Clause 18 - Cases where there is more than one eligible person

Childcare Payments Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 23 October 2014.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Unfortunately, the Minister’s response on clause 16 did not dispense with the queries that I have about clause 18, because they refer to sensitive matters. Eligible parents may find that they cannot decide between themselves who should operate the child care account for a given child, and both may have applied to HMRC to open an account, so that there is a dispute. Clause 4 specifies that only one person may be an account holder, and it follows that parents need to decide between themselves who will hold and operate the account.

In an ideal situation, amicable arrangements should always be reachable, but that is not the reality for a number of households. I therefore wish to probe the Minister on how HMRC intends to deal with a dispute. I understand that HMRC will be put in the position of having to decide who should be allowed to open the child care account. What provisions will be in place for appeals against such a decision?

Clause 24, which we will come to, allows HMRC to place restrictions on a child care account when another parent has applied to open an account for the same child while HMRC makes a decision on who should have that account. That speaks to the concerns expressed on clause 16 about who will be delivering the accounts, because although with the best will in the world the Government wish the scheme to be a haven of simplicity, complexities will arise.

Will the Minister clarify how HMRC will make such decisions? Will there be set criteria that HMRC officials will have regard to in such cases? Has she made any assessment of the number of cases of separated parents in dispute that HMRC could be dealing with? Her predecessor, the hon. Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Gauke), informed me in answer to a written parliamentary question that some 30,000 separated parents  were expected to apply for child care accounts. Does the Minister know how many of those separated parents might fall into the category described in clause 18? So far, there does not seem to be a huge amount of information. I appreciate that she will be unwilling to focus on such a negative aspect of the scheme, but parents who will be affected would welcome some clarity.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Exchequer Secretary

As the hon. Lady says, clause 18 deals with cases where two or more people have applied to HMRC to open a child care account for the same child. We touched on the design of the scheme under clause 15, which allows for one person to hold an active child care account for a child. However, that highlights the fact that unlike in the vast majority of cases, in which members of a couple meet the eligibility criteria, there are situations and scenarios in some households and relationships where there are disputes and disagreements. That brings complexity with family arrangements and child care provision.

When members of a couple or anyone else who shares responsibility for a child are unable to reach agreement on who should hold the child care account, HMRC will decide, and be involved in how to decide, the eligible party who will be responsible for the child care account. That decision will be based on information available at the time, and facts that can be considered will include who has responsibility for child care payments and who needs to use child care to enable them to work. That meets the whole objective of the scheme.

HMRC will publish guidance setting out the criteria that it will use to solve disputed claims. Naturally, we hope that those claims will be a small minority, but it is difficult to predict the numbers involved. In an ideal world, we would like parents to be able to reach agreements amicably, but the guidance, once it is published, will enable HMRC to liaise with parents.

Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I appreciate that this is rather a tricky area that will need some consideration, but another potential complexity that occurred to me while the Minister was speaking was a situation where a parent is within the current voucher scheme and another parent seeks to apply for the new scheme instead. How will HMRC make the decision in those circumstances? I wanted to put that on the record to ensure that the Government iron out all those potential complexities before they arise.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Exchequer Secretary

That is a very good point. I thank the hon. Lady for that. These are not new scenarios; they are continuous, pre-existing issues. For example, HMRC effectively deals with the same issue in the case of child benefit. It is important to reassure the Committee that we will learn lessons from previous schemes to ensure that we get it right, and the guidance and advice from HMRC setting out the criteria on how it will resolve disputed claims are vital. I hope that that gives the hon. Lady assurance.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 18 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.