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Child Support Agency

Volume 406: debated on Monday 9 June 2003

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How many people have been prosecuted for making false statements to the Child Support Agency. [117285]


If he will make a statement on the Child Support Agency. [117286]

Twelve people have been prosecuted under section 14A of the Child Support Act 1991. The Secretary of State's targets for the Child Support Agency for 2003–04 were published on 29 April in the agency's business plan. Those targets require a further improvement in performance, building on the progress made in recent years. I should add that the agency has more than doubled the amount of maintenance delivered from £300 million in 1995–96 to £770 million in 2001–02.

Is the Minister seriously suggesting that there are only 12 dishonest, lying fathers who, when filling in the forms, try to deprive their children of the maintenance that they should receive? Surely there is a case to be made for some serious prosecutions against fathers who cheat their children, so that they are made to pay. I am talking not about the fathers who go out of their way to provide maintenance for their children, but about those who lie and cheat. The Child Support Agency must know who they are.

Certainly, we must be tough with those who lie and cheat, but the whole purpose of our powers is to ensure that people give the necessary information in the first place. We have tough powers, and we work closely with the Inland Revenue. When we think that the non-resident parent's lifestyle is not compatible with the income they tell us they receive, we can vary the order to make them pay up and pay more maintenance.

When will the new formula for calculating the maintenance be introduced for existing as well as new cases, so that there is equality of treatment for my constituents? Will the new formula in any way reduce the number of successful claims for maladministration, which have soared from 1,389 in 1997–98 to 12,007 in 2001–02?

Where there is maladministration, and we try to cut that, it is right and proper that people have redress. I understand the question. As soon as we can bring all cases on to the new system, the better, but it is a massive operation. The new scheme only started in March. We will publish data on the first quarter in July this year, but the House will have to be patient. Time will pass before we can make a decision on bringing on board the old cases.

Would it be right to say that not all absent parents are fathers—there are mothers who are absent parents? Will my hon. Friend give some idea as to what progress is being made in ensuring that the third of children who are not receiving maintenance receive maintenance through Child Support Agency procedures? Given that the first eight weeks of payment are disregarded, will the absent parent now be responsible for making maintenance payments for the whole period from when the application is made by the parent with care?

The purpose of our child support reforms, which, as we have noted, are currently for new cases only, is to shift the burden of emphasis from assessment, which will be much easier and based on a simple formula, towards enforcement. However, as I said, more maintenance is now going to parents with care—usually the mother but, as my hon. Friend says, sometimes it is the father. We have new powers and we are absolutely determined in all sorts of ways that parents, whatever their family situation, recognise their responsibility to bring up and to fund their own children.

Can the Minister comment on how much cross-checking is achieved between statements to the Child Support Agency and statements to, for example, the Inland Revenue and housing benefit, working tax credit and immigration entry clearance departments?

Increasingly, we have powers and we have the authority of Parliament to cross-check data. Perhaps I will write to my hon. Friend about some of the details. We all know that while the great majority of self-employed people are honest, there can be a problem in compliance with maintenance. Since 1999, the agency has asked self-employed non-resident parents to provide copies of their tax return. That shows that we are moving in the direction that my hon. Friend is, I think, suggesting.