The whole remit of the crisis-stricken Child Support Agency could be re-written as part of a radical reform programme aimed at getting it back on track, Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton has revealed.

The CSA, which has its headquarters at Brierley Hill, Dudley, is currently responsible for assessing and collecting maintenance payments from absent parents, usually fathers.

But Mr Hutton said that could change under plans being drawn up by officials in the the Department of Work and Pensions.

"I think we should look very carefully at the fundamental policy framework within which the CSA is working. I think, fundamentally, we are not going to solve this problem just by looking at the performance of the CSA," he told BBC1's Sunday AM programme.

"The whole structure for calculating liability, for example, which is incredibly complicated in the primary legislation - I think we need to look very carefully at all of that.

"People tend to focus on the CSA as an organisation and say that it hasn't done a very good job.

"Yes, they are right, it hasn't. But it is doing the job that Parliament asked it to do."

"There have been lots of really good people working in the CSA, working really hard to help families, and they have found it impossible in the current framework to do their job properly.

"I think we do need now to make some big decisions about the future and what is the best way to support families who need this maintenance being paid. At the moment too many families are being let down."

Mr Hutton did not go into detail about the Government's thinking but Tony Blair has already said that he wants to see a fundamental reform of the agency which has an estimated backlog of £3 billion in uncollected debt.

Last week it emerged that proposals were being considered for private debt collectors to be used to recover money from parents who failed to pay child support.

In recent weeks, it was also suggested errant parents who refuse to pay up for the children should be tagged.