HC Deb 06 March 2001 vol 364 cc171-2W
Mr. Drew

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what progress is being made to speed up the decision-making process on CSA departures. [152397]

Mr. Bayley

A parent may apply for a departure where they feel they have exceptional circumstances that should be taken into account in their maintenance assessment. The process by which the Child Support Agency deals with these exceptional cases includes gathering information from one or more sources. Details of the application are then sent to the other party, giving them the opportunity to comment. Complex cases may be referred to the Appeals Service for determination. This process can often be time consuming especially when the information required is difficult to obtain.

The reformed child support scheme, which we plan to introduce for new cases by April 2002, will not include any provision for departures. However, either parent will be able to apply for the child support rates to be varied in specified, exceptional cases. The decision-making process for variations will be streamlined. Applications for a variation will be accepted before the maintenance calculation has been made, thus enabling the system to operate more quickly.

Mr. Drew

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what changes will be made to the Child Support Agency's procedures on disclosure following the proposed changes to the Child Support Agency to be introduced after April 2002; [152182]

(2) if he will make a statement on Child Support Agency procedures for the disclosure of information on one partner to another; [152180]

(3) what advice he has taken since the coming into force of the Human Rights Act 1998 on the Child Support Agency's approach to disclosure of information. [152181]

Mr. Bayley

The Child Support Agency treats the protection of personal information very seriously. A parent's details will not normally be disclosed by the Agency to anyone unless that parent consents. However, where a court makes an order requiring child support information to be disclosed, the Agency must comply with that order. The Agency also has the power to give any information it holds to a court or tribunal when child support cases are being considered, or to the appropriate authority for the calculation of Housing or Council Tax Benefits.

Regulation 10 of the Maintenance Assessment (Procedure) Regulations 1992 sets out the information which the Agency is required to provide when telling parents about a new maintenance assessment, or a revision or supersession of an existing assessment. This information includes the net and assessable income of both parents, and the non-resident parent's housing and travel costs allowed in the assessment. This information will not include details of addresses unless permission is given.

In the event that a parent appeals against a decision, they have the opportunity to opt into a confidentiality agreement so that any information which might lead to their whereabouts is not passed to the other parent.

In the new scheme, less information will be required to make a maintenance calculation and consequently, less information will be communicated in explaining that calculation. Regulation 23 of the Maintenance Calculation and Procedure Regulations 2000 provides that the notification of a maintenance calculation will set out a limited range of information, including the non-resident's net weekly income

Provisions for the disclosure of information are entirely compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.