Child Support Agency

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Security – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th November 1997.

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Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party, Moray 12:00 am, 17th November 1997

What is the current average response time by Child Support Agency offices to inquiries for reviews submitted by (a) individuals and (b) hon. Members on behalf of constituents. [14639]

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Social Security, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Social Security)

No figures are available on average response times but, in the current year, 86 per cent. of reviews have been cleared within 13 weeks, and 99 per cent. within 26 weeks. We are not complacent about the state of the Child Support Agency. In June, the Government announced that we were looking closely at all areas of the child support system to ensure that the CSA is consistently fair and efficient. We aim to move forward with our final proposals on the CSA in the first half of next year.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party, Moray

I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he appreciate that Members of Parliament often have to request reviews on behalf of their constituents because the initial assessment is inaccurate? Will he give us the latest figures on the accuracy of first assessments?

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Social Security, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Social Security)

I am unable to give the hon. Lady that figure today, but I shall write to her. We are not complacent about the accuracy of initial assessments. We have put extra money into the child support system to ensure a more efficient and effective service on behalf of all our constituents. I assure the hon. Lady that that will continue to be our resolve. We shall examine all aspects of the Child Support Agency to ensure that it works in the way that we expect it to, and in the interests of our constituents.

Photo of Mr Lawrence Cunliffe Mr Lawrence Cunliffe Labour, Leigh

I welcome the Minister's enthusiastic efforts to improve the system that was introduced by the previous Government, which many of us believe is administered incompetently. It is a cock-up. Does he agree with many hon. Members that the Child Support Act 1991 is the most infamous, iniquitous Act that has gone on the statute book since the poll tax legislation? Administrative incompetence, together with the injustice in the system, adds insult to injury for thousands of conscientious parents, and brings financial distress to many second families throughout the country.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Social Security, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Social Security)

I thank my hon. Friend, because I know that he has taken a great interest in these matters throughout the period that the Child Support Agency has been in existence. We are reviewing all aspects of the agency, and we shall publish our plans for it early next year. I hope that the problems that my hon. Friend has identified will be addressed as a result of those proposals.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York

Does the Minister agree that, when a review has been successfully concluded and it is deemed that an overpayment has been made, that money should be reimbursed in a short time? Does he accept that three months is too long before that money is repaid? Does he agree that overtime should not be included in an assessment, especially when it is seasonal?

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Social Security, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Social Security)

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I should point out that a third of absent parents are still not paying, and we must ensure that those payments are made. However, I have noted the hon. Lady's comments and I recognise their force. I assure her that we want an efficient organisation of the Child Support Agency, so that such overpayments are repaid in the time that she suggested.