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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2007



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. David Amess
Betts, Mr. Clive (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab)
David, Mr. Wayne (Caerphilly) (Lab)
Flynn, Paul (Newport, West) (Lab)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) (Lab)
Joyce, Mr. Eric (Falkirk) (Lab)
Lancaster, Mr. Mark (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con)
Laws, Mr. David (Yeovil) (LD)
Mactaggart, Fiona (Slough) (Lab)
Miller, Mrs. Maria (Basingstoke) (Con)
Moss, Mr. Malcolm (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con)
Newmark, Mr. Brooks (Braintree) (Con)
Ottaway, Richard (Croydon, South) (Con)
Plaskitt, Mr. James (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions)
Raynsford, Mr. Nick (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
Salter, Martin (Reading, West) (Lab)
Truswell, Mr. Paul (Pudsey) (Lab)
Willott, Jenny (Cardiff, Central) (LD)
Chris Shaw, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Third Delegated Legislation Committee

Thursday 5 July 2007

[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

Draft Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2007

2.35 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2007.
This is the first time that I have had the pleasure of speaking under your chairmanship, Mr. Amess, and I am pleased to be able to do so. As some in the Room know, yesterday the House gave an unopposed Second Reading to the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill. The debate was interesting and well informed, and as the Bill makes its way through the House and another place, I am sure that there will be many more such debates.
The Bill is concerned with the long-term radical reform of the child support system. The reforms set out in the Bill will deliver a child maintenance system that can achieve the important objectives that we have set for it: to help tackle child poverty, to promote parental responsibility, to provide a cost-effective and professional service and to be simple and transparent.
However, before those reforms can be introduced, there is still the current challenge of improving the performance of the Child Support Agency. The agency’s operational improvement plan is already leading to significant progress in several key areas.
2.36 pm
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
2.51 pm
On resuming—
Mr. Plaskitt: I was referring to the operational improvement plan. We expect that the agency will build upon the early improvements that we have already seen emerging from the plan during the remainder of its period.
The Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2007 are also focused on the current schemes. They will tackle problems that have been identified in existing regulations. Those need to be addressed now before the proposals of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill start to take effect. The regulations do three things. First, they change the way that the Child Support Agency calculates the net earnings of a self-employed non-resident parent. Secondly, they end the geographical restrictions on the courts’ jurisdiction over child support enforcement cases. Thirdly, they increase the time allowed for a non-resident parent who lives abroad to make an appeal and the notice period that the agency must give such a non-resident parent before commencing certain enforcement proceedings.
The changes to self-employed income became necessary following last year’s judgment of the House of Lords in the case of Smith. That was an exceptional case. Nevertheless the Law Lords found that the meaning in legislation of “taxable profits”, which provides the basis for calculating such earnings, was ambiguous. The Law Lords ruled that the agency’s interpretation of “taxable profits” was incorrect. We have therefore taken this opportunity to clarify what we mean by providing a definition of “taxable profits” which corresponds to that used by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and to change the information used by the agency to calculate self-employed earnings.
The result is that self-employed earnings as assessed by the agency will now more closely match those of HMRC. Currently, the agency uses the self-assessment tax return as the primary source from which to obtain a total taxable profits figure and calculate self-employed earnings. If a return is not available the agency has looked to the tax collection notice supplied by HMRC to the taxpayer instead. Following these amendments the agency will use the tax calculation notice as the primary source of information. This means that the agency will be basing assessments on earnings information which have been agreed by HMRC.
A key feature of the Smith case was the question of whether capital allowances should have been taken into account when calculating the non-resident parent’s income. The majority ruling of the Law Lords was that in the current scheme they should not. However, we believe that it is right to acknowledge the reality that, over time, assets tend to lose their value and that the loss should be offset against business income. This is something recognised both by HMRC and in accounting practices. By using the tax calculation notice as the basis for the assessment, capital allowances will automatically be taken into account. The changes reflect our original policy intention that the profits of a self-employed person which are assessable for tax should be the basis for the maintenance calculation.
The new method will be administratively straightforward and, because it provides a closer link to HMRC rules, will be more easily understood by parents. It also mirrors how we are proposing to recognise earnings from self-employment in the future child maintenance scheme. The existing child support schemes provide an alternative method for calculating self-employment earnings when information submitted to or supplied by HMRC is not available. Under this method, earnings are obtained by deducting from gross business receipts, statutory deductions such as income tax and national insurance contributions, and allowable business expenses. Currently, depreciation is not an allowable expense. These regulations reverse that, providing recