Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 303 - 319)




  303. Ladies and gentlemen, can I reconvene the session. We welcome Families Need Fathers and welcome back Jim Parton who has given evidence to the Committee in other circumstances before and he is joined by Ms Karen Randall and Mr Barry Pearson. Jim, I think the best thing we could do is start with a short opening statement from you if you would not mind doing that.
  (Mr Parton) First of all, I should introduce my colleagues. We have here a father, a mother and stepmother, and a taxpayer. I have to say that Barry is not a father.

  304. Do you fight amongst yourselves?
  (Mr Parton) What we hope to prove is that it is possible not to fight over these things and we are possibly not all that far from a CSA which is workable provided of course you hoist on board what we have put in our submission of which Karen was the author and Barry did the numbers and mathematical modelling. I should say that Barry is a business analyst at a very well-known computer company with a specialism in welfare reform so he does know what he is talking about.

  305. We might speak to him later in the car park about the CSA's IT system.
  (Mr Parton) As I was saying, we do not think that the CSA is doomed, which is a markedly different position from the one we had perhaps a year or two ago. In around 75 per cent of cases they are not shared parenting cases and the White Paper reforms it would seem to us work for cases where there is no shared parenting element. So, if you like, we are conceding what the White Paper is saying although there is obviously some detail. The other 25 per cent of cases are shared parenting. We very much welcome the White Paper's new definition which is 52 nights to be regarded as a shared parenting arrangement rather than 104. We very much welcome that. Now I am afraid the failure to take into account at all the parent with care's income leads to all sorts of problems. That, as I say, is 25 per cent of the CSA's caseload. We think it is a bigger problem than that because a large number of private cases are also shared care parenting cases and we think that the new CSA scheme should encompass them as well or at least be there as a guideline should people want to use it. We believe it should be made to work for them as well. That is all I have to say by way of introduction. On the details you are probably going to hear less from me than from Karen and from Barry.

  306. Do you feel as an organisation that you have had proper and adequate access to ministers and officials in the consultation process?
  (Mr Parton) Yes.

  307. Are you confident that as the regulations get produced as a result of the primary legislation once it is enacted (whenever that may be) that you will get access to ministers and officials during that process also?
  (Mr Parton) Yes. I have to say that the stakeholders meetings have been a good exercise. Karen attends those and we have been given all the information that we need.
  (Ms Randall) Our concerns would be around the ones expressed earlier that it is the detail of this that needs to be scrutinised and we are anxious to know that scrutiny does take place. We think that is very important. A lot of what is wrong with the current legislation is in the detail.

  308. In fact, it has just been pointed out to me since I made the statement earlier that the Social Security Advisory Committee, I did not know fully appreciate this, I have to confess my ignorance, do not actually have the remit to cover child support regulations and statutory instruments. I see from the look on your face, Jim, that you did not know that either.
  (Mr Parton) No, I did not.

  309. Which consoles me slightly. That is a real problem. If we do not have access to the expertise that the Social Security Advisory Committee have built up on statutory instruments and other parts of social security law and it is not available to us in child support measures that is an added reason to be concerned about that issue. You are sounding as if the situation is a lot better than it was, that the anger that we have seen demonstrated in past years within families who have been subjected to some of the worse excesses, if you like to put it pejoratively, of the existing CSA has abated slightly. Why is that the case do you think?
  (Mr Parton) I do not accept that. The anger is still there and the anger is authentic. What we are attempting to do is be constructive about the future of the CSA. Obviously we would be beating our heads against a brick wall suggesting it is going to be abolished. It is not going to be abolished so we are trying to guide you to introduce a system that will be broadly acceptable to fathers and to mothers.

  310. Do you think there are people out there who, apart from those who are trying to avoid liabilities, that are struggling to pay the demands that are placed on them and would continue to find that difficult even if the administrative system were improved?
  (Mr Parton) Very much so, yes.

  311. Have you got any evidence of that?
  (Ms Randall) We have evidence in qualitative terms of members who come to us who are struggling to make their payments not because they do not want to but because they cannot.

  312. You have got documented cases of that where you believe that is true and not just an excuse?
  (Ms Randall) We believe those are true, yes, that there is genuine hardship.

  313. But you think that if some of the suggestions that you are making here, and they are robustly argued, were to be adopted then you think that the worse excesses could be dealt with and make the system more acceptable?
  (Ms Randall) Broadly, as Jim suggested, we think the proposals that have been put forward here are simple. They have the benefit of being simple and because they are simple assessments can be made quickly. It is transparent system and for 75 per cent of cases where there is no shared care involved we think (with a few reservations) that is a workable system. We accept the argument, for example, that parent with care income does not need to be looked at in cases where there is no shared care. We accept the argument that 15 per cent for one child represents half of what it costs for one child and therefore the parent with care is already paying her half when she is looking after the child 100 per cent of the time. Our problems begin in cases where there is shared care which is currently 25 per cent of the case load and we do expect that to increase when private cases are brought into the Child Support Agency which they inevitably will be. We expect that the parent with care income will become a factor. In shared care cases we have to lose the terms "parent with care" and "non-resident parent" to make sense of how the formula will actually work. Where a mother looks after a child for four nights a week and the father has the child for three nights a week they are both at times the parent with care and the non-resident parent. So the mother is parent with care four nights a week and non-resident parent for the three nights a week the child is with the father. I hope that you looked at some of our case studies where it is represented diagrammatically. What happens is that even in those cases money is all flowing in one direction, normally it is only flowing from the father to the mother, even in shared care cases. So a shared care child receives no support from the state in terms of Child Benefit or from the other parent when they are being cared for by the father. That sets up a situation where we are likely to see children being affected by child poverty issues when they are with their non-resident parent. Also it introduces the rather perverse outcome that it is always going to be cheaper for fathers to abandon their children and never to see them than it is for them to care for their children. When they care for their children they will actually be paying more in every single case where the parent with care income is not taken into account.
  (Mr Parton) I think that is a point we would like to emphasise. The responsible father, if he wants to pay his child support, wants to see his children and give that emotional support which everybody agrees is very important, is penalised under the proposals. We cannot see that is desirable, it will create a great deal of angst.

Mr Pond

  314. I want to stay with the shared care issue. You said that 25 per cent of the caseload would come into that definition, presumably on the new definition of 52?
  (Mr Parton) It may be more under the new definition.
  (Ms Randall) Fifty two under the old definition but the Child Support Agency at the moment are not able to record one night of shared care, they only start recording it where it is more than two nights of shared care. So they actually do not know what the numbers are between zero and two nights of shared care. We expect it to be higher than that but we are not sure how much higher.

  315. So 25 per cent of the caseload currently is where the non-resident parent has the child for at least two nights a week and we do not have a break down about nights beyond that, we just know that it is two or more, is that right?
  (Ms Randall) I do not know if there is a break down.
  (Mr Pearson) I have not seen one.

  316. In your proposals in the submission you treat those cases very much symmetrically. You are arguing that if you take account of 15 per cent of the non-resident parent's income you should also take account of 15 per cent or whatever the percentage, depending on the number of children, of the parent with care's income. There is also an issue about where the child benefit comes. I am sure the case will be put that life is not symmetrical in that way and that taking a simple percentage of 25 per cent for two or more is not necessarily a reflection of the balance between parents in terms of the responsibilities that they have to carry. How would you respond to that point?
  (Ms Randall) When we tried to set out for you as simply as we could diagrammatically how it might work. We have allocated costs to each parent per night. We have argued that there is a fixed cost involved in bringing up a child so that the first night of care will carry a higher cost than each subsequent night. So the first night will include, for example, housing costs, that is a fixed cost. Subsequent nights will cover food and that will be a lesser cost and we have apportioned it that way. For where there is even one night of shared care there is clearly a big leap in the spend on the child by the non-resident parent and that will cover the fixed cost and subsequent nights cost less. What we are not arguing is that children do not cost much money, we are saying that in shared care arrangements they do cost money and they cost more money. The reason they cost more money is because there are duplicated costs and there are these fixed costs. We are acknowledging that children cost money, we are not trying to say that they do not. What we are trying to say is that they cost money for both parents, not just for one parent. The caring role of the father has been ignored in the way that has been worked out under these proposals.

  317. The National Council for One Parent Families this morning was actually opposed to the reduction in maintenance assessment for shared care because they made the point that in very many cases the parent with care is on a very low income, very often on income support levels of income, and therefore to have any reduction in the payment to the parent with care, even if that is offset by the fact that there is some additional expenditure by the non-resident parent, pushes the parent with care below the poverty line and therefore pushes the child below the poverty line. How do you respond to that?
  (Ms Randall) Although it would have an impact it would not reduce their benefit, they would be entitled to the same amount of benefits, it would not take them below the benefit level.

  318. That is why I said income support levels of income.
  (Ms Randall) They remain steady. It also doesn't affect the disregard and they receive the £10 disregard amount. Our argument is that the money is for child support, it has to follow the child. When a child is not with that parent it is right that the money follows the child into the household which the child is in. That could also be a low income family. If that is a non-resident parent on benefit that will directly benefit the child in that household and not create another set of child poverty somewhere else where it is being alleviated in one place and created in another. All we are saying is that we accept the percentage system, we accept the simplification, that has to happen, we are just saying apply it equally in shared care cases so that it is transparent. We have heard quite a lot about will the system be accepted, will compliance increase. The system will be accepted and compliance will increase if it is seen to be fair. I think the shared care proposals are so discriminatory that they are a major obstacle to it being accepted.

  319. The shared care proposals are based very much on overnight care and there is a feeling that to take day time care into the equation would be too complex. Does your organisation have a view on that?
  (Ms Randall) We did discuss this with Baroness Hollis when we were consulting around that. We have accepted the argument that it is simpler to keep it as it is and to base it on nights.
  (Mr Parton) In the real world we concede that. It is not something we feel comfortable conceding but we are trying to get a system, as I say, which is broadly acceptable and which will work. We would now like to move on from this whole CSA thing, it is not what Families Need Fathers was set up for, we were set up for people to actually see their children more, to campaign for that and things like contact orders in the courts not being worth the paper they are written on.

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