HC Deb 16 January 2001 vol 361 cc197-8W
Mr. Bill O'Brien

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what action his Department is taking to ensure the Child Support Agency(a) improves its efficiency and (b) speeds up its assessments for maintenance payments; and if he will make a statement. [144889]

Angela Eagle

The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the Chief Executive, Mr. Doug Smith. He will write to my hon. Friend.

Letter from Doug Smith to Mr. Bill O'Brien, dated 16 January 2001: I am replying to your Parliamentary Questions to the Secretary of State for Social Security about the Child Support Agency. Mr Smith is unavailable and therefore I am writing to you on his behalf. I accept that the Agency's performance is still falling short of the service we want to deliver to our customers. We are striving for continuous improvement and the Secretary of State has set us challenging performance targets for this year. Since 1996 we have increased the proportion of non-resident parents who are fully complaint from 32% to 47.6% and in 1999/00 we collected and arranged £730.9m, compared to £400m in 96/97. However, I agree that there is still someway to go. In the longer term, the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000 will lead to radical improvements in the service we offer our clients. Maintenance calculations will be based on a simple percentage of the non-resident parent's net income - 15% for one child; 20% for two and 25% for three or more. The simpler system of rates will make it easier for parents to know how much they are expected to pay, and sorting out child support quickly will enable parents to get on with their lives without the current uncertainty about maintenance. The reforms will be introduced for new cases by April 2002 with existing cases transferred at a later date when the system is seen to be working well. However, there is much that we can do in the meantime with the new legislative powers in the Act. This is why we have agreed with Ministers that the new parentage and information gathering provisions and the extension of child support jurisdiction will come into effect from the end of this month. And in April we will bring the driving licence provisions into effect. This will mean that from 31' January 2001, the CSA will be able to presume parentage if it is denied but the non-resident parent was married to the parent with care at any time between the child's conception and birth, or if unmarried he is registered on the birth certificate. The Agency will also be able to presume parentage if he refuses DNA testing or disputes a positive DNA result. From 31" January 2001 it will be a criminal offence not to co-operate with the Child Support Agency, carrying a fine of up to £1000. From April 2001, persistent offenders can have their driving licence removed by the courts. The Agency is striving to improve its performance and I am committed to continuing these improvements whilst working towards the successful introduction of the child support reforms. I hope this is helpful.