HC Deb 20 February 1996 vol 272 cc162-3
6. Sir Mark Lennox-Boyd

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many cases the Child Support Agency has refused to consider because they were already the subject of a court order. [14356]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Andrew Mitchell)

Parents with a court order for child maintenance cannot come to the Child Support Agency for an assessment unless the parent with care is in receipt of a relevant benefit. They can, however, ask the court for a variation in the court order if they believe that maintenance under the existing order is inadequate. There is no business need for the agency to record how many child maintenance applications it receives and which it cannot consider for that reason.

Sir Mark Lennox-Boyd

Will my hon. Friend consider the plight of many women, such as my constituent Mrs. Dennett, who may enjoy the so-called benefit of a court order in favour of their children and cannot be helped by the CSA, but whose former husbands have paid no money for 10 years or more under that court order? They are thereby effectively denied justice by the system. Is it not ironic that a system that was invented to help such women in reality denies them justice?

Mr. Mitchell

My hon. Friend has raised with great diligence the case of his constituent, Mrs. Dennett, and I have looked carefully at it. Her court order precedes the establishment of the Child Support Agency, so she is unable to take advantage of it. Her difficulties demonstrate clearly why the House was right to introduce the Child Support Agency. I am afraid that she will have to return to the court to seek a variation as she is able to do under the system.

Mr. Llwyd

Can the Minister assist me? My constituent put in an appeal to the CSA appeal tribunal three months ago. After going through the details, he was advised to withdraw the appeal. The chairman replied that he would not allow the appeal to be withdrawn despite a month's notice having being given. What is the authority under law for that proposition and where is it based in common sense?

Mr. Mitchell

If the hon. Gentleman will write to me about the case, I shall certainly seek to assist him. There has been a significant improvement in the performance of the appeal system. Some 60 per cent. of appeals are now cleared within 13 weeks, but if he will write to me about the specific details that he raises, I shall ensure that he receives a proper answer.