Weblog archive for November 2005

2nd November 2005

John Hutton is now the Cabinet Minister responsible for the CSA

"John Hutton has been chosen to replace David Blunkett as work and pensions secretary following his resignation. The former law lecturer is MP for Barrow-in-Furness and has been in the Cabinet since the election as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

"He takes on the work and pensions job ahead of a major review of the benefits system, with the government promising to get more people into employment".

BBC, "Hutton chosen to replace Blunkett"

3rd November 2005

Donor sperm boy traced his father using the internet

This should ring alarm bells in the minds of any men donating sperm to services such as "Man not included"! In fact, in the minds of any men who hope to evade child support responsibilities by never getting traced.

This boy used a service that traces ancestry via the male line using the Y-chromosome, which is virtually unchanged from generation to generation. Anyone with a sample of his DNA could have done the same trace. The fathers of gitls cannot be traced in the same way. But other possibilities for tracing may open up.

It is important to remember that there is no legal or financial liability for any donors to the children conceived from their donation, provided the treatment was given in an HFEA licensed centre. 

A spokesman for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority

But that safeguard does not apply to services like "Man not included"! If traced this way, men may be required to pay child support.

Child Support Analysis

"Scientists have given warning that men who have given sperm are now at risk of being traced by offspring with the dramatic growth of genealogy and DNA databases on the internet. They said that guarantees of anonymity, which have been given to thousands of donors over the years, could prove worthless with the increase in such resources."

"The boy, who was 15 at the time, was able to evade safeguards by sending a swab of saliva taken from the inside of his cheek to a website used by genealogists to chart their family trees. For a fee of $289 (£163), his DNA was mapped and added to the website's database, which sends e-mail alerts to its customers when close matches appear. The service, www.familytreedna.com, compares the users Y chromosome - which passes from father to son virtually unchanged - against a database of Y chromosomes from other men.

"Nine months later the teenager, an American who has not been named, was informed of two close matches. He was contacted by the two men, who were both using the website to trace their family trees. Though the biological father had never supplied his DNA to the site, his Y chromosome profile, shared by his son and closely matched by the two other men, suggested they must be related.... Using this information, he then used a second website, www.omnitrace.com, to compare the surname with the few details of his biological father given by the fertility clinic, which include date and place of birth, and his college degree. The search brought up a match for his father".

(The Y-chromosome was famously used in a similar way, although not using this service, by Bryan Sykes & Catherine Irven, for their paper "Surnames and the Y chromosome". It also features in Bryan's book "Adam's Curse - A Future Without Men").

7th November 2005

Are they really considering tagging non-compliant NRPs?

Reshaping the CSA is meaningless unless there are proper powers to chase non-payers. Removing someone's passport would not only stop them going abroad to avoid maintenance payments but also halt holidays and business travel. Forcing non-payers to do unpaid work in the community would bring a real measure of public shame. 

"A senior Whitehall source" quoted by the Daily Mirror

We've heard it all before. If the administration of the system is a shambles, this sort of stuff is just fiddling around the edges and will not work. You can only patch up a worn tyre so many times. You reach a point when it has to be thrown out and you start again. 

Lib Dem MP Steve Webb

It's a good story, but so far only the Daily Mirror appears to have it. (The rest of the media are quoting them).

It also suffers from significant problems. One is that the problems with the CSA are a lot to do with its own administrative incompetence, not just with NRPs who won't pay. (It can take a long time for the case even to get the point where anyone knows how much the NRP should pay). Another problem is that the CSA already has a number of penalties available to it, yet its record of using them all is rather poor. It takes few driving licenses from people, so would it take many passports from people?

"ABSENT dads are warned today they must pay for their children or be treated as "quasi-criminals". Under tough new plans leaked to the Mirror those who duck out of child maintenance could be tagged, made to surrender their passports, forced to labour in public and be barred from running their own firms"

"The measures, drawn up by the Department of Work and Pensions, are so far-ranging some civil servants have warned they are too severe without safeguards to protect rights".

"Documents seen by the Mirror state: "Ideas the DWP is exploring are removal of passports, disqualification from becoming a company director and restrictions on liberty such as unpaid work or electronically-monitored curfews as alternatives to prison. Also mentioned is a proposed new statutory requirement to provide information to the agency within a specified time.

"But in a memo to Home Secretary Charles Clarke leading civil servants warn: "We should sound a cautionary note." They say there should be a "proportionate" balance between the seriousness of offence and the penalty. They also add there is a need to recognise "criminal safeguards may be necessary where sanctions impose quasi-criminal penalties". This would mean giving parents the right of appeal before they are punished as well as the chance to appear before special courts".

10th November 2005

"Sisters in Islam" wants a CSA in Malaysia

Their logic is the same as elsewhere. They say:

"in Australia, over 70 per cent of parents paid regularly for child support compared to 25 per cent when it was under the court's jurisdiction.

"It urged the Government to conduct a study of various child support systems in several countries before implementing it in Malaysia."

That last statement is very wise!

16th November 2005

CSA criticised after 35,000 maladministration payouts

... ministers were due to outline their plans for the future of the CSA this month. All the signs are this could now be delayed until the new year. 

BBC political correspondent Norman Smith

There have been 35,000 people compensation for maladministration in the last 4 years. More than 40 claimants have received between £10,000 and £50,000.

Government officials insist the vast majority of payouts were for relatively small sums of only around £25. (Gosh! That's OK then!)

17th November 2005

Did Blair say the CSA was to be terminated?

The Government's line is chaotic and confused. Lord Hunt said that the CSA could be reformed through a gradual process. Now the Prime Minister's comments imply that he realises there is no other way forward than to scrap the CSA. 

David Laws, the work and spensions spokesman for the Liberal Democrats

The Prime Minister is looking urgently at the situation - he was looking urgently at the situation seven years ago. 

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy

We're well aware of the scale of the problem and therefore very cautious about any possible changes. 

Sue Robertson, director of One Parent Families Scotland

The hundreds of thousands of parents and children who are let down by the system, and all too often go without, cannot wait any longer. 

Kate Green, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group

No. He said it wasn't currently suitable to carry out its task. The rest appears to be press speculation. Since everyone on the planet knows the CSA isn't currently suitable to carry out its task, and a "root and branch" review of it is currently underway, it is hard to detect anything unusual or unexpected in what Blair said! (Perhaps it is a "slow news day"!)

Here are the questions and answers in full:

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD):
Returning to the exchanges on social policy, does the Prime Minister recall that back in 1998 he said that the Child Support Agency had "lost the confidence of the public", was a "mess" and needed "urgent reform"? Today, for every pound that the CSA spends on its own bureaucracy, it gets only £1.85 to the children whom it is supposed to be there to help. How on earth can the Prime Minister defend such an appalling track record?

The Prime Minister:
The right hon. Gentleman is right that the amount of money that the Child Support Agency gets in is not substantially greater than the amount of money that it costs to administer it. That is different from the situation in 1997, when it was the other way round. However, I make no defence of the current situation. The CSA is in an extremely difficult position for a very simple reason, and it is as well that we are absolutely frank about that. It is the investigating agency, then it is the adjudicating agency, and then it is the enforcement agency. That is an extremely difficult situation, and the staff who have to work in the present system do so in conditions of very great difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman should remember why the CSA - [Interruption.] Incidentally, the Conservatives created it, and when we took over its administrative costs outweighed the amount of money that it got in. Having said that, the truth is that the situation at the CSA is extremely difficult, and we are looking urgently at what the solutions might be. The problem is fundamental to the nature of the task that it is called upon to perform.

Mr. Charles Kennedy:
The Prime Minister tells the House that he is looking urgently at the situation. However, he was looking urgently at it as Prime Minister seven years ago. What has happened in the intervening period? In the past four years, there have been 35,000 cases of maladministration, and there is now a backlog of 350,000 cases. Unpaid maintenance now stands at £1.7 billion. What on earth can the Prime Minister mean by "urgently" in the light of such a disgraceful record?

The Prime Minister:
We legislated on this before, to simplify the procedure involved, and that has reduced the costs quite considerably. However, the basic problem remains. I am not disputing the difficulties; indeed, I agree that they exist. Let me make a point that emphasises those difficulties. As the figures to which the right hon. Gentleman referred show, the vast majority of the compensation payments - 33,000 of the 35,000 - were for amounts less than £1,000 -

Mr. Charles Kennedy:
That is still a lot of money.

