Child Support Agency

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Security – in the House of Commons am 12:00 am ar 25 Chwefror 1997.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr David Rendel Mr David Rendel , Newbury 12:00, 25 Chwefror 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what criteria are used by the CSA to decide which parent has care of the children when parents have separated but are still living in the same house with their children. [15744]

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Social Security)

The Child Support Agency can take on a case only where the parents genuinely maintain separate households. The "parent with care" is the parent who cares for a child for the greater number of nights or, if neither parent satisfies that criterion, the parent who receives child benefit for the child.

Photo of Mr David Rendel Mr David Rendel , Newbury

Does not that lead to unfairness in some cases? For example, one of my constituents owns the house in which his ex-wife still lives rent-free. He pays for the housing costs and most of the clothing and food costs of his children. He is not even allowed to claim shared care, on the grounds that there is no date on which the children leave the home in which the mother lives to move to the home in which the father lives. Of course there is not, because they live in the same home the whole time.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Social Security)

I have looked at the specific case that the hon. Gentleman raises. His constituents share a house, but they say that they maintain separate households, and they disagree on the amount of shared care under consideration. During the period in question, the hon. Gentleman's constituent was abroad for six months, so it is difficult to see how he can have had shared care in that time. If the circumstances change, he can appeal. He has already made an appeal, and it will be heard in due course. It seems to me that the agency has handled that specific case correctly.

There has been a rapid improvement in the service provided by the Child Support Agency in the past 18 months. There is still a long way to go, but, in the words of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Social Security, the CSA is now running "rather well".

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , North West Hampshire

Would my hon. and filial Friend look into the case of my constituent Mr. Flint? He remarried, had twins, received a pay increase of £31 a month and, on reassessment by the CSA, had his maintenance payments increased by £41 a month. Would my hon. and filial Friend investigate that case further and see what he can do to put it right?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Social Security)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me notice of that question. He sets a good example to the House for diligent representation of one's constituents. I shall look into the case, but although his constituent has recently had the happy arrival of twins, he has also had a significant pay rise of 20 per cent.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks , Croydon North West

I am sure that the last two hon. Gentlemen who spoke have benefited from effective child maintenance policies during their lives. On a more serious note, will the Minister confirm that, all these years after the Child Support Act 1991, the great majority of lone mothers and their children receive no child maintenance? Does he accept that, in the absence of an effective and acceptable child maintenance policy, complemented by a welfare-to-work strategy, most lone mothers and their children are trapped in a dependency state on income support? Does he agree that that is bad news for the taxpayer, bad news for the mothers, and, most important, tragic for the children?

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , North West Hampshire

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's first point. He is wrong to say that most parents and children do not receive maintenance. Recent published figures show that 78 per cent. of the mothers who have come within the remit of the CSA receive maintenance in part or in full.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, the Government have introduced a welfare-into-work strategy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has described the parent plus scheme as one of the best schemes anywhere in the world. It will be extremely effective in ensuring that lone parents have opportunities to get back into work. While the Government are establishing a scheme and putting money on the table to run it, all we get from the Labour party is pious waffle and pre-electioneering soundbites, which will do no good and will not help lone parents.