HC Deb 23 February 1998 vol 307 cc18-20
20. Mr. Bill O'Brien

What plans she has to improve the efficiency of public telephone contacts with the Child Support Agency; and if she will make a statement. [29095]

Mr. Keith Bradley

Many of the Child Support Agency's customers have said that the telephone is their preferred way of dealing with the agency. The agency recognises the need to improve its telephone service and is taking forward a number of new initiatives with this in mind.

As many parents have work or domestic commitments during the day, the agency has begun to employ staff to work a wider, more flexible range of working patterns over a six-day week. As well as extending the opening hours when telephone contact can be made with it, the agency will increasingly use the telephone to get in touch with customers at an early stage in their application. The aim is that much more of the business will be conducted over the telephone than by correspondence. This will allow the agency to gather the information needed more quickly and help speed up the assessment process.

For customers with general inquiries, more resources are to be allocated to the agency's national inquiry line from April 1998.

Mr. O'Brien

Any improvement in the service provided by the CSA is welcome. Will my hon. Friend take on board the need for better training for CSA staff? People are referred from one department to another and computers sometimes go down, which means that answers to queries are not received. The latest problem arises from the fact that people are being advised that although the Government guaranteed that 70 per cent. of the net wage would be retained by the absent parent, that figure could be reduced to 60 per cent. or less. That problem must be dealt with because it is causing great concern, not only in my constituency but across the country.

Mr. Bradley

My hon. Friend takes a great interest in this subject. As we move towards a more case work-focused, front-line service with greater use of the telephone, training will be an essential feature of that service, and we are determined to put extra resources into that part of the agency's work.