Premature conversion to the new CSA scheme - A loophole that may thwart government policy
by Barry Pearson
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Appendix A - Government intentions

There is no doubt that this loophole is contrary to stated policy.

Evidence given to the Select Committee

From the 10th report of the Social Security Select Committee of 1998-99:

31. (Baroness Hollis of Heigham) … Once on, of course, we then expect to phase people onto the new system by £5 if they are earning up to £200 or so and then by £10 for more than that so that 85 per cent will be on within five years. Again there is a balance here between complexity, which is the phasing of the system, and fairness to the individual who does not find himself going from paying £25 or £28 a week, if he has very high housing costs, to paying £60, so we are trying to get that balance right too.

34. (Mrs Boardman) ... The third thing is we will then have a very large element of extra work actually in the year of transition to educate the customers and to physically move their documents from the current system to the new system and I think until we get through those safely we have to be realistic and we cannot promise more than we can deliver in terms of getting extra resources into those areas.

39. (Baroness Hollis of Heigham) ... You would still have to phase. You still could not expect people to go on to the new income right away, they would still have to phase.

40. (Baroness Hollis of Heigham) ... One of our difficulties, even with issues like phasing-and I think it would be fair to say it would make life much simpler if we did not have phasing and one went automatically on to it, but we cannot do that because that would be unfair both to men and to women - is that all the time, at policy level, we are trading these two pressures; trying to get as much fairness as we can against as much simplicity as we must have.

Government's response to the report

From the government's response to that Select Committee report:

63. The Government agrees with the Committee that there will be considerable pressure to introduce the new scheme for existing cases sooner than would be sensible operationally. We want to introduce the new scheme as quickly as we can. We want people who already have a child support assessment to experience the advantages of the reforms as soon as possible. But we have to be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past. The current scheme failed because it was introduced too quickly.

64. The CSA's caseload is forecast to be over 1 million and transferring so many cases to the new scheme is a major administrative task, which if done too quickly, could put the whole of the new scheme at risk. The Government's view is that a gradual approach is wise, enabling us to iron out any initial problems while the numbers affected are still relatively small.

65. The Government accepts the Committee's recommendation to bring existing cases on to the new system at an early stage and will do this as soon as it is prudent to do so. While also allowing time for those affected to be given advance notification of the changes and when they will occur.

67. Existing cases will be transferred to the new scheme when we are confident that it is operating properly. Parents will be given sufficient notice for them to understand and, if necessary query, the new rate of maintenance.

68. Drawing up and publishing provisional timetables, before we have had time to establish that the new scheme is operating as intended, will raise public expectation and cause difficulties for the Child Support Agency in managing these expectations. But we agree that existing parents using the CSA will want to know at what point they will move onto the new system. We will use more general publicity to keep parents aware of what is happening.

Parliamentary debate

10th February 2003:

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon): The Secretary of State will be aware that the move from the old child support rules to the new ones will create lots of gainers and lots of losers. He will also know that people who are on the existing system may know what their assessment will be under the new system, but will realise that that assessment will not apply until they are switched to that new system. Has he received the reports that I have received from around Britain describing what is happening now that a date for the introduction of the new system has been given? For example, working lone parents who can see that they will gain some money under the new rules are contacting the Child Support Agency and saying, "We do not want anything more to do with you for the next three months", with a view to coming back in three months' time to register new cases on an enhanced maintenance assessment, so that they will get more child maintenance. Had he anticipated that loophole, is he aware of it, and is he doing anything about it?

Mr. Smith: Yes indeed: there are rules covering the period between the cessation of an existing claim and the start of a new one that are precisely calculated to attempt to close that loophole. A 13-week period is involved. One can well understand why those who have calculated that they stand to gain from the new system want to get on to it as soon as possible. It has been clear from the beginning that we would have to take the process in stages. First, we should deal with the new cases, including the other cases that are linked to them, and we should then move to conversion of existing cases once we know that the new system is working properly. That is the sensible way to proceed. We needed to deal with that loophole without again erecting a battery of rules and bureaucracy that is so complex that it starts to divert more resources away from the main job in hand-getting money to the children who need it.

Legislation

Statutory Instrument 2000 No. 3186
The Child Support (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2000

Linking provisions, Regulation 28.

(1) Where, after the commencement date but before the conversion date, an application for a maintenance calculation is made or treated as made and within the relevant period a maintenance assessment was in force in relation to the same qualifying child, non-resident parent and person with care -

(a) the application shall be treated as an application for a maintenance assessment; and

(b) any maintenance assessment made in response to the application shall be an assessment to which regulations 9 to 28 apply.

(2) Where, after the conversion date, an application for a maintenance calculation is made or treated as made, and within the relevant period a maintenance assessment ("the previous assessment") had been in force in relation to the same qualifying child, non-resident parent and person with care but had ceased to have effect -

(a) the amount of child support maintenance payable by the non-resident parent from the effective date of the maintenance calculation made in response to the application shall be calculated in the same way that a conversion calculation would have been made had the previous assessment been in force on the date the calculation is made; and

(b) the provisions of regulations 9 to 28 shall apply accordingly, including the application where appropriate of transitional amounts, phasing amounts and a transitional period, which for this purpose shall begin on the date which would have been the case conversion date in relation to the previous assessment.

(3) For the purposes of paragraphs (1) and (2) "the relevant period" means 13 weeks prior to the date that the application for the maintenance calculation is made or treated as made.

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