The Prime Minister:
Of course it is, but it is extremely difficult to make this operation cost-effective when the agency is the investigating, adjudicating and enforcing authority. Furthermore, in the majority of cases that the agency deals with, the child concerned is the product neither of a married relationship nor of a stable partnership. All I am saying is that the task that we are asking the agency to perform is an extremely difficult one - [Hon. Members: "What are you going to do about it?"] I was about to say that we cannot discuss sensibly the Child Support Agency unless we are prepared to look urgently at the fundamental nature of the task that it performs, and at the reasons why it was set up in the first place. For reasons that I understand, the previous Conservative Government established the agency to ensure that parents carried out their obligations to their children. The truth is that the agency is not properly suited to carry out that task.

One thing missing from Blair's answers above, ("It is the investigating agency, then it is the adjudicating agency, and then it is the enforcement agency"), is that it is also a "benefits expenditure reduction agency". This is so ingrained in the thinking of many politicians and civil servants that they may continue to make the task of the CSA harder by having compulsory benefits cases. (See blog for 23 October 2005, etc).

17th November 2005

Update from afternoon press briefing of 16 November

This adds to today's other blog "Did Blair say the CSA was to be terminated?". A press briefing at Downing Street emphasised that Blair did not order the CSA to be terminated:

" ... all the Prime Minister was doing was spelling out some of the issues that the review had to address. The review would report either at the end of this year, or next....

"It was important that given the history of the CSA, that a fundamental review was carried out, and that was under way. People should wait to see what the conclusions were, and then draw lessons from it....

" ... whenever there was a fundamental review, it was wrong to jump to conclusions ahead of that review. Therefore, what the Prime Minister was quite properly indicating was the fundamental question that the review had to address. At the same time, it was right and proper that we gave due time for that review to reach proper conclusions....

" ... any fundamental review had to look at the structure, performance and effectiveness".

18th November 2005

CSA is top of the league of Central Government websites - again

The DTI website demonstrates itself as a disgusting example of the UK's department that's promoting e-commerce and online activities, virtually every single page tested fails every basic test, rather a thorn in our side than a shinning example. Top of the league and best site overall was Child Support Agency .... 

Nicholas Le Seelleur, E-consultancy.com

In July, the CSA's website slipped from its number one position. Now it is back, at least according to one analysis.

Congratulations to those concerned. (For interest, the CSA web site is not developed by CSA staff, nor by EDS staff. It is developed by staff of the Department for Work and Pensions, DWP).

19th November 2005

Lack of logic from Polly Toynbee

In a bizarre rant in the Guardian, Polly Toynbee has done little more than re-state the principles behind the revised CSA. Instead of saying something new and constructive, she echoed what ministers were saying several years ago. Here are extracts from her article:

"Every father should be forced to hand over 15% of his income direct to the mother from the day they split".

Baroness Hollis said in The Times on 4th January 2000: "Child support payments should be regarded as a statutory tax on fatherhood, and not a voluntary contribution. ... absent fathers had to get into the habit of making child support payments as soon as they become liable. ... MPs will be provided with ready reckoners which they will be able to use to tell people at a glance how much child support they will have to pay or how much they are due".

The devil is in the details. Polly Toynbee has largely ignored the known problems of making that happen. If she had the responsibility for designing the process and legislation to make her "proposal" viable, she would probably end up repeating much of the current system!

"The Liberal Democrat MP David Laws finds that the CSA collects only £1.85 for every £1 it spends. A simpler system that lets men pay less has perversely led to even more non-payers"

About one-third of NRPs are liable to pay more, not less, under the new scheme. The mean liability at the moment is higher under the new scheme (£25) than the old scheme (£19).

But behind the cost of collecting each £ is the fact that perhaps 45% of NRPs in the new scheme earn no more than £100 per week! On average, the NRPs in the CSA earn less than the national average manual wage. Often, the money is simply not there to be had. Much of the time, the CSA simply moves bits of poverty around!

The non-paying is largely because the CSA is the most administratively incompetent government agency in living memory, and Polly Toynbee hasn't identified how to improve that.

"So why not force every man automatically to pay 15% of his income weekly direct to the mother from the day they split or he fathers a child? ... If he has paid nothing when they eventually catch up with him, he should get the sort of walloping fine that means he may lose his car or home, even if he has a second family"

1. Before a child support case can become legally viable, the following tasks are needed: ensure that the child actually exists; ensure that the man identified is the father of the child; and ensure that the father is responsible in law for paying child support for the child. A proportion of child support claims do not satisfy these criteria, for example one-sixth of paternity tests administered by the CSA are negative. Any system for child support must satisfy these checks before executing a case in earnest.

