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DELEGATED LEGISLATION

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Ordered,

Immigration



    That the draft National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) Order 2000, which was laid before this House on 20th January, be approved.--[Mr. Betts.]

    COMMITTEES

    Public Administration

Ordered,


    That Mr. Richard Shepherd be discharged from the Select Committee on Public Administration and Mr. Michael Trend be added to the Committee.--[Mr. Keith Bradley.]

1 Feb 2000 : Column 1017

Child Support Agency

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Betts.]

9.53 pm

Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood): This debate is about the Child Support Agency's handling of the case of one of my constituents. The issues are difficult and affect families--especially young children--in my constituency. I would not normally give the names of the people involved, but my constituent has already spoken publicly about the case. As the matter is in the public domain, there is no difficulty about mentioning his name.

I unreservedly welcome many of the positive reforms that the Government are carrying out in respect of the CSA. I hope that those changes will mean that the circumstances of my constituent's case are never repeated.

A summary of the case will enable the House to understand how badly my constituent, Mr. Reilly, was treated by the agency. I shall go over the case, deal with some of the issues and perhaps request my hon. Friend the Minister to investigate some of the more pressing concerns of my constituent and myself.

The agency made deductions from Mr. Reilly's earnings, and as a consequence he could not maintain his mortgage payments and then lost his house. Mr. Reilly's health suffered; indeed, his own GP is on record as stating that he suffered stress. As a consequence, he also lost his job.

I have been involved in this terrible case for a long time. Mr. Reilly came to my first ever constituency surgery, in the month after the general election. I believe that he has been at every one since. I have written more than 50 individual letters about the case, to officials, the agency, the independent case examiner and Ministers. I have met representatives of the agency on two separate occasions at two different venues to discuss the specifics of the case. I even attended the tribunal hearing relating to the case. Despite the years of effort and the many hours of meetings and letter writing, we still have not obtained any justice for Mr. Reilly.

Let me explain the facts of the case. I shall deal with the issue of the assessment and how the tribunal dealt with the case, and then I shall make a plea for proper compensation for Mr. Reilly.

In the process of assessment that contributed to so many of the difficulties, the agency did not take into account all the figures, all the factors and all the circumstances involved in the family. Mr. Reilly paid more than £7,000 in maintenance. He has since received £1,600 of that back, but not all the figures relating to the relationship between the agency and the Benefits Agency were properly administered, communicated or dealt with. The independent case examiner, who recently reported on the case, said that


That contributed to the serious problems that my constituent experienced.

We then sought the tribunal hearing--which I attended, as I said--and the tribunal made certain recommendations arising from the case. However, the recommendations were not acted on and they did not improve my constituent's life. Then the case was closed, despite the

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fact that the recommendations had not been acted on. The independent case examiner said in his report that he was concerned about the way in which the agency had acted upon the tribunal's decisions, and recommended that £1,600 of the £7,000 be returned.

I emphasise that, although I attended the tribunal; although more than 50 letters were written; and despite the meetings that I had with officials, the tribunal's findings and recommendations were not acted on.

I shall now discuss compensation--a subject that I recently had reason to discuss with the chief executive of the agency, Miss Faith Boardman. I also had correspondence from the special payments unit of the Child Support Agency. I quote the recent correspondence:


The purpose of compensation payments is clear, and the special payments unit has publicly stated it.

Throughout that process, Mr. Reilly received a £100 compensation payment while an independent case examiner's report was being prepared and written. Point 25 of the report recommended that a "substantial" compensation payment should be made to my constituent for the harassment and the consequences of the CSA's maladministration in terms of loss of employment, loss of health and loss of home.

Inevitably, I have become closely involved in the case and feel strongly about it. On the day on which Mr. Reilly received that letter, he came into my parliamentary office. For the first time he had come not seeking advice but offering thanks--in fact, bringing presents of a very small monetary value, well below any level of declarable interests. He was delighted by the independent case examiner's recommendation that there should be substantial compensation, as was I. After more than two years of effort, I thought that we had achieved some justice for my constituent. At best, I was surprised--

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mrs. McGuire.]

Mr. Murphy: I did not expect to have to give way to my Whip during the debate, but I shall not detain the House for much longer.

When we received the letter, we felt a sense of achievement. I have written more correspondence, had more meetings and expended more energy on this case than on any other of the many cases with which I have been involved. I thought that, finally, we had achieved justice and compensation.

The sense of disappointment, surprise and annoyance--however one wishes to describe it--was considerable when the Child Support Agency acted on the recommendation of the independent case examiner. It provided by post a cheque to my constituent, as compensation for its maladministration and mistreatment of him over several years, for the princely sum of £50.

I have not had time this evening to check a dictionary definition of the word "compensation". However, I know that under no circumstances would £50 be thought to be considerable or substantial compensation. We felt real disappointment at the way in which the compensation issue has been dealt with on my constituent's behalf.

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In recent discussions with the Child Support Agency, I asked it whether £50 was considered to be substantial. It admitted that it was not. I therefore make a plea for justice on my constituent's behalf. I would not normally try to secure an Adjournment debate or detain the House on an individual case, but I hope that the Minister understands that I believe that I have exhausted every other avenue, including writing an incredible amount of correspondence. That is my job, and I am not asking for acknowledgment of that. However, there has been so much correspondence and so many meetings, and I have felt so frustrated by the highs and lows that I have experienced that I felt that there was no other option than to apply for an Adjournment debate.

I hope to achieve three things from the debate. First, I hope that there will be a thorough investigation of the communications between the Child Support Agency and the Benefits Agency and that the full facts, the full figures and, crucially, the dates relating to the case are put into the public domain. The key to that is the communication that did or did not take place between the Child Support Agency and the Benefits Agency.

My second aim is related to my first. I hope that there will be an investigation into how much Mr. Reilly should have paid. He is comfortable about contributing and wishes to pay his fair share based on the formula, but how much should he have paid? If the investigation finds that he has paid more than he could fairly be expected to pay, some of the £7,000 should be repaid to him. Of course, £1,600 has been repaid as a result of the case examiner's report, but an investigation should still be carried out into the substantial sum that he paid.

My third aim is perhaps the most important. I know that there is no formal appeal process, but I urge that there should be a review of the level of compensation that is paid. Bearing in mind all the difficulties that my constituent and his new family have experienced over a number of years and the stress and the impact on Mr. Reilly's family life, there should be a full review of the level of compensation. I know that others--probably rightly--have received much more substantial payments than £50. I urge that, in the review, the £50 figure is upgraded substantially in line with the independent case examiner's report, so that Mr. Reilly can at least have some financial recompense to help him and his family to rebuild their lives.


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