HC Deb 23 April 1996 vol 276 cc190-1
11. Mrs. Clwyd

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what estimate he has made of the length of time taken by the Child Support Agency to process assessments in each year since 1994. [24679]

Mr. Andrew Mitchell

Assessments will inevitably take longer if one or other parent raises queries, but almost 50 per cent. of maintenance assessments are currently completed within 26 weeks. If both parents co-operate, the agency expects to complete the process in six to 12 weeks.

Mrs. Clwyd

I believe that the agency deserves a kick up the backside for the way in which it has treated my constituent, Mr. Philip Jones. He has waited for over six months to have his case reassessed. At the moment, he is expected to live on £8.27 a week after he has paid his bills. His house was threatened with repossession because he could not pay his mortgage; he lives in one room because he cannot afford to pay the fuel bills; his parents, who are elderly and on a pension, feed him; and he suffers considerable stress. If anything happens to Mr. Jones, I shall blame the Government.

Mr. Mitchell

I have looked specifically at the case of Mr. Jones, the hon. Lady's constituent, in view of her concerns about it. I understand that it is currently the subject of an appeal, and I believe that it will not be many days now before she receives the result of the appeal. I shall take a close interest in the facts of the case for her.

About 90 per cent. of outstanding appeals to the CSA are less than 13 weeks old. That is partly the result of the centralisation of appeals at the end of 1994, and it also demonstrates improved performance. The agency cleared twice as many appeals in the second half of 1995 as in the first.

Dr. Spink

Bearing in mind the fact that the average maintenance assessment under the CSA has increased from £23 a week to £40 a week, what would be the effect, especially on 16-year-olds who might have their child benefit removed by the Labour party, if the Government were to follow the possible policy of the Labour party and abolish the CSA?

Mr. Mitchell

My hon. Friend is right to expose the wholly spurious figures on which the proposal by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) was based—a proposal that would attack the very people whom the Labour party claimed that it was attempting to help. My hon. Friend is also right to emphasise that an increased amount of money is getting through to children as a result of the work of the Child Support Agency, but he will remember, with me, the reforms made by the House last year, which ensured that no one will be assessed to pay more than 30 per cent. of their net income. That delivers a fair level of maintenance, and I am grateful to him for his support for the agency's work.