2. If the PWC is on benefits, only up to £10 "belongs" to her, (assuming "her" for conciseness). More precisely, all the child support belongs to her, but her benefits get reduced. Unless/until the government changes this policy, the benefits system must be formally involved.

3. The CSA is not the only way that child support is paid. It is the method used either if the PWC is on benefits, or if either parent wants to use it. If the PWC is not on benefits, and the parents have a working arrangement, (which may be more or less than 15%), the problems of the CSA discussed by Polly Toynbee are irrelevant. That is why CSA cases involve claims, not automatic liability from some arbitrary date.

4. How would it be judged whether the NRP has paid the money? It was a well-known problem of the old scheme that NRPs sometimes ended up paying twice, because they could not prove that any money they paid was actually for child support, and not for other purposes. A formal way of distinguishing child support payments is needed.

"Having no reminder is no excuse for not having a TV or car licence"

But having no TV or no car is a pretty good "excuse"! The key is that the liability is triggered by a verifiable condition, and there are respective agencies that administer whether those conditions are true. TV licensing is based on a database of houses, on the initial assumption that everyone has a TV, then there are detector vans as a final check. The existence of all cars, and who is responsible for them, is held in a database. Where is the database of who is responsible for every child at any time? The fact that one-sixth of paternity tests administered by the CSA are negative suggests that often no one actually knows who the father is.

Liability for child support starts at about the time of the claim, not when it has been fully processed. A large part of the problems of the CSA are getting to the stage of verifying the triggering conditions, (described earlier). Another part of the problem is that the CSA often doesn't use the powers that it already has. For various offenses, confiscation of driving licenses, fines, and other financial penalties, are already options. Deductions from earnings can be made.

"Work out the extra cost of men to the state in crime, violence, car crashes and non-payment of maintenance, and tax all men the way insurance companies price high-risk groups regardless of individual qualities"

Polly Toynbee is revealing her true colours! Blatently sexist, of course. Haven't we made progress beyond criticising and penalising groups for the behvaiour of some of those groups? Now which groups can we blame for terrorism ...? Which for inner-city gun crime ...? Dealing crack ...? Shoplifting ...? Misattributed paternity ...? Paternity fraud ...? Infanticide ...?

"On average, women have one fewer child than they want, because their lives are too hard. That is sad. And we need more babies"

We need fewer babies in the world. We especially need fewer babies likely to be brought up in one-parent households. There are plenty of people willing to come to the UK to make up numbers. And when we get the next generation of male contraceptives, the number of babies may fall even further.

28th November 2005

Shock! Horror! One in six men isn't the father!

A MARRIED man paid more than £4,500 towards the upkeep of a child that was not his because he was too scared to admit to his wife that he had been accused of having an affair... This week, he was refunded £4,552.60 after a DNA test proved the child could not be his. 

Telegraph 1996

A DEMAND for £20,000 child maintenance arrears sent to a Manchester man was all a mistake, officials admitted today... Following Mr Allens case being taken up by his MP, the CSA have now agreed to pay him compensation for the distress caused to him and his family. 

Manchester Evening News 1997

In a recent case (17 October, 2001), a 39-year-old Welsh man ... is to receive a refund of £30,000 in maintenance, plus interest, from the Child Support Agency (CSA). For seven years he had paid maintenance for a child he had never met, but thought was his. He then underwent a DNA paternity test through the court, and found he was not the father. 

Independent 2002

It is fascinating to see the media making "new news" out of "old news". And still getting it wrong!

Someone appears to have followed the examples of Child Support Analysis and obtained information about paternity testing via the Freedom of Information Act. (Request from GB CSA. Request from NI CSA). The Sunday Mail and the Guardian both have articles.

It has been known for many years that some of the men identified to the CSA as the father are excluded by a paternity test. And that if they has paid money up to that time, they may get refunds. (News articles on this site: Telegraph 1996, Manchester Evening News 1997, BBC 1999, Independent 2002).

Sunday Mail:
"ONE in six women who go to the Child Support Agency name the wrong man as the father of their child.... Taxpayers have paid almost £8million for tests - nearly £1million of it for false claims.... Figures secured through the Freedom of Information Act shows that since tests began in 1998, 15,909 DNA tests have been made."

