NACSA NEWS March/April 1997

A mother has blamed the Child Support Agency (CSA) for her son’s suicide and is calling on the Government to have the organisation abolished. Junette Piggott’s son David, 33, of Wrexham, took an overdose after falling £6,000 in arrears while waiting for the CSA to deal with his case.

“They killed him as surely as if they had put a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger,” she said as she left an inquest on Wednesday. Wiping away tears, Mrs Piggott said officials had not listened to repeated pleas for help.

The Wrexham hearing was told that before the CSA became involved, the conscientious welder, who liked to pay up on the dot, made regular payments under a court order for his ex-girifriend’s eight-year-old daughter. But his income dropped from £1,600 a month to £1,100 and he telephoned and wrote to the CSA asking for a new assessment to match his reduced earnings. He said the delay was pushing him into debt.

Producing a file of letters he had written, his new partner Lynne Hughes said he was worried about arrears. Then he was sent a £6,000 bill which he could not pay. “He was willing to pay,” she said, “but when that huge bill came he was devastated.”

By reading an agency booklet he became convinced he had only to pay arrears for six months but the words were misleading and, in fact, he had to meet payments for 18 months. He was so worried he could not sleep at nights, and he saw his doctor. On November 24 he went missing after being out with a friend for a drink and his body was found three days later in woods outside the town.

Leslie Moorcroft, senior manager of the CSA’s Birkenhead office, said pressure of work had prevented staff dealing with Mr Piggot’s assessment more quickly or writing to him to explain the delay. “It is regrettable,” he said, and agreed with north-east Wales coroner John Hughes that the leaflet was poorly worded and capable of giving the wrong impression that only six months’ arrears must be paid.

Recording a verdict of suicide the coroner said, “The consequence of your failure to explain his arrears is that he has taken his own life. You should use words as clear as crystal.” He went on, “I think it is a matter of public knowledge that there have been other incidents where persons have found themselves under pressure to pay through the CSA and there have been previous inquests involving the agency.”

CSA spokeswoman Kris Symmonds said for the CSA that all literature was under review. “We shall consider the coroner’s recommendations as soon as possible,” she said.