The crisis stricken Child Support Agency is set to carry out a major IT upgrade – including crucial fixes to its EDS CS2 system and telecoms enhancements - before the end of March 2008, as part of its operational improvement plan (OIP).

The doomed agency was formally scrapped a year ago, after a damning National Audit Office report into the £456m CS2 case management system, provided by EDS under a 10-year private finance initiative contract. But while legislation to establish its planned successor – the Child Maintenance Enforcement Commission (CMEC) goes through parliament – the CSA is still operating.

But the agency is still struggling to cope. In July, ministers admitted that its IT systems could not handle child maintenance claims that are in dispute between parents.

The improvement plan drawn up last year, which is expected to cost up to £320m, is aimed at tackling the CSA’s huge casework backlog and stabilising its IT system by fixing the 500 defects found in the system three years after it was built.

Details of the improvement scheme have now been set out by CSA chief executive Stephen Geraghty. A “great deal of work has already been carried out to improve the stability of the new computer system”, while “a major IT upgrade” was due in the second year of the programme, ending in March 2008, he said.

The upgrade would primarily provide system support for the CSA’s new operating model, which introduced client lifecycle segmentation. This is designed to enable the agency to better target its resources to secure maintenance for more children.

A training programme to help staff use the developing IT system had also been devised, Geraghty said in a letter to Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesperson Danny Alexander.

The IT upgrade is set to pull together a bundle of interconnected projects. They include top priority defect fixes, performance enhancements and bulk conversion capability for the CS2 system, along with support for external debt collection agencies, clerical database enhancements, interim telephony enhancements, interim workflow enhancements, incorporation of the Department of Work and Pensions’ Customer Information System and upgrades to the complaints handling system.

The major components of the programme – fundamentally enhancing CS2 and the telephony applications – are scheduled for delivery by EDS and BT in the current financial year, senior CSA official Duncan Gilchrist said in a separate letter.

All the CSA’s outsourced IT projects since 1997 have been rolled into the Child Support Reforms programme – centred on the CS2 system built by EDS – and the OIP. The reforms programme had been “technically concluded in August 2005 with a £107m downward adjustment to the contracted cost”, which was used to help fund the OIP, Gilchrist added.

“In addition to the contracted scope for the child support reforms programme, the agency requested 130 detailed changes, plus the development of a management information system,” he said.

The final year of the OIP will see the CSA add incremental system functionality and consolidate the improvements made.

Earlier this year, MPs warned that the new CMEC agency was set to repeat the CSA fiasco. There was “no evidence” that the new organisation, which will inherit its predecessor’s IT would avoid a similar fate.