At least 3 errors there:

  1. One in six paternity tests administered by the CSA are negative, but that says nothing about the proportion of misattributed paternity in the cases where there is no test. If a man doesn't request a test, he is probably less suspicious, and more likely to be the father.
  2. Fathers pay for positive tests. Taxpayers pay only for negative tests, ("false claims").
  3. Discounted DNA Paternity Testing was introduced during 1995/96. Data for early years is unobtainable via the Freedom of Information Act, which is why figures for 1998 onwards are given.

Guardian:
"Under CSA rules, men must start paying maintenance the moment they are named by mothers as the father of the child. They can challenge the ruling by asking for a DNA test but have to pay for it themselves".

At least 2 errors there:

  1. Men only have to start paying immediately under the new scheme, and then only if paternity can be presumed. Under the old scheme, and under the new scheme for the less likely cases, (not married, not living together, etc), in the case of a paternity test, they don't have to start until the test is positive. (Summary on this site of CSA paternity testing).
  2. They don't have to pay for the test in advance, although they get a test at a cheaper rate if they do. And if they do pay in advance, they get a refund if it is negative.

What proportion of men in the CSA system are not the biological father, (not counting obvious cases such as adoptions)? No one knows! Probably between 4% and 10%.

29th November 2005

Questions and answers in Parliament

These recent answers may be interesting:

3rd November, Mr. Ian Taylor:
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he is taking to improve the flow of information from HM Revenue and Customs to the Child Support Agency.

Dawn Primarolo:
HMRC already provides information to CSA to help them locate non-resident parents. Work is ongoing between HMRC and DWP officials as to how to further support CSA.


16th November, Mr. Laws:
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the aims and purposes of the Child Support Agency.

Mr. Plaskitt:
The Child Support Agency exists to deliver an efficient child support service, which plays its part in ensuring that children whose parents do not live together are financially supported.

Mr. Laws:
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on Government plans to reduce the complexity of Child Support Agency maintenance calculations.

Mr. Plaskitt:
The introduction of the new child support scheme in March 2003 brought in a much simpler way of calculating maintenance. We know that many parents now choose to calculate maintenance themselves by using the on-line calculator on the agency's website.


17th November, Mr. Andrew Turner:
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when the refund due under Child Support Agency reference number 0677911890 will be paid.

Mr. Plaskitt:
The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the chief executive. He will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Stephen Geraghty to Mr. Andrew Turner, dated 17 November 2005:
" In reply to your recent Parliamentary Question about the Child Support Agency, the Secretary of State promised a substantive reply from the Chief Executive.... I am sorry to hear that Mr. Goldstone has not received the refund of £340 promised to him on 7 June. Regrettably a technical fault on the Agency's CS2. computer system has prevented the payment from being made. This fault is not yet resolved, but the Plymouth centre has arranged for Mr. Goldstone's refund to be paid on 16 November."


23 November, Mr. Andrew Turner:
To ask the Prime Minister pursuant to the oral answer of 16 November 2005, Official Report, column 964, what the evidential basis is for his statement that (a) the administrative costs of the Child Support Agency (CSA) outweighed the money it took in 1997 and (b) in the majority of CSA cases the child concerned is not the product of either a married or stable relationship.

The Prime Minister:
I refer the hon. Member to the Child Support Agency's (CSA) Annual report and accounts for the financial years 1995-96 and 1996-97. Copies of this are available in the Library of the House. The majority of the workload dealt with by the CSA is generated by the more difficult cases, in particular where there is no previous stable relationship between the parents. In addition, results from a national survey of CSA clients (Wikely N et al, 2001) (carried out in 1999 prior to the recent reforms) allow comparative analysis of the characteristics of compliant and non-compliant non-resident parents. Previously married and cohabiting non-resident parents were, respectively, five and three times more likely to comply with the CSA than those in less stable relationships.


24 November, Mr. Laws:
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the policy is of the Child Support Agency in relation to the conditions which must be satisfied before a deduction of earnings order is initiated; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Plaskitt:
When an employed non-resident parent fails to comply and make regular payments, the Child Support Agency may send a deduction from earnings order (DEO) to their employer.

Mr. Laws:
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the use of deduction of earnings orders by the Child Support Agency on employers.

Margaret Hodge:
Deduction from earnings orders (DEOs) are an effective method of obtaining maintenance. In September 2005, 19 per cent. of cases had a DEO in place.

30th November 2005

Questions and answers in Parliament

It is about time this government stopped blaming the previous government for the current state of the CSA!

