HC Deb 25 June 1998 vol 314 cc626-8W
Mr. Bill O'Brien

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) how many cases have been referred to the Child Support Agency independent case examiner in each month since its inception; [46086]

(2) how much has been paid in total in compensation by the CSA to people who have been successful in claims against the agency. [46107]

Mr. Keith Bradley

We expect the Child Support Agency to provide a consistent, fair and efficient service to all its clients. We are looking closely at all aspects of the child support scheme to see where improvements can be made and we aim to bring forward a consultation document on our proposals.

The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the Chief Executive, Mrs. Faith Boardman. She will write to my hon. Friend.

Letter from Faith Boardman to Mr. Bill O'Brien, dated 24 June 1998: I am replying to your Parliamentary Questions to the Secretary of State for Social Security about Child Support Agency cases referred to the Independent Case Examiner and Child Support Agency compensation payments. The Office of the Independent Case Examiner commenced work in April 1997. When the Agency responds to a complaint the customer is given details about the services of the Independent Case Examiner to enable them to contact her directly. Between I April 1997 and 31 May 1998, 1305 customers of the Agency made applications to the Independent Case Examiner. A monthly breakdown is shown in the attached table. The Agency is committed to providing a good quality customer service and is continuing to develop a close working relationship with the Independent Case Examiner and her staff to identify ways in which their expertise may best be used. The Agency's Business Units adopt a case study approach with cases referred to the Independent Case Examiner whereby the Business Unit Manager and staff involved with the case identify lessons learnt, introduce improvements and good working practices and regularly liaise with the office of the Independent Case Examiner. Compensation payments are normally referred to as special payments. A special payment is considered where a clear and unambiguous error by the Agency has resulted in distress or in actual financial loss to the customer which is not recoverable through other means. From its launch in April 1993 to 31 May 1998 the Agency has paid out a total of—2,168,485 in special payments. The number of payments made (3,235) is relatively small compared with our overall caseload of over 770,000 live and assessed cases (less than half of one per cent.). The numbers of payments have risen recently as a result of increases in the Agency's current workloads and of our actions over the past year to clear the backlog of maintenance applications which had accumulated in the Agency during its first 2–3 years. In 1997–98 the Agency cleared 595,000 maintenance application compared with 357,000 in 1996–97 and reduced the number of maintenance applications over 52 weeks old from 225,000 to 110,000. I am conscious that there are still far too many complaints about the standards of basic customer contact and the service we provide, and we recognise that doing things right first time is the key to preventing complaints. We are aware that as we further tackle our backlog of cases from the Agency's first 2–3 years, there is potential for the volume of complaints to rise in the short term. During 1997–98 we developed the Customer Service Strategy, our customer service improvement plan for the next four years. The Strategy will improve performance standards; information and openness; consultation and choice; courtesy and helpfulness and provide value for money. We have begun action on some of our customer service initiatives but it will take three to four years to deliver everything. However, we expect customers to see some real improvements by the end of 1998–99. I hope this helpful.

Number of Child Support Agency customers who made applications to the Independent Case Examiner
April 21
May 48
June 69
July 72
August 82
September 94
October 137
November 110
December 108
January 112
February 108
March 126
April 116
May 102
Total 1,305