HC Deb 17 July 1995 vol 263 cc1345-6

Lords amendment: No. 7, in page 18, line 49, at end insert—

("(6A) For the purposes of this section any payments made by a person under a maintenance assessment which was not validly made shall be treated as overpayments of child support maintenance made by an absent parent.")
Mr. Andrew Mitchell

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Clause 23 makes provision for the Secretary of State to reimburse overpaid maintenance in cases where it is not possible or appropriate to deal with the overpayment by means of a reduction in the current maintenance assessment. It was always the intention that overpayments arising in any circumstances should be covered by the provisions; it became clear, however, that the clause as drafted did not cover cases in which an overpayment arose as a result of an invalid assessment.

Invalid assessments can arise in a number of ways. For example, it may be established following a review or appeal that the Child Support Agency has no jurisdiction to make an assessment. Such cases might include those in which the absent parent was not habitually resident in the United Kingdom, there was no qualifying child or there was already a written maintenance agreement made before 5 April 1993. Cases might also arise in which the absent parent accepted paternity at the time the assessment was made, but subsequently disputed it and was found not to be the father.

We do not expect many such cases, but it has always been the intention for them to be included within the provisions of the clause. The amendment agreed to in another place ensures that that policy intention is fulfilled. Without it, absent parents who had overpaid because of invalid assessments might find it difficult to recover those payments. I hope that this House, too, will agree that the amendment is needed.

Mr. Bradley

May I seek clarification of one point? Will the Minister confirm that the amendment deals only with cases in which the CSA itself will refund the overpayment, and not circumstances in which maintenance has been paid to the parent with care and there is an expectation that the parent with care will be responsible for repaying the money to the absent parent? If that is so, we shall be happy to accept the amendment.

Mr. Mitchell

I think that I can go a long way towards meeting the hon. Gentleman's concerns. I can confirm that in cases in which an absent parent is reimbursed maintenance overpaid as a result of official error, careful consideration will be given to whether the parent with care should be required to repay that amount. All the facts surrounding the overpayment will be taken into account, and in cases in which it was due wholly to error by the CSA, it is unlikely that the parent with care would be required to repay.

It is, however, right that there should be flexibility to consider all cases. In many instances, for example, a number of different factors may have contributed to the overpayment. We do not therefore believe that it would be appropriate to legislate specifically for official-error repayments.

Lords amendment agreed to.

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