The previous Conservative Government was responsible for the "old scheme". This Labour Government is entirely responsible for the "new scheme". They had the majority they needed to do anything they wanted without interference. They went through all the Green Paper and White Paper and Parliamentary debate stages at length over the years 1998 to 2000. They had huge amounts of research results available to them. They could have done anything they wanted to with the CSA! They've had 8 years, which is far longer than it took to set up the CSA in the first place.

They screwed up! They are still doing so.


28 Nov 2005, Julia Goldsworthy:
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many cases of maladministration there have been by the Child Support Agency over the last eight years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt):
The information the hon. Member is requesting is not held for all of the last eight years. However, since April 2002, 706 cases of maladministration have been found by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and 1,334 by the Independent Case Examiner. In the period 1 December 2001 to 10 November 205, a total of 35,558 special payments for maladministration were made by the agency. Maladministration ranges all the way between an unanswered letter and failure to collect maintenance.


28 Nov 2005, Mr. Laws:
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many non-resident parents there are with outstanding Child Support Agency cases where the main source of income comes from self-employment; in how many of these cases money has been received since 1997; and what the average amount is of maintenance paid by (a) non-resident parents overall and (b) non-resident parents who are self-employed.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt):
The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the chief executive. He will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Stephen Geraghty to Mr. David Laws dated 28 November 2005:
In reply to your parliamentary Question about the Child Support Agency, the Secretary of State promised a substantive reply from the chief executive. You asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many non-resident parents there are with outstanding Child Support Agency cases where the main source of income comes from self-employment; in how many of these cases money has been received since 1997; and what the average amount is of maintenance paid by (a) non-resident parents overall and (b) non-resident parents who are self-employed. Information relating to outstanding Child Support applications cannot be broken down by employment status. This is because cases may not have reached the point in the information gathering process where the employment status details are obtained. Where such applications are outstanding, no maintenance will have been received.

Over the quarter ending August 2005, across all schemes, the average amount of maintenance received per case in which maintenance was due (via the collection service) was £328. The average amount of maintenance paid per case in which the non-resident parent was self-employed was £449.

Notes:
1. Quarterly figures are provided because this is consistent with the Agency's compliance measurement. It also takes account of the variations in NRP payment patterns which make it difficult to produce an accurate average over a shorter time frame
2. This excludes cases for which no maintenance was due via the collection service (e.g. cases with a nil liability and maintenance direct).
3. The figures quoted relate to the average amount of maintenance received per case, as opposed to the value of the average calculation. A non-resident parent can pay maintenance in respect of more than one case.
4. The figures for the self-employed presented reflect the status of the non-resident parent currently held on the system as of the last intervention by the Agency. This will not necessarily reflect the current status of the non-resident parent if the Agency has not been informed of (or not yet actioned) a change of circumstances.
5. Figures are rounded to the nearest pound.
I hope you find this information helpful.


28 Nov 2005, Mr. Laws:
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the ratio between the annual costs of the Child Support Agency and the annual maintenance paid through the Agency has been in each quarter since 1995–96; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt):
The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the Chief Executive. He will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Stephen Geraghty to Mr. Laws, dated 28 November 2005:
In reply to your recent Parliamentary Question about the Child Support Agency, the Secretary of State promised a substantive reply from the Chief Executive. You asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the ratio between the annual costs of the Child Support Agency and the annual maintenance paid through the Agency has been in each quarter since 1995–96; and if he will make a statement.

The figures in the table below are given on an annual basis, as reported in the Annual Report and Accounts. The information is not held on a quarterly basis. The table shows the ratio of net administration costs to maintenance paid. The net administration costs cover all activities, including both the assessment and collection of maintenance.

Agency  annual  costs (£million) Maintenance  paid (£million) Ratio

2004-05

325.60

578.70

1 :1.8

2003-04

323.00

580.09

1 :1.8

2002-03

294.30

570.69

1 :1.9

2001-02

290.40

526.80

1 :1.8

2000-01

250.00

498.86

1 :2.0

1999-2000

260.30

457.44

1 :1.8

1998-99

231.20

389.96

1 :1.7

1997-98

225.90

298.80

1 :1.3

1996-97

224.50

207.75

1 :0.9

1995-96

199.30

128.63

1 :0.6

I hope you find this information helpful.


28 Nov 2005, Mr. Laws:
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his Department's (a) target and (b) latest performance is for the time taken to process new Child Support Agency maintenance claims.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt):
The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the Chief Executive. He will write to the hon. Member with the information requested.

