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Child Support Agency

Volume 531: debated on Monday 18 July 2011

7. What steps he is taking to prevent disagreements between parents in their dealings with the Child Support Agency. (66535)

The current child support schemes can entrench conflict and they do not encourage parents to work together in the best interests of their children. We are taking steps to draw on a range of support to help parents collaborate to reach family-based arrangements for child maintenance wherever possible, which we believe will help the ongoing involvement of both parents in a child’s life after separation.

People in Rossendale and Darwen who deal with the CSA tell me that they find that the CSA’s approach creates trouble in what is already a strained relationship. Will the Minister please update the House about the practical steps that are to be taken to introduce a more conciliatory approach?

My hon. Friend is getting to the heart of the reform that we are looking to put in place under the future scheme, which is to make sure that parents such as his constituents get the right support up front from specialist organisations that can help them with their parental relationship post-separation. There is a growing body of evidence to show that that is one of the main determinants of whether people have an effective child maintenance regime in place after separation.

Does the Minister believe that £30 million over four years over the whole of England will be sufficient to achieve her aims? That is the £30 million from the Department for Education which is for all sorts of relationship counselling, not just in relation to the Child Support Agency?

The hon. Lady is right: finances are tough, but she is well aware of the situation that we inherited. The Department for Education is not the only Department to invest in parental relationship support. The Department for Work and Pensions already invests well over £5 million a year in the options service, which does an excellent job, as far as it goes at present, in providing some of the support that I would like to see augmented in the future.

Some parents with care had spent years trying to get money out of absent ex-partners with no success before the CSA imposed a deductions of earnings order. The Government propose to close all existing cases when the new scheme is up and running, including those with deduction of earnings orders in place. Although I welcome the Government’s emphasis on parents working together to solve problems, can the Minister reassure me that where there is a long history of non-payment, cases will not be closed and families left with no money at all?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and that is just the sort of detail we are working through. It is absolutely our intention to ensure that transitional arrangement are in place to help parents in the situation she describes to have continuing payments into the future, and I am certainly making that a priority.