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Child Support Agency

Volume 281: debated on Tuesday 16 July 1996

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) if he will list for each of the years since the office was opened the total revenue collected by the Child Support Agency office in Dudley; [36332](2) if he will list the number of

(a) permanent and (b) casual or temporary staff employed by the Child Support Agency office in Dudley in each year since the office was opened; [36330]

(3) if he will list the total number of claims received by the Child Support Agency office in Dudley in each year since the office was opened; [36329]

(4) if he will list for each of the years since the office was opened the total running cost budget for the Child Support Agency office in Dudley; [36333]

(5) if he will list the average response time in respect of (a) written inquiries and (b) telephone inquiries for the Child Support Agency office in Dudley. [36331]

The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the chief executive Miss Ann Chant. She will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Ann Chant to Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody, dated 12 July 1996:

I am replying to your Parliamentary Questions to the Secretary of State for Social Security about the Dudley Child Support Agency Centre (CSAC).
The staffing figures you have requested for Dudley CSAC are shown in table 1 of the attached set of tables.
It is not possible to provide figures for the total number of claims received in the precise form requested. This is because since the Agency commenced operations, there has been a change in responsibility for initial maintenance assessment work from the CSACs to the Field offices, and changes to the geographical boundaries of responsibility of Dudley CSAC. Approximate figures showing the number of maintenance applications received by the Dudley CSAC for the first three years of operation are shown in table 2.
The Agency does not collect information on average response times to telephone calls or written correspondence. The statistical data collected in this area is gathered to monitor performance against Agency Charter Standards. The charter standards are: to respond to 80% of telephone calls within 20 seconds and to respond to written enquiries within 10 working days. Available information is shown in table 3.
The available information on the total running costs of the Dudley Centre, and child maintenance payments collected by the Centre or arranged by them for direct payment between the parents concerned are shown in table 4. Running costs are made up of Staff costs and Non-Staff costs. The maintenance collected figure includes cash receipts and Benefit Agency deductions. Figures on the amount of maintenance arranged were not collated in the first year of the Agency. During 1994/95, £111 million of maintenance was arranged by the Agency. It is not possible to break this figure down into the amounts contributed by each individual Centre, but a proportionate share is attributable to the Dudley Centre. In 1995/96 a scan of the Child Support Computer System was able to identify maintenance arranged by individual CSAC and this figure is shown.
I hope this is helpful.

Table 1: Breakdown of staff at Dudley CSAC

Permanent

Casuals

1

Fixed term contracts

1

Total

At 31 March 19947348630850
At 31 March 1995760.24201784.24
At 31 March 1996699.0501700.05

1 Casuals are temporary appointments usually for a maximum of 12 months or exceptionally 24 months. Fixed term appointments are for a period of between 1 and 5 years.

Table 2: Maintenance applications received at Dudley CSAC

Year end

Approximate numbers only

31 March 1994110,000
31 March 199558,000
31 March 199663,000

Table 3: Response times to telephone calls and written enquiries at Dudley CSAC

Year end

Telephone calls answered within 20 seconds (Per cent.)

Written enquiries answered within 10 days (Per cent.)

31 March 1994Not availableNot available
31 March 199513735
31 March 19962244

1 Figures only became available from September 1994.

Table 4: Running cost and maintenance collected and arranged by Dudley CSAC

Millions

Year end

Running costs

Maintenance collected

Maintenance arranged

31 March 19949.828Not available
31 March 199513.315.3Not available
31 March 199613.724.3

124.8

1 Figures only became available from April 1995.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if representatives of the Office of the Data Protection Registrar are attending, or have been asked to attend meetings with representatives of (a) the Child Support Agency, the DSS and (b) the Information Technology Services Agency to discuss major upgrading or replacement of the current EDS Ltd. child support computer system. [36174]

The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the chief executive, Miss Ann Chant. She will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Ann Chant to Mr. James Pawsey, dated 12 July 1996:

I am replying to your Parliamentary Question to the Secretary of State for Social Security about the Child Support Agency Computer System.
As Chief Executive of the Child Support Agency, I have regular meetings with the Data Protection Registrar. These meetings address all data Protection issues relating to the Agency, including any proposed changes to the Child Support Computer System.
I hope this is helpful.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what is the Child Support Agency's policy on retaining data about clients on the child support computer system after those clients' cases have been officially closed; [36184](2) what operational reasons the Child Support Agency has to retain data about clients on the child support computer system after those clients' cases have been officially closed; [36182](3) in what circumstances Child Support Agency staff may access archived data in respect of discontinued or closed data; [36185](4) what legislative requirement there is for the Child Support Agency to retain data about clients on the child support computer system after those clients' cases have been officially closed; [36181](5) how long the Child Support Agency normally retains data about clients on the child support computer system after the client's case has been officially closed; [36183](6) if the CSA deletes data about clients from the child support computer system once the clients' cases have been closed; [36232](7) if he will indicate the difference between CSA classifications of suspended, cleared without assessment and closed; [36233](8) what definition of archived is used by the CSA; [36234](9) how many of the cases so far taken on by the CSA are now officially closed; [36235](10) in how many of those cases that have been officially closed by the CSA, data are still held on the child support computer system. [36236]

