(Queen's Bench Division, Administrative Court; Goldring J; 9 July 2008)
Under a consent order the father was required to pay £12.50 pw maintenance in respect of the two children; he did not do so. Almost a year after the order was made the mother, who was in receipt of income support, applied for child support. Although the father, a plasterer, returned the maintenance enquiry form, it seemed that he had not included sufficient information on his earnings. There was then a considerable delay, during which time the mother came off income support and sought to enforce the order through the court; she was told, wrongly, that the court had no jurisdiction. Eventually, the Agency issued a notional assessment, based on the basic national averages for earnings, cancelling the court order only after this. The mother sought financial redress under the Financial Redress for Maladministraton Guide. Although a degree of maladministration was admitted, the Secretary of State refused to pay the mother a special payment; he did offer a consolatory payment of £100, later revised to £748.17.
The Financial Redress Maladministration Guide should not be read as a rigid set of rules; it indicated principles, which must be consistently applied. So far as possible the customer should be restored to the position she would have been in but for the error. If the Secretary of State's unreasonable delay had resulted in a loss of opportunity to receive maintenance, there should be compensation; however, in a case involving a court order, there would be no loss of opportunity to receive maintenance, as either parent could have sought to enforce the order. However, the Secretary of State's decision on notional assessment would be quashed; best evidence in this case required consideration of the likely earnings of a plasterer, not merely an assumption that the father's earnings would be roughly the national average after his housing costs had been taken into account. A claimant such as the mother should normally go to the independent case examiner (ICE); only in the exceptional case should judicial review be sought as a first resort.