HC Deb 24 June 1999 vol 333 cc431-2W
Mr. Jim Murphy

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) how many people were employed by the Child Support Agency Independent Case Examiner in each of the past three years; [87575]

  1. (2) how many cases have been dealt with by the Child Support Agency Independent Case Examiner in each of the past three years;[87573]
  2. (3) what was the average time taken by the Child Support Agency Independent Case Examiner to conclude each case referred to him in the past three years;[87574]
  3. (4) what plans there are to review the role and responsibility of the Child Support Agency Independent Case Examiner. [87576]

Angela Eagle

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. Jim Murphy, dated 23 June 1999: I am replying to your Parliamentary Questions to the Secretary of State for Social Security about the Child Support Agency Independent Case Examiner. I have answered three of your questions by presenting the information in table format annexed to this letter. Table 1 shows the numbers of staff employed by the Independent Case Examiner (ICE). Senior management grades and the Independent Case Examiner herself are included in the category of investigation staff. The ICE Office began its work on 7 April 1997 but staff were recruited and receiving training from the preceding February. Table 2 shows the intake of cases for two complete years of operation. It breaks down the number dealt with to those which received a full investigation and those which were rejected. When a complaint is received, the issues are identified and ICE check that the case can be accepted. If, for example, the Child Support Agency's complaints procedures have not been exhausted ICE will reject the case. The rise in figures might at first sight suggest a deterioration in CSA customer service, however, this can be attributed to the legitimately rising workloads coupled with rising awareness of ICE following the launch of the first ICE Annual Report in September 1998 which generated a great deal of media interest and new work. September 1998 was the highest intake for ICE in a single month. Table 3 gives the average time taken to carry out an investigation and report findings. A process was introduced in 1998/99 which allows appropriate cases to be identified and referred to the Child Support Agency for early resolution of the problem by taking prompt action. Thus negating the need for a full investigation by ICE. One effect of this initiative is to lengthen the average time taken to resolve those complaints where early resolution proved impossible and full investigation was needed. In your fourth question you asked what plans there are to review the role and responsibility of the ICE. The post of Independent Case Examiner is a three year, fee paid, contract with the Department of Social Security, with the possibility of renewal by mutual consent. The three-year period for Mrs Parker does not expire until February 2000. Any announcements about this will be made to Parliament in the normal way. The ICE acts as an impartial referee and conducts investigations into cases where CSA customers feel that they have been badly treated by the Agency. The ICE makes recommendations on redress, whether that takes the form of an apology, or financial compensation, and also makes recommendations on how the Agency might improve its administrative systems for the benefit of customers. The ICE role does not extend to investigating complaints relating to Child Support legislation, or those which have undergone, or are undergoing, investigation by the PCA. There are also certain criteria that need to be satisfied for a complainant to obtain the services of the ICE. The ICE will only take on a case if the Agency's own complaints procedures have been exhausted, and the complainant has received a letter from, or on behalf of, myself in response to their complaint, within the last 6 months. I hope you find this helpful.

Table 1: Number of staff employed by ICE
Year Investigation staff Support staff Total
1996–97 35 5 40
1997–98 36 5 41
1998–99 34 4 38

Table 2: Intake of cases
1997–98 1998–99
Number at start of year 0 267
New cases 1,087 1,536
Total 1,087 1,803
Dealt with:
Rejected 616 832
Investigated 204 474
Total dealt with 820 1,306
Carried forward 267 497

Table 3: Average time for investigation and report
Year Early resolution Full report
1997–98 17.4
1998–99 17.2 33.6


These figures should be viewed in conjunction with Table 2 showing increased intake and outputs