Skip to main content

Child Maintenance

Volume 476: debated on Monday 2 June 2008

14. What steps he is taking to improve maintenance arrangements for children of non-resident parents; and if he will make a statement. (208032)

There are two key steps. First, we are improving the performance of the Child Support Agency. The agency now collects £200 million more, for 200,000 more children, than it did in the last year of operation before the improvement plan. Secondly, we will ultimately replace the agency with the new Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission to ensure even better support for children. The advances that we are making in that area continue to lift more children out of poverty.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the concerns raised by a community in my constituency about UK-born men who go abroad, get married, have families, and then return to the UK without making any arrangements at all for the family’s maintenance? Does he agree that there is an obligation on non-resident parents to provide support for their children, even if the children are living abroad and are therefore outside the immediate reach of the Child Support Agency?

Those are rather unusual circumstances. I am aware that my hon. Friend has encountered them in her constituency, and I encourage her to write to me with the details of the cases, if she does not mind. I am happy to look into them a bit further. However, it has always been part of the regulations applying to the child support system that for a maintenance calculation to be made and enforced, all the parties have to be habitually resident in the UK. I think that that is not so in the case that she has encountered, and there would therefore be difficulties in pursuing the matter, but still, if she gives me more details about it, I will look further into it for her.

Will the Minister be kind enough to look into the case of my constituent, Mrs. Faringdon, who has full-time care of her 14-year-old niece? The niece’s child benefit is still being paid to her father, despite the fact that there is a non-molestation order against him. Mrs. Faringdon would like to apply for a permanent residency order for her niece, but has been told that no funding will be available to enable her to do that, and she is unable to fund the process herself. I should be most grateful if he looked into the matter for me.

I would be more than happy for the hon. Lady to write to me with further details of the case, and I undertake to look into it. The normal rule in relation to child benefit is that it goes to the parent who has the majority of care of the child, and that is a fairly firm rule. However, the case sounds complex, so if she writes to me with further information about it, I will look into it and try to help her constituent out.

Can the Minister explain and justify the practice whereby people in emergency financial need seeking loans from the social fund are no longer being interviewed, but are required to access a telephone helpline, which is invariably engaged or unobtainable and, at best, provides a highly impersonal and unsatisfactory service?

The fact of the matter is that the telephone helpline has been introduced. I accept that there were difficulties with it initially; we have been clear about that. A great deal of extra investment has gone into it and more staff have been transferred to the helpline. I think the hon. Gentleman knows that the latest statistics show that it is performing well, calls are being answered swiftly, calls are not being lost, and support is being given in the same way as it was on a face-to-face basis. I can also confirm to him that if any of his constituents still require a face-to-face interview and do not want to proceed with a telephone application, they are entitled to ask for a face-to-face interview and it will be provided.