Letter from Stephen Geraghty to Mr. Laws, dated 28 November 2005:
In reply to your recent Parliamentary Question about the Child Support Agency, the Secretary of State promised a substantive reply from the Chief Executive. You asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his Department's (a) target and (b) latest performance is for the time taken to process new Child Support Agency maintenance claims.

The Child Support Agency currently has not set a target time for processing applications. This is because the Agency currently has a backlog of work and is endeavouring to clear this as quickly as the necessary information becomes available.

At the end of September 2005, the average age of new-scheme applications at clearance [1] was 180 days (26 weeks). Of those applications that had been cleared, 25 per cent. took 6 weeks or less; 22 per cent. took between 6 weeks and 3 months; 22 per cent. between 3 and 6 months; 18 per cent. between 6 months and a year; and 14 per cent. took a year or more. These figures exclude 80,000 applications that came through the Jobcentre Plus interface and have been cleared, but for which insufficient management information exists to enable age at clearance to be determined.

I hope you find this helpful.

[1] An application is defined as cleared if the case is closed, a maintenance calculation has been carried out and a payment arrangement between the parent with care (PWC) and the non-resident parent is in place, the PWC is identified as claiming Good Cause or subject to a Reduced Benefit Decision or the application is identified as being a change of circumstances on an existing case as opposed to a new application.


28 Nov 2005, Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con):
If he will make a statement on the performance of the Child Support Agency.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt):
Clearly, it is not as good as it should be. I think every hon. Member will agree with that. That is why the chief executive, working closely with Ministers, is drawing up a strategy to tackle the root causes of the agency's difficulties and to get it into decent shape so that its performance can begin to meet the standards we expect of it.

Mr. Gale:
The Minister knows perfectly well that there is not a Member of the House who has not got a file of letters from parents with children who cannot access the money to which they are entitled, and an equivalent file of letters from absent parents who cannot afford the demands that are made on them. While both those sequence of cases are causing misery, the information technology is failing and the people working it are failing. Has not the time come to draw this whole sorry episode to a close and replace it with something that works?

Mr. Plaskitt:
When did this sorry episode start? Back when the hon. Gentleman was in government and voted for it-[Interruption.] Oh yes. It is worth reminding him and all Conservative Members of that. He will know that we inherited a mess in the CSA in 1997-[Interruption.] I am happy to remind hon. Members of the work that we have done. I am sure that they will remember that we introduced reforms in 2000–01 which established a new method of calculating the maintenance assessment.

As we analyse the problems, we find more and more that many of them date back to mistakes in the setting up of the agency-[Interruption.] No, that is where most of the debt comes from. The original formula for assessing maintenance was excessively complicated, with 90 different variables. The hon. Gentleman voted for that and it led to many of the complexities in the system. He and his party set it up with second-hand, second-rate IT. We have begun the reform process. I agree with him - every Member in this House has a thick file of cases of constituents who are having difficulties with the CSA. I have spoken about such cases just as often as he has. We are just as keen to get on with reforming the agency. As I have said, we are working with the chief executive to bring forward a reform programme.


28 Nov 2005, Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con):
The Government have been in power for eight years and it is time that they took responsibility for the state of the CSA. The Prime Minister said yesterday that the CSA has basic design problems. Only a fortnight ago in this House, he said that the CSA is not suited to its job. With the CSA, as with incapacity benefit, the running seems to be being made by Downing street and not by the Department. Can the Minister guarantee that we will get a statement on the future of the CSA before the Christmas recess, or has he no more knowledge of the Prime Minister's plans than the rest of us?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt):
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was absolutely right when he said that the agency has basic design problems. When was it designed? It was back when the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were in office. Let me remind him of what he said in The Guardian only last week: "There are no easy solutions for the CSA." He wants to know when our reform proposals will come forward. We still hope to bring them to the House before the end of the year.


28 Nov 2005, Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD):
Is not the time for action from this Government long overdue? The agency has at least 400,000 cases where no payments are going to children, and it has a backlog of 350,000 cases that have not even been assessed. In respect of action that the Government are thinking of taking, will the Minister confirm that his Department is considering privatising this dog's breakfast?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt):
The hon. Lady has been reading the press speculation and I suggest that she treats it as exactly that. Her party's position on the agency is getting more and more confusing. I am used to hearing some of her Front Benchers suggest that we hand things over to the Inland Revenue, but the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) asked in the House last week whether it was sensible to transfer the administration of mean-tested benefits for children to the Treasury. But that was last week.

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