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Mr. Dunne: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether consent orders by courts may be (a) taken into account and (b) over-ridden by the Child Support Agency in assessing non-resident parents for maintenance in a case where a non-resident parent has agreed to pay sums in lieu of maintenance. 
Under the new child support scheme non-resident parents and parents with care may apply for a variation" to the maintenance calculation. A non-resident parent can apply to have their maintenance reduced to reflect a transfer of property or capital to the parent with care.
This applies where the transfer was valued at £5,000 or more and was made as a result of a court order or written maintenance agreement made prior to 5 April 1993, and the transfer was made in lieu of ongoing child maintenance. These were often referred to as clean break" settlements. In all other cases transfers of property or capital cannot be reflected in maintenance liabilities.
A variation is allowed only where it is just and equitable". Broadly this means that the result of the variation must be fair, taking account of all the circumstances of the case, and, in particular, the welfare of any child likely to be affected. This includes the child for whom maintenance is paid as well as any other children living with either parent.
An order for periodical payments of maintenance made, by consent or otherwise, before 3 March 2003 will usually prevent an application for child support maintenance unless the parent with care has claimed a prescribed benefit. Such an order made after that date will prevent an application for a year, again unless the parent with care claims benefit. When a maintenance calculation is made in a case where an order exists, that part of the order which provides for periodical payment of maintenance ceases to have effect.
Mr. Oaten: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will take steps to ensure that the Child Support Agency (CSA) takes into account previous voluntary payments to former partners in excess of CSA awards when assessing future awards. 
Mr. Plaskitt: In cases assessed under the new scheme, child support liability is based on the non-resident parent's net weekly income and the number of children in their previous and current families.
When a child maintenance application is made there is often a gap between the date the responsibility for maintenance begins and the date the maintenance calculation is completed. Voluntary payments made during this period may be offset against any arrears which exist once maintenance has been calculated. If the total amount of the voluntary payments exceeds any arrears, the amount payable under a current maintenance calculation can be reduced to take account of those voluntary payments but the amount payable cannot be reduced to less than £5 per week.
These voluntary payments can include those made by non-resident parents for child maintenance, to provide for some of the basic needs of their children, or for household bills (such as mortgage repayments or for gas or electricity costs). They may have been made to the person with care or to the Child Support Agency.
Mr. Paul Goodman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his latest estimate is of the proportion of sickness absence days taken at the Child Support Agency in the last five years that were due to stress and other mental health problems. 
You asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his latest estimate is of the proportion of sickness absence days taken at the Child Support Agency in the last five years that were due to stress and other mental health problems.
|April 2003-March 2004||31.8|
|April 2004-March 2005||32|
|April 2005-October 2005||24.7|
Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what the nature is of technical problems affecting the Child Support Agency's new computer system; and if he will make a statement; 
(3) how many payments to single parents have been delayed due to the technical problems affecting the Child Support Agency's new computer system; and if he will make a statement. 
In reply to your recent Parliamentary Question about the Child Support Agency, the Secretary of State promised a substantive reply from the Chief Executive. The Chief Executive is currently unavailable as he is communicating the Operational Improvement Plan to all Agency staff. I am responding on his behalf.
The new child support scheme was introduced on 3 March 2003. It has been well publicised that there has been a number of technical problems with the performance of the new computer system (CS2) from this date. A great deal of work has been carried out to improve the stability of the new computer system (CS2) and operational performance has improved to the point where contracted service levels are now consistently being met.
There are still a number of defects in the CS2 computer system which can prevent some cases from progressing. The clerical process allows staff to progress these cases off-line to ensure that any money paid in by the non-resident parent is paid out to the parent with care.
Where a payment has not been issued by the system a manual payment can be requested. The Agency has a process for manual payments which has reduced delays in issuing such payments to clients. In such circumstances, a hold is placed on the computer system to prevent it from releasing the funds pending recovery and adjustment of the accounts. Further investigation is taking place to ensure that this system is effective.
We have around 3,400 customers who are regularly paid their maintenance manually. This includes a mix of payment frequenciesi.e. weekly, monthly, 2- monthly, 6-monthly etc. Iam unable to give a breakdown between computer failure and other reasons for payments having to be made manually.
Work is ongoing to remedy the problems with the new computer system, and future IT releases are planned during 2006 and 2007 to resolve the various system performance issues and build on the improvements already made.
Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of (a) the costs in staff time and (b) other costs associated with the delayed introduction and faulty performance of the CS2 computer system since its introduction in March 2003. 
[holding answer 12 January 2006]: The Work and Pensions Select Committee have also requested this information and the Child Support Agency will be providing a response to them shortly.
27 Mar 2006 : Column 727W
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