Private Collection Agencies - Agent of a Child and Third Party Address for Correspondence
DATE: May 23, 2003
TO: State IV-D Directors and Regional Program Managers
FROM: Sherri Z. Heller, Ed.D.
Office of Child Support Enforcement
SUBJECT: Guidance on Private Collection Agencies - Agent of a Child and Third Party Address for Correspondence
This PIQ addresses recent inquiries from the State of New York requesting clarification on two issues related to private collection agencies (PCAs). The State’s questions and our responses are listed below.
QUESTION 1: AT-02-04 clarifies policy and procedures for providing FPLS locate services to persons who qualify as an "agent of the child" for child support purposes. The AT lists the definitions of "authorized persons" set forth in section 453(c)(1)-(3) of the Social Security Act (Act), including the resident parent, legal guardian, attorney, or agent of a child. "Agent of the child" is not defined in the Act or regulations and the AT indicates that a "for-profit, private collection agency or private attorney could act as ’agent of the child’ provided it has a valid contract that meets the state’s statutory and regulatory requirements for acting as an agent, if any."
To qualify as an "agent of the child", the PCA must have an agency relationship via a contract with the child. In New York, the parent may not be able to appoint an agent on behalf of the child, and cannot bind the child by signing a contract on his or her behalf. Assuming that an agency relationship between the resident parent and the PCA is created under state law, and absent an agency relationship between the child and the PCA, is the PCA authorized to request information from the FPLS?
RESPONSE 1: Given the assumptions - the existence of an agency relationship between the PCA and the resident parent and the absence of an agency relationship between the child and the PCA under state law - the PCA would be authorized to request information
from the Federal Parent Locator Service but under an alternative basis. We do not read section 453 of the Act to prohibit a state from sending appropriate FPLS information to the resident parent in care of a PCA if, under state law, the PCA "stands in the shoes" of the resident parent and the state has evidence that the parent, in fact, has authorized the PCA to act on his or her behalf. Accordingly, in the situation described in the question, the PCA would be submitting the request on behalf of the resident parent rather than as an "agent of the child".
QUESTION 2: Our certified system has two address fields; however, it does not use one field for mailing notices and correspondence and another for mailing payments. Without extensive reprogramming, the system will not mail notices to the custodial parent and payments to the third party address. There is no requirement for a "payment" address as differentiated from a "mailing" address.
Assume for the purpose of this question that the custodial parent is fully advised that notices will be sent to the same address as payments, of the possible consequences of the state’s compliance with his/her request, and that he or she submits the request in writing. Does Federal law or regulation prevent sending all notices and correspondence to the third party address?
RESPONSE 2: No, neither Federal law nor regulation prohibits the State from sending all information to the third party address. However, the premise of this question is critical to proceeding to mail all correspondence to a third party address. The custodial parent needs to be fully informed of the consequences of honoring his or her request for a change of mailing address. Fully informed choice is the central tenet of PCA/IV-D cooperation, as made clear in DCL-02-35 (Dec. 4, 2002). In this regard, you may wish to recommend to a parent requesting a change of mailing address that he or she take steps to ensure that the PCA is obligated to provide him or her with any and all notices and correspondence from the IV-D agency in a timely manner. This may be a useful supplement to the kind of information that we suggested be included in any consumer protection guidance relating to PCAs in Attachment 3 to IM-02-09 (Dec. 4, 2002).
Although we would prefer that states make more effective use of the certification requirement that systems accept and maintain both a home and a mailing address for the custodial parent, we recognize that state systems are not required to be able to send information to both addresses and that the use of each address for a different purpose may prove impractical at this time. However, I suggest that the State consider making better use of the two addresses maintained in the system as part of its longer-term plans to improve service delivery and performance.
Inquiries should be directed to the appropriate Regional Office.