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Deduction Of Earnings Orders

Volume 268: debated on Tuesday 12 December 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement about the imposition of deduction of earnings orders by the Child Support Agency. [3572]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security
(Mr. Andrew Mitchell)

Such orders are imposed only when all other efforts to obtain maintenance payment have failed.

Does the Minister recognise that that is a superficial approach to deduction of earnings orders? Does he understand that in many instances the orders are imposed when there is still considerable disagreement and that they have a devastating effect on the families concerned? Is he aware that quite often the agency's figures are found to be wrong? Will he comment on reports that the agency is proposing to introduce DEOs for clients when they have not returned their forms for assessment, even after as short a period as two weeks? Will that not give rise to considerable injustice and have a devastating effect on many families' finances?

The hon. Gentleman, who has taken a considerable interest in a number of technical aspects of the Child Support Agency, misunderstands the way in which deduction of earnings orders are used. They are imposed as a last resort to secure payments to the parent with the child or children. They are very effective in achieving that and are lifted if the absent parent complies and co-operates. The hon. Gentleman should recognise, therefore, that they are a most important mechanism within the power of the CSA to enforce maintenance payments so that they get through to the mother, the parent with care and the children involved.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the distress caused to my constituent, Mr. Andrew Collier, whose employers were openly contacted by the CSA about his fathering a child, long after he had had a vasectomy? Will my hon. Friend ask the CSA to take off its clodhoppers and urgently review its procedures?

I am aware of the case to which my hon. Friend refers. He is right to say that, where a mistake is made, his constituent is entitled to a full apology from the CSA, and my understanding is that such an apology has already been given.

Will the Minister comment on the annual report of the chief child support officer—an independent officer—and in particular his finding that complete accuracy of the maintenance assessment is achieved only in 29 per cent. of cases? What proposals does he have to improve accuracy quickly and significantly, and therefore to improve public confidence in the workings of the CSA?

The hon. Gentleman is right to make it clear that we are determined to improve the accuracy of the agency. The Secretary of State has set demanding targets for accuracy this year of 75 per cent. of all cases. We reached 71 per cent. accuracy last month, which is a very steep increase on the figures for last year. I think that the hon. Gentleman will want to join me in making the point that this year the agency is increasing its accuracy significantly, but it still has a long way to go.