HC Deb 07 June 2004 vol 422 cc17-8
14. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

If he will make a statement on the operation of the Child Support Agency. [177324]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond)

The new scheme of child support was introduced for new cases and for those connected to the new scheme in March last year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made regular progress reports to the House. Following his last report on 21 April, I can tell the House that more than 180,000 cases have now been cleared and more than 22,000 of the poorest families are already benefiting from the new child maintenance premium.

Mr. Carmichael

I thank the Minister for that answer, but the stream of complaints made in my surgeries by constituents who continue to have their liability for child support assessed according to the old rules continues unabated. Have the Government set a date for the complete migration of all cases in the CSA from the old system to the new? What is that date?

Mr. Pond

No, we have not set a date. Overall, the number of complaints is falling and those that are made are being resolved more quickly by the agency. We have been straightforward with the House in saying that we cannot and will not transfer cases to the new system until we are absolutely sure that the new system and the IT are working properly. We cannot give a date on that, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that, in his view—and, I am sure, in the view of the House as a whole—it would be irresponsible to make that transition until we are sure that the IT is working properly.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Coop)

Has my hon. Friend looked at the proportion of the old case load that will be affected by the 15 per cent., 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. change and considered what the number of winners and losers might be? There is a great deal of anxiety out there and much pressure for the rollback to take place as early as possible. In particular, in the case of CSA clients in North-West Leicestershire, who are largely dealt with by staff in either Dudley or Belfast, the number of caseworkers that individual resident parents have to deal with over quite a short time is excessive. Will he look at the stability and training of staff there?

Mr. Pond

Certainly, that is an issue that we are looking at to make sure that staff have the right and adequate amount of training. We understand the anxieties that people feel in waiting for the new system to come fully into operation. Everybody will accept that it is a much better system than the one set up by the Conservative party: it is simpler, fairer and more straightforward. However, as I have said, it would be irresponsible of us to try to make that transition until we know that the IT is working smoothly to ensure that payments go to the children who need the support.