§ Mr. David Atkinson
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is his estimate of the(a) number and (b) value of national insurance payments in arrears; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Timms
The collection of National Insurance contributions is a matter for the Chief Executive of the Contributions Agency, George Bertram. He will write to the hon. Member.
Letter from George Bertram to Mr. David Atkinson, dated 10 March 1999:
As Chief Executive of the Contributions Agency, I have responsibility for answering questions about the Contributions Agency and operational matters relating to the collection of National 341W Insurance contributions (NICs). I have been asked to reply to your question about the number of National Insurance (NI) debtors and the amount of NI in arrears.
Although the Agency has the ability to collect information on the debt outstanding from some of our customer groups, problems with the implementation of the Agency's NIRS2 computer system mean that these figures are not readily available.
Currently the Agency is concentrating its efforts on the NIRS2 Stabilisation and Recovery plan. However, when NIRS2 is fully implemented it will allow the Agency to provide improved debt management and accountability.
The latest reliable information about NIC debt was reproduced in the National Audit Office report on the National Insurance Fund 1997–98 and used the information available within the Agency at 31 March 1998.
At the time the only figures available related to self-employed contributors who pay Class 2 NICs monthly by direct debit, or in quarterly instalments. The figure quoted in the NAO report was an estimate based on the outstanding debt recorded on the Agency's three main systems for recording Class 2 debt and amounted to £513 million, which represents a significant proportion of the Agency's total debt.