Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 1:41 pm on 4th July 2007.

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Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Wales, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 1:41 pm, 4th July 2007

I believe that the assessments are for 12 months and we are studying the hon. Lady's points. I know that her frustrations are shared by others, particularly in respect of individuals who in some cases are self-employed and able somehow to camouflage their true income and deny the rightful amounts to parents with care and the children who depend on them.

Similarly, if we are to give parents with care the choice over whether to use the commission or to make voluntary arrangements, we must ensure that they have the information necessary to enable them to take the decision. That is why the new commission will have the responsibility for providing an information and support service designed to help parents in establishing stable and effective maintenance arrangements.

I am aware that some stakeholders are concerned that there may be a hidden agenda to push as many people away from the statutory service as possible into private arrangements that are unstable or unfair. Nothing could be further from the truth. The whole point of the information and support service is to ensure that we protect vulnerable and low-income families by providing impartial, high-quality information and support, drawing on the best contributions from all sectors—private and voluntary—to help parents make their own decisions about what arrangements best suit them, while the commission itself provides an escape route back to the statutory scheme if voluntary arrangements do not work out.

Part 3 sets the framework within which the new commission will operate. It provides for the redesign of the system, the establishment of new enforcement powers and the transfer of existing cases to the new scheme. The Bill lays the foundations in legislation for an entirely new approach to child maintenance that will empower parents to take responsibility for making their own arrangements while providing strong, effective state support for when that does not happen.

Research published last month shows that almost two fifths of current CSA new scheme clients on benefit would prefer to make their own arrangements, but at the moment all parents with care claiming benefit are forced to use the child maintenance system, regardless of whether they would prefer to make voluntary arrangements. That is unfair. It takes away responsibility from parents and, too often, produces the wrong outcome for the children involved. The Bill will remove that requirement and restore parental responsibility, putting children first. Additionally, for those who enter into statutory rather than voluntary maintenance arrangements, the Bill will radically reduce the bureaucracy of the assessment process and speed up the gathering of information.

Receipt of child maintenance currently helps to lift 100,000 children out of poverty. International evidence shows that child maintenance contributes up to 25 per cent. of the reduction in child poverty in some countries. By contrast, in the United Kingdom, it contributes less than 3 per cent. We must turn that around, and providing active support to parents on low incomes to make maintenance arrangements will be particularly crucial to doing so. Jobcentre Plus and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs are developing strategies to ensure that low-income families utilise the new information and support service.

To provide an incentive for low-income parents to follow through their agreements, our intention is to increase substantially the amount of child maintenance to be disregarded when benefits are calculated. From 2008-09, we will extend to all parents with care the £10 benefit disregard that is currently available only to those on the child support scheme introduced in 2003. This means that an extra 55,000 children will benefit from up to £10 a week additional family income. I am committed to increasing that disregard significantly in 2010.

In the old days under the Tories, the CSA was created as a revenue-collecting agency. The aim was that taxpayers should not be left to pick up the pieces when an irresponsible non-resident parent failed to pay. Our reforms will change the whole basis on which the child maintenance system operates. They will put the focus, rightly, on the children, so that the money that the non-resident parent pays goes straight to the children and not to the state. Changing the benefit arrangements is central to the contribution that child maintenance makes to our fight against child poverty and to the reforms that the Bill introduces.

Opinion polls constantly report strong levels of support for the idea that non-resident parents should be financially responsible for their children—I think that we all feel that—yet, under the CSA arrangements, three out of 10 do not pay when we ask them to do so. The Bill will strengthen and streamline our compliance and enforcement powers to ensure that parents quickly comply with their responsibilities. It will also ensure that, if voluntary negotiations break down, the statutory system will be able to step in quickly and provide a mandatory arrangement that will be complied with.

Annotations

David DOYLE
Posted on 5 Jul 2007 11:50 am (Report this annotation)

Why bring in party politics? "In the old days under the Tories ---" That was a long time ago and there has bee plenty of time for the Labour/New Labour regime to sort it out.

Mark Bestford
Posted on 5 Jul 2007 12:14 pm (Report this annotation)

"In the old days" the CSA wasn't a complete and total mess. It's the heavy handed approach and near godlike powers granted to the CSA by the Labour govt that has caused all the problems today. Hats off to the tories for actually trying to do something.

It was also the tories that brought in the original version of tax credits. Again it worked and without the chaos that this govt has brought to the system. All this govt has done is try to take credit for things that the tories implemented and then blame the tories when they've messed them up. They claim that they've brought thousands out of poverty, what has actually happened is that they've driven hard working people into poverty while giving millions of others an incentive to remain on benefits.