The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the chief executive, Miss Ann Chant. She will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Ann Chant to Mr. James Pawsey, dated 12 July 1996:

I am replying to your Parliamentary Questions to the Secretary of State for Social Security about the Child Support Agency Computer System (CSCS) and the cases held on it.
It is best to start by defining some of the terms you have used or asked about.
Closed cases: Cases where no further action is to be taken by the Agency unless or until a repeat Child Maintenance claim is made. Typical reasons include reconciliation of the absent part and the parent with care where no maintenance payments are outstanding; paternity not established; death of one of the parties; benefit claim ended by the parent with care; or the withdrawal of an application by a private client. No action will occur automatically on cases that are closed, except for weeding and archiving of data.
Cases suspended: A term used when action on assessing maintenance has to stop temporarily until a particular issue is resolved, for example, a dispute over paternity or where the whereabouts of an absent parent cannot be traced. In other circumstances a case may be ready to be closed completely but some accounting action is still required; it will therefore remain open for this action to be taken but no assessment action can be carried out on it.
Cases cleared without assessment: As for "closed", but in circumstances where an initial assessment was never made, for example a decision that there is no prima facie evidence which might lead to the establishment of paternity; the Agency has no jurisdiction; or the prompt withdrawal of a claim to benefit by the parent with care.
Weeding: Weeding is the deletion of particular items of data under specified rules from the Child Support Computer System. This data cannot be retrieved.
Archiving: Archiving is the transfer of particular items of data under specified rules from the online system to a separate storage medium. The data is transferred to disk and if needed can be printed out on paper (a hard copy), but can never be retrieved back on to the CSCS. The facility to access archived material is restricted to staff with the appropriate security profiles. There are a total of 76 security profiles for access to information; only 16 profiles have access to archived information.
There is no legislative requirement for the Agency to retain data after cases are closed. Operationally it is sensible to maintain a record of previous dealings with the Agency for an optimum length of time. Given that a claim may need to be re-opened up to the point where any qualifying child involved reaches the age of 19, this is going to be for a period of years, not months or weeks. There is also the issue of the sensitive nature of some of the information, for example, where paternity has been disputed, or a DNA test has been carried out, or the Agency has accepted "Good Cause" for not pursuing a case. It is in the best interests of clients to keep these records for quite some time to avoid the need to go over the same ground again in the future. We also need to ensure our records contribute properly to the prevention of Social Security fraud and abuse.
We have yet to decide for how long records will be kept, but after 3 years of operations it is already clear that significant numbers of repeat child maintenance applications are going to be made on closed cases. We must strike the balance between our business needs, general DSS requirements, Data Protection legislation and the needs and best interests of our clients.
There are approximately 650,000 closed cases on the computer system at the moment. At present all closed cases are retained, but a programme to introduce weeding and archiving of data has begun. This process leaves a basic record on the system to show that there has been contact with the person concerned, but the details are archived and will not be accessible through the system.
In the event that the Agency recommences dealings with a client whose details are archived, authorised users can request a hard copy of the archived data to ensure that all relevant information is available and the client is not being asked unnecessarily to provide the same details a second time.
I hope all this is helpful.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what would be the costs of modifying the original Child Support Agency computer system to accommodate the proposed departures system and other regulatory changes; [36176](2) what is the forecast cost of replacing the existing child support computer system to accommodate the proposed departures system and other regulatory changes. [36177]

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if representatives of the office of the Data Protection Registrar (a) have been invited to meet or (b) have met representatives of (i) the Child Support Agency, (ii) the Department of Social Security and (iii) the Information Technology Services Agency to discuss major upgrading or replacement of the current child support computer system. [36862]

The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the chief executive, Miss Ann Chant. She will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Ann Chant to Mr. James Pawsey, dated 12 July 1996:

I am replying to your Parliamentary Question to the Secretary of State for Social Security about the Child Support Agency Computer System.
The existing Child Support Computer system (CSCS) has been upgraded to incorporate the new functions associated with the Departures scheme. The enhancements were supplied by the existing CSCS supplier, EDS, working as part of a joint development team of Child Support Agency, Information Technology Services Agency and EDS staff.
The implications of other regulatory changes on the CSCS will continue to be considered as part of the impact analysis process when details of such changes emerge. Any further development or upgrade of CSCS that is considered necessary following analysis will be incorporated in the ongoing programme of system amendments. It is supported by existing system development contracts with a number of external suppliers.
The costs of the upgrades and enhancements are "commercial in confidence".
The possibility of wholly replacing the existing Child Support Computer System to accommodate the departures system and other regulatory changes was not considered as either necessary or a practical solution. Therefore the extensive work needed to provide a forecast cost for this activity has not been commissioned.
I hope this is helpful.