Weblog archive for March 2003

1st March

TV programme on Sunday evening about the new CSA system

"Agenda", on the BBC News 24 channel on Sunday 2nd March at 20:30 to 21:00, is concerned with the new child support scheme that is starting on Monday 3rd March.

I have been invited to participate live on the programme, and I have accepted the invitation.

3rd March

New CSA scheme starts

The new CSA scheme started today. But it would be hard to spot this unless told about it, because there doesn't appear to be a press release about it, and little in the media. (The news article below is somewhat misleading). Even some parents involved in CSA cases have only found out by accident, although they should have been told. Yet the linkage rules could mean that some parents will find themselves converted to the new scheme at short notice.

Independent, Robert Verkaik, "Divorced fathers to benefit from new child support rules"

There is a new section of the CSA web site dedicated to the new scheme, with lots of leaflets and a Technical Guide. It is not clear yet whether the Technical Guide is equivalent to the Decision Maker's Guide used by CSA staff for the current scheme. Advisors actually need to be able to consult the same document used by CSA staff, to enable conflicts to be resolved. The Technical Guide is much smaller than the Decision Maker's Guide, but that may be because the new scheme is simpler rather than because detail is lacking. There are tables to assist with estimating the amount of child support someone will pay, but an on-line calculator could be much simpler and avoid the need to do the extra sums (incorrectly explained) for shared-care. (The fact that the shared-care estimates tell the reader to do the extra sums suggests that the CSA still clings to the "lone parent / absent parent" model).

CSA web site dedicated to the new scheme
New scheme - Leaflets
New scheme - Information for advisers and employers
New scheme - Technical Guide to Calculating Maintenance
New scheme - Child Maintenance Tables

5th March

Transcript and commentary for "Agenda" (News 24 channel) on 2nd March

There is now a partial transcript for this programme, which was about the CSA reforms. The transcript currently covers what the presenter, and Frank Field, and I said. It doesn't (yet) cover what Michelle Counley or Ray Mellor said. Some such material may be added later.

There is also a blow-by-blow commentary on the transcript, providing further explanation and analysis of what was said.

Transcript - BBC News 24 "Agenda" - 2nd March 2003
Commentary - BBC News 24 "Agenda" - 2nd March 2003

7th March

A simple spreadsheet for the new scheme has been provided here

A spreadsheet that combines assessments under both the old and new rules has been available from this web site (and elsewhere) for a significant time. It now also shows the estimated results of the phasing-in for cases which will be converted from the old rules to the new rules over a number of years. This all makes it fairly large and quite complicated for some people to use. It is therefore typically unsatisfactory for people starting with the new scheme who don't need those complications.

The CSA has always intended to provide simple guides to calculations under the new scheme. These guides were to be available as leaflets, and also on-line. It was never likely that a non-interactive guide would be comprehensive, because for any value of income there are 60 possible combinations of the other key parameters needed to do the sums, hence up to 60 different results. (That is just for the basic formula - "variations" add more complications). At this date, the CSA's on-line tables comprise about 60 pages that are navigated around in a few clicks, and their downloadable leaflet comprises about 10 pages of tables in a 277 kilobyte PDF file. Neither caters for shared-care cases, and they give incorrect guidance on how to "do it yourself".

I have therefore developed a simple spreadsheet which takes a single input (net income) and shows all 60 different results at a glance, including shared-care cases. It is in Excel 5/95 format, and is 32 kilobytes. This is a trial version, but so far has matched both my other spreadsheet and the CSA's tables for the cases I've tested. I expect that the CSA will eventually provide an interactive on-line version, at which time I will decide whether to withdraw this spreadsheet. (I wonder whether the CSA's downloadable PDF version could also use this approach? Although Adobe Acrobat does not have full spreadsheet capability, it does have forms, buttons, and JavaScript).

Simple spreadsheet just for the new scheme

ps: It has been confirmed that it is possible to have a PDF file that fills in a table according to input, and do this using the free Acrobat reader.

10th March

Updated information pack for advisers on CSA site

A new updated version of the child support reform information pack for advisers has been published by the CSA. It is available on-line and as a PDF file. (It is not clear who would use this and for what).

Child support reform information pack for advisers

The reduced percentage rates where the net income is between £100 & £200 per week are poorly explained in Appendix 2. The percentages quoted are not percentages of total net income. Instead they are the marginal percentages as the net income increases beyond the flat rate of £5 at a net income of £100. If you didn't understand those last sentences, you would be more confused by the information pack, because it doesn't even go that far! (I guess Appendix 2 was just padding put there by someone who didn't understand the context). The legislation (regulation 3) gives the essential formula for using the "reduced rate" percentages. If in doubt, use my spreadsheet (see item below).

