New Clause 1
Welfare Reform Bill
Kitty Ussher (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions; Burnley, Labour)
For the first time I agree with what the hon. Member for Rochdale has said. It is nice, as we enter the final stages of consideration of the Bill, that there should be some harmony in the Committee.
If the appeal system is taking too long, that is a matter for the judicial system. I agree with the hon. Member for Forest of Dean that we need to try to sort out the length of time the process takes, although I do not recognise the figures he used. Presumably, the lower the number of errors made by CMEC, the lower the number of appeals, and therefore the less likely this situation is to occur. We can judge from the verifiable figures that the CSA is producing that the amount of maintenance that it is collecting was rising over £1 billion last year. The number of unprocessed applications has fallen dramatically to 55,000that is still too high, although it used to be 280,000so we hope that things are moving in the right direction.
There are two immediate problems with the new clause. It could cause more delays because the tribunal would have to look at more information, which fluctuated over time. Therefore, we could get into the perverse situation in which the tribunal was taking so long that there was more new information. That would be costly for the taxpayermore so than if the decision making on the award remained with the commission. If the tribunal took new information into account and made a decision, it is worrying that the non-resident parent would lose their right of appeal, whereas if the decision rests with CMEC, there is a right of appeal. Therefore it is right and proper to follow the design of the social security legislation and leave the decisions with CMEC, which can be appealed on a point of law only, to a tribunal with a snapshot of the situation at that time.
If there is new information, it is still the commissions right to withdraw the hearing so that the appeal lapses, and to simply revise the award based on that new information in parallel with an appeal process concerned with a point of law. In a sense, it becomes hypothetical whether the underlying decision has been changed. It raises an interesting question but we cannot accept the new clause.