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Fourth Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation
Wednesday 29 October 2003
[David Taylor in the Chair]
Child Support (Miscellaneous
Amendments) (No. 2) Regulations 2003
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 2) Regulations 2003.
May I first say, Mr. Taylor, what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship for the first time? I know that you have long taken an interest in this issue and that you will want to ensure that the Committee applies proper scrutiny to the regulations.
We had hoped that some Conservative Members would be present, but as the Committee will be aware, another event is taking place only yards from where we are at the moment, which may attract more public and media attention than even our proceedings. We may not understand it, but we know why Opposition Members have decided to put narrow party political interests before those of children, which are the main focus of our debate.
As the name ''miscellaneous'' suggests, the regulations cover many aspects of the new child support arrangements introduced on 3 March and of the provisions that govern the transfer of cases from the old scheme to the new arrangements. The package also includes amendments to the old scheme regulations, which will continue to apply for some time yet. The Secretary of State will announce the date when old scheme cases will convert to the new scheme only when he is convinced that the new scheme is working well.
I should perhaps clarify one point, which is the use of the term ''he'' for the non-resident parent and ''she'' for the parent with care throughout the regulations and the debate this afternoon. That is not intended to indicate that the provisions apply to either men or women exclusively. Either men or women may be non-resident parents or parents with care, but in reality 90 per cent. of parents with care are women and 90 per cent. of non-resident parents are men. I hope that the Committee will forgive me for using that terminology.
As I have said, the amendments cover arrangements for the new scheme, the old scheme and the transitional arrangements. It is necessary to amend some provisions that have recently come into force to reflect the fact that the world has moved on since we originally made regulations for the new scheme. Some of the amendments in the package are consequential on changes made elsewhere; some are changes in terminology; and the rest make minor technical corrections to reflect the intended detail of the child support scheme. To help Committee members, we have provided a ''Keeling'' schedule to show how the
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regulations, as amended, will look. I must stress that that is for guidance only, but I hope it is helpful.
Hon. Members will be relieved to hear that I do not intend to explain the intentions of each amendment. However, I should like to draw Members' attention to some of the more significant changes.
The amendments made by regulation 2 are consequential on the introduction of the state pension credit, which replaces the minimum income guarantee—the title given to income support for people aged 60 or over. Under the old child support scheme, it is possible in prescribed circumstances to seek a departure from the standard formula for making a maintenance assessment. The amendments provide that recipients of state pension credit shall not have or be subject to a departure in certain circumstances, which mirrors the provisions for parents who were receiving the minimum income guarantee. That is because a person who receives a state pension credit will, like those previously on the minimum income guarantee, be treated as having no assessable income for the purposes of making a maintenance assessment. Therefore, a departure, if one could be given, would have no effect on the amount of maintenance payable. The amendment prevents a pointless application being made.
Regulation 3 makes several amendments to the old scheme maintenance assessment procedure regulations, and one amendment relates again to the introduction of the state pension credit. The amendments made by the remainder of regulation 3 take account of the changes made to residential allowances in income support and income-based jobseeker's allowance and of changes in terminology in relation to care homes in light of both Department of Health and Scottish legislation.
Under the old child support scheme, a parent with care is required to apply for a maintenance assessment if income support or income-based jobseeker's allowance is claimed by or is payable in respect of her. If, without good cause, she does not co-operate with the Child Support Agency, she may be subject to a reduced benefit direction. That lowers the amount of her benefit.
The amendments will ensure that reduced benefit directions are suspended if the parent with care is in a residential care home or independent hospital or, in Scotland, is provided with a care home or independent care service. Such suspension is necessary because parents with care are normally left with only the personal allowance rate of some £17 of income support when they move into such accommodation or receive such services. That allowance is clearly not of a sufficient level to sustain a reduced benefit direction. The amendment reflects changes in other legislation.
The amendments made by regulation 4 are to the Child Support (Maintenance Assessments and Special Cases) Regulations 1992, which relate to the old child support scheme. They are mostly technical and are a consequence of changes made by other legislation. For example, to correspond with the treatment of the minimum income guarantee, recipients of state
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pension credit will be treated as having no assessable income for child maintenance purposes.
The amendment also ensures that when fees for a care home, independent hospital, independent health care service or care home service are paid by a non-resident parent, they are taken into account in calculating exempt and protected income. Exempt income estimates an amount of income for the non-resident parent's own needs, and protected income determines whether a non-resident parent can afford to pay the assessed maintenance. That corresponds to the previous treatment whereby a non-resident parent paid fees to what used to be termed a nursing or residential care home.
The amendments made by regulation 4 further ensure that a war widower's pension is treated equitably with a war widow's pension in relation to income disregards, which is an amount of money not taken account of for calculating maintenance. A war widower's pension will attract a £10 a week disregard. Regulation 4 also ensures that payments provided under the supporting people scheme, helping people to live independently, are disregarded when calculating child maintenance liability.
The amendments to the new scheme maintenance calculation procedure regulations made by regulation 5 are consequential to changes made to remove the residential allowance in income support or income-based jobseeker's allowance and to changes in terminology relating to care homes. I have already outlined those changes when talking about the old scheme changes made by regulation 3, and hon. Members will be relieved to hear that I feel no need to repeat myself as regulation 5 does the same job.
Regulation 6 makes several amendments to the Child Support (Maintenance Calculations and Special Cases) Regulations 2000, which again relate to the new child support scheme. The most substantive change is to cases in which a non-resident parent has to pay maintenance under both child support rules and a court order at the same time, but in respect of different children. The amendment ensures that the payment made to qualifying children under child support rules is never less than the flat rate of maintenance, which is £5 a week. That provides consistency with other new scheme provisions that prevent liabilities from falling below the flat rate amount.
The amendments made by regulation 6 further ensure that the correct categories of person are liable to pay a flat rate of maintenance of £5 a week when in receipt of training allowance payments while undergoing work-related training. The amendments also provide that a non-resident parent who receives a war widower's pension shall have a flat rate liability of £5 a week, which again ensures they receive the same treatment as war widows.
The transitional regulations make provision for how and when old scheme cases will convert to the new scheme. They allow changes in liability to be phased in over a period up to five years in specified cases. Phasing is intended to allow parents with care and non-resident parents time to adjust their household budgets. It is crucial to the success of the
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new scheme that phasing is allowed to work properly. It is worth stressing that the Child Support Agency fully intends to enforce the phasing arrangements.
The several amendments to the transitional regulations made by regulation 7 ensure that the provisions in this complex area work as we intend them to. For example, in the old child support scheme, a non-resident parent can apply for an adjustment in recognition of a property or capital settlement made before April 1993. The transitional regulations provide that when a case with such an allowance is converted to the new scheme, that allowance becomes a relevant property transfer. In the new scheme, a maintenance calculation can be varied to take account of a pre-1993 transfer. The amendment made by regulation 7 makes it clear that a non-resident parent cannot have both a relevant property transfer and a variation in respect of the same pre-1993 property or capital transfer at the same time. Without the amendment, the non-resident parent would have two separate adjustments to his weekly liability—