The Child Support (Maintenance Calculations and Special Cases) Regulations 2000

10th March

Updated version of the "new scheme" spreadsheet provided here

This makes minor changes, hopefully making it easier to use.

Simple spreadsheet just for the new scheme

12th March

I've published some correspondence with MPs from last year

On occasion, if I've seen an answer to a Parliamentary Question that I feel is misleading, I've written to those concerned with extra information. I've now published some such letters (to an MP and a minister), and a commentary on a letter I received from the Ministerial Correspondence Unit of the Department for Work and Pensions, from last year. The topic is "equal shared care", and the deficiency that the system simply does not recognise any situation where separated parents care for their children in such a way that neither can apply for child support from the other.

Letter to Mr Malcolm Wicks, DWP minister (May 2002)
Letter to Dr. Phyllis Starkey, MP (May 2002)
Letter from Paul Russell, Ministerial Correspondence Unit (July 2002)
Here is my commentary on the letter from Paul Russell, Ministerial Correspondence Unit (March 2003)

12th March

A more comprehensive version of the "new scheme" spreadsheet provided here

A criticism I received of the simple spreadsheet for the new scheme that I developed last week is that it didn't cater for shared care where there are different amounts of care for different children. This is one a number of more complex cases that it didn't cater for.

I have updated it to cater for this and a few other special cases. My aim is to avoid complicating the basic calculator worksheet, and to deal with complications in a separate worksheet that may need extra simple actions by the user to give the result. This extra worksheet now provides some assistance for this more complex shared-care case, and also with cases where the non-resident parent is on benefits, or there are multiple cases involving multiple parents with care.

Simple spreadsheet just for the new scheme

18th March

The government is still in denial about the "premature conversion" loophole

Several items in this weblog during February covered the "premature conversion" loophole, that enables a parent with care to thwart stated government policy by closing a case for 13 weeks then restarting it under new rules without phasing-in. (There are 2 counter measures that non-resident parents can use, see weblog for 26th February, but fewer people appear to be aware of them). Steve Webb asked the government on 10th February (see weblog) what they were doing about it, and Andrew Smith, the Cabinet Minister, said that the 13-week period was "precisely calculated to attempt to close that loophole".

Yesterday (17th March) Steve Webb repeated his question, and added: "Has he done anything about that problem since I raised it, and given that, as my experience shows, such cases do exist, what will he do to prevent the Government's and Parliament's intention from being thwarted?" Andrew Smith responded: "As I have explained to the hon. Gentleman before, rules have been put in place—in particular, the 13-week provision". But, as I have shown (in a paper sent to Baroness Hollis, Doug Smith, and Steve Webb about a month ago), the loophole still exists.

Exchange in Parliament on 17th March between Steve Webb and Andrew Smith

On-line paper analysing the "premature conversion" loophole
Word version of that paper

18th March

Most "losing" non-resident parents under the new scheme may have modest, low or no incomes

My analysis over years shows that a large range of circumstances of non-resident parents will cause them to pay more under the new scheme. But I have tended to quote "high housing costs" as one of the key factors, and in fact this (and higher caps) was an example I quoted on the BBC News 24 "Agenda" programme on 2nd March.

I now believe that most of the people who will pay more, and often struggle to find the money to do so, will be people with modest incomes or none at all. In the paper on the "premature conversion" loophole, the first 2 case studies are such people, and there are far more people with these circumstances than the higher earners in the other cases. In fact, I underestimated the impact on "case study 2" people (modest incomes and 2 or 3 children) by not taking full account of some extra safeguards under the old rules that are removed under the new scheme, such as protection from the effects of Council Tax. (Hm! Now which political party would such people tend to vote for? And which political party is about to raise Council Tax significantly?)

Some analysis showing winners and losers (see graph 3 and "the implications")
On-line paper analysing the "premature conversion" loophole

21st March

Build up of cases under the new rules

Cases starting from 3rd March operate under the new rules. At some time in the future called the "conversion day", perhaps during 2004 but no one knows for sure, all cases still running under the old rules will be converted to new rules over a short period of time. Another reason for cases to be converted to the new rules, in the meantime, is where a new case is started that is linked (via one of the parents) to an existing case. In that case, an existing old case will be converted to new rules in advance of the bulk conversion period.

Therefore, even before the "conversion day", the proportion of the total caseload running under the new rules will increase month by month, year by year. An analysis of what would happen if the conversion day were 3 years away is provided at the following page:

Natural rate of conversion to the new rules

In summary, analysis suggests that the proportion of the total caseload running under the new rules at yearly intervals (until conversion day) will be:

Start of March 2003: none (the new scheme started 3rd March).
Start of March 2004: nearly one third.
Start of March 2005: over a half.
Start of March 2006: about two thirds.

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