Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by The Children's Society (CS 37)

  1. The Children's Society have been actively involved in the establishment, workings and revision of the CSA. As a national organisation serving the needs of children and young people we welcome the proposed reforms and the child-centred spirit in which they are made.

  2. Although the White Paper has corrected many of the inconsistencies in the Green Paper and is obviously the result of wide and thorough consultation there are still outstanding overall concerns. These include the continuing reliance on compulsion to make the new system work and the resulting two tier system of child support. We would hope that once the new system is operating smoothly, the element of compulsion be removed, before considering whether to introduce fees.

  3. The formula: We agree that a simple formula which enables parents to be clear from the outset on the extent of their financial responsibility is likely to be perceived as fair and will generate cooperation. We also agree that the average amount should be lower than currently collected in order to appeal to non-resident parents. Although it has an element of rough justice, it appears to be the best compromise between clarity and fairness.

  4. Child maintenance premium: We welcome the maintenance premium and believe it will provide a tangible benefit to children as well as create a real incentive to cooperate with the Agency. We are concerned about the uncertainty caused to resident parents by irregular payments as well as the administrative complications to the CSA. We would recommend the £10 premium to be guaranteed by the CSA with the money recouped when payment is made. This would provide a secure and regular payment to benefit the poorest children and smooth the running of the new system.

  5. Second families: It is essential to a child-centred system that liability should be treated equally for all children. For this reason we recommend the second option presented in the Green Paper which calculates maintenance for ALL the non resident parent's children and then splits it equally. It is not clear how the new scheme can "show a slight preference to children in the first family" and yet say `there will be no `first class' and `second class' children in the second family, when inevitably some of the children in the second family will be the children of a first family for another resident parent.

  6. Good cause: Whilst we see the advantages in linking the Income Support claiming process with that for child support, it must be made absolutely clear to the resident parent that an Income Support application will trigger a child support claim AND that the resident parent can pull out from the child support claim if there is good cause. These would be the minimum guarantees necessary to avoid parents not applying for Income Support for fear of harm or undue distress as a result of a child support claim.

  7. Non cooperation is not a widespread problem now, as shown by the Closer Working with the Benefits Agency. This combined with the lack of evidence showing that the Reduced Benefit Direction (RBD) has any effect on rates of compliance with the CSA points to the need to abolish RBD. This penalty is unfair to families on low incomes and works to the detriment of their children.

  8. Shared care: Whilst we agree with the arrangements set out for shared care, it is still not clear why daytime care cannot be included. In principle a full day spent with a parent is as easy to establish as a night. Not to do so discriminates against non resident parents on low incomes and non resident parents with several children who cannot afford the extra housing costs necessary for overnight stays.

  9. Timetable of reform: We would argue for the immediate implementation of specific reforms such as the abolition of the reduced benefit penalty and the introduction of the child maintenance premium, with other changes to be introduced incrementally by the year 2001.

  10. Collecting maintenance: We would recommend maintenance to be deducted from benefits before any other deductions. Given that only so many deductions can be made from benefits before reaching the protected income level, it is important that child maintenance be given first priority.

  11. Promoting the reforms: Given the loss of confidence in the existing child support system and its poor success, we feel it is indispensable to actively promote the new system as a radical overhaul with tangible incentives for resident parents to cooperate in return for a service that really does work.

  12. Timetable of reform: We would argue for the immediate implementation of specific reforms such as the abolition of the reduced benefit penalty and the introduction of the child maintenance premium, with other changes to be introduced incrementally by the year 2001.

  13. As a national childcare organisation working with families and children in over 90 projects in England and Wales, we are also very aware of the practical difficulties of people's lives, the importance of providing an efficient and friendly service as well as one that is integrated into other provisions relating to families on benefits. Whilst the White paper may not touch on them directly, we hope those concerns will be addressed.

September 1999

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