|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Miss McIntosh: If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I shall conclude with a four-point Conservative plan[Hon. Members: "Ooh!"] That promise may come back to haunt me. Our plan is much punchier than the rather short motion, which sets out the problem in inane terms. The motion states that the House
The Minister has identified the task ahead, and key to delivering on that task is the computer system. Where we part company from the Liberal Democratsit is why they will remain the minor third party for some substantial time to comeis on the point that if the computer system provided by a company, in this case EDS, is not working for one agency, it is unlikely to transfer to another without problems. I also have reservations because assessments of maintenance payments cannot be made if one has to wait for the P35 at the end of the year. That will cause further delays.
Mr. Laws: Does the hon. Lady accept the point that we are making in recommending that HM Revenue and Customs take over the CSA, which is the point that others, such as Resolution, have made? It is that the siting of the agency within HMRC will remove duplication and improve the flow of data about income between the agency and HMRC. Is not that the essential point?
The Minister was right to say that the agency had had more than just teething problems with the computer system. It was delivered late, some 18 months after the original date. It continues to fail families and, as recently as January 2005, 250,000 cases were stuck in the system. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman said that the figure was now 300,000. The computer system was described by the Work and Pensions Committee as "defective" and the then Committee Chairman said that such systems
I agree with the Minister that we are where we are, and we must now move forward. In addition to the problems caused by the computer system are those caused by migration. Indeed, the Committee's report asked the Minister to put a date on migration, but I think that we are still waiting. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), can give us a date when she winds up. The transfer of customers from the old to the present computer base is also causing delay and concern. Figures from the CSA September quarterly statistics show that the current case load is enormousI will not even mention the numberand that 65 per cent. of cases are in the old scheme, with 35 per cent. in the new scheme, while 306,000, or 21 per cent., have not yet even progressed to the point of calculation and assessment; and that 261,000 applications in the new scheme have not been cleared.
Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): I, too, am intrigued by the old system versus the new one. I have many constituents sitting impatiently in the old system waiting to go over to the new one. Does the hon. Lady agree that once the new system is up and running it will ease the burden and that far fewer cases will go through the clerical route? That was originally intended to be the fallback position, but has become the norm. Pressure on the system would be eased, as would pressure on the hard-pressed staff about whom we have heard.
Miss McIntosh: I do not know whether the Minister will agree but I am rapidly coming to the view that I should advise constituents to stay on the old system until substantial progress has been made under the new one. Perhaps the Minister would like to give a date for migration during this debate, because false hopes have been raised for constituents of all Members. Short of a date, remarkable improvements need to be made in handling the computer system. I hope, too, that the Minister responding to the debate will at least mention the 0.8 million telephone calls that have not been returned. There may be a good reason for that, but House should know what it is.
Mr. Weir: There is much misinformation among the agency's clients about migration. Even for people who migrate from the old to the new system there are tapering payments, and as it takes so long to migrate, many who do so will never obtain the payments that they would have received under the new system due to the age of their children.
"The Committee believes that the failure to achieve any of the Ministerial targets for the new scheme is totally unacceptable and in the opinions expressed forcefully by One Parent Families represents nothing less than a severe breach of trust."
As I said, we do not expect that the solution will be easy or that there can be a quick fix, but we are not convinced that the Inland Revenue is the answer. Its computer system shares many of the faults and defects of the CSA system and the Revenue has the disadvantage of not knowing a person's total income until the year end.
The Conservatives want to help parents with care and to set people free, thereby saving money for the benefits system, and thus the state, while making parents live up to their responsibilities. Obviously, two parents are always better than one, but the CSA has to deal with the situation to the best of its ability and I am sure that the House agrees that the system should be improved. The question is what those improvements should be, and I should like to go through them.
The case for the CSA was agreed with all-party support when it was set up in 1993. Wherever possible, children should be supported financially by both parents, rather than by the taxpayer, and the agency should play a key role in providing financial support to enable lone parents to get out of the benefit trap and into work.
We obviously look forwardI am sure that all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate will do so enthusiasticallyto visiting the Liberal Democrat website to find out when the document might be in place. However, we believe that changing the responsible Department is not the answer. It is not enough simply to point out that the Australian child support system operates under the Taxation Office and works well for reasons that the Minister correctly identified. The Australian Child Support Agency owes its success to a number of other factors that are lacking in the UK system, including continuity of case management. I hope that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead will accept that, rather than the point about caseworkers, the continuity of case management and having access to one person who is in charge of the case are the important factors.
As I said earlier, we already know that the CSA is seriously struggling. The Government are struggling to administer the tax credit system, but I will not go there today because we are all as familiar with the tax credits
17 Jan 2006 : Column 732
scenario as we are with the child support system. The well-publicised IT system failure led to 1.9 million people being overpaid and a further 700,000 were unpaid. The Inland Revenue already has collection problems, and the National Audit Office has commented that the need for more hands to sort out the tax credit problem has left the PAYE system under-staffed.
The hon. Member for Yeovil has criticised the Inland Revenue's performance and, as recently as yesterdayI know that a day is a long time in politicscalled for an independent investigation into tax credit fraud. We are slightly bemused about how he can support giving more responsibility to that Department when he questioned its performance as recently as yesterday.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|