA program.

Key findings by chapter

Planning and implementation

20. The challenges presented by introducing the BBCSA program, which was critical to the success of the overall delivery of the Child Support Reforms, meant that adequate planning and project management arrangements were paramount. Due to a number of factors including limited program implementation experience, CSA did not adequately plan the implementation of the BBCSA program. This resulted in CSA's project management framework and supporting functions for the implementation of the BBCSA program not being fully agreed and introduced until 10 to 12 months after the commencement of the program.

21. These circumstances directly affected the BBCSA program and CSA's ability to meet the objectives, as project:

  • budgets were reduced to fund the project management framework and supporting functions as associated costs had not been sought from government; and
  • teams were not adequately supported to plan and manage their projects.

22. CSA monitored the implementation of the BBCSA program through the development of an evaluation framework, progress reporting, reviews and the use of an External Delivery Assurance Advisor. These arrangements, however, were limited in some areas including:

  • the framework was not developed until nine months after the program commenced;
  • CSA did not have a system to monitor projects' progress against milestones for the first 12 months of the program;
  • the attention of CSA's Executive was repeatedly diverted to managing organisational issues, such as workforce affordability and accommodation constraints; and
  • measures were not identified or developed for all performance indicators.

23. Given the BBCSA program was aimed at achieving organisational change, CSA would benefit from introducing relevant BBCSA performance indicators to its performance management framework so that the permanent impact of the changes can be assessed and further enhancements can be identified and implemented where required.

Customer service

24. The first of the three objectives of the BBCSA program was to improve customer service by developing a customer focused approach to service delivery. During the implementation of the program some customer service performance indicators showed an improvement, such as overall customer dissatisfaction which decreased from 22 per cent to 11 per cent in
2006–07. The levels of improvements made, however, have largely not been sustained.

25. Underpinning the customer service objective, CSA introduced seven projects, including Regional Service Centres and Personalised Services, aimed at improving its interaction with customers. There were shortcomings, however, in the implementation of some of the projects that impacted on CSA's ability to achieve its objective of improved customer service. In particular:

  • some project activities did not sufficiently align with achieving the target outcomes or were not completed; and
  • there has been insufficient monitoring of project impacts and a lack of further action to achieve outcomes.

26. Customers' views on service delivery can be influenced by a number of factors, some of which are outside CSA's responsibility (such as child support policy). CSA could regain the progress made towards improving its customer service by taking actions to fulfil the original outcomes of the customer service improvement projects; for example, by expanding its call recording capability and use of recorded calls, and improving Customer Service Officers' access to consistent and accurate technical advice. CSA could also improve customer satisfaction through the better use of information garnered through its operations to identify and address common underlying causes of customer dissatisfaction.

Organisational change

27. The second objective of the BBCSA program was to develop a customer focused organisational culture that eliminated bias and addressed community perceptions of the need for greater procedural fairness in customer outcomes. Projects introduced to achieve CSA's organisational change were successful at identifying areas that CSA needed to address in order to make progress towards its objective, however, competing organisational priorities and the limited lifespan of projects restricted the scope of activities implemented. Further, the effectiveness of project initiatives was compromised by factors including a lack of support from CSA National Office and Executive and, in some areas, limited staff capacity to implement follow-up actions.

28. Similar to customer service, some organisational change performance indicators, such as customer satisfaction with the consistency of advice provided by Customer Service Officers and customers' perceptions of CSA's fairness in handling their child support matter, showed an improvement during implementation of the BBCSA program. CSA did not, however, adequately address the causes of customer, staff and stakeholder dissatisfaction and, as a result, many of these indicators have declined in 2009.

29. To foster an environment that allows permanent organisational change, it is important that CSA addresses critical areas such as adequate consideration of process and procedure re-design and leadership support, as part of any change program.

Communication and stakeholder engagement

30. The final objective of the BBCSA program was aimed at increasing CSA's engagement with parents and stakeholders to provide a better understanding of their rights, responsibilities and options under the child support system, and the role of CSA within the family law system.

31. CSA has improved its communication and stakeholder engagement since the BBCSA program commenced. Customers and stakeholders are now more satisfied with CSA's communication and engagement efforts and are more aware and knowledgeable of CSA, its role relative to the Child Support Scheme and the services that it provides. This is reflected by the communication and stakeholder engagement performance indicators; including, CSA survey results showing customer agreement with the statement ‘CSA is now communicating better with parents, the community and organisations', increasing significantly between May 2007 and August 2008 (42 per cent to 74 per cent for receiving parents, and 43 per cent to 64 per cent for paying parents). It is unclear and difficult to measure, however, whether customer satisfaction with communication has resulted in increased voluntary compliance with child support obligations, as intended by the communication and stakeholder engagement program.

32. To build on the positive results in this area, there are further improvements CSA can make to its communication and engagement with customers and stakeholders including addressing issues associated with its letters and forms.

Summary of agency response

Department of Human Services

The Department welcomes the audit and agrees with its recommendations. The audit report provides a valuable assessment and framework to support further improvement to the operations and culture of the Child Support Agency (CSA).

In support of changes implemented through Building a Better Child Support Agency (BBCSA) the CSA has undertaken reforms that will further improve its ability to administer the child support scheme and address the recommendations made within the audit report. In September 2009, the then Secretary of the Department commissioned an independent review into the appropriateness, design and implementation of current decision making processes and quality assurance arrangements for the CSA. David Richmond AO was commissioned to conduct the review and the subsequent ‘Delivering Quality Outcomes' report made a range of recommendations, which are currently being implemented.

The announcement by the Minister in December 2009 of the Government's intention to fundamentally reform the way services are delivered by Government to the Australian community, will also drive further changes in the operations of CSA as part of the Department and the wider portfolio.

The audit report acknowledges the challenges CSA faced in implementing the BBCSA program. These included CSA's relative inexperience in implementing a change program of such a large scale and the requirement for the work to be completed within a compressed timeframe and at the same time as complex work associated with changes to the Child Support Scheme. The Department notes the audit report's comments on improvements required in CSA practices including risk and project management and recognises the value of the improvements recommended to ensure effective and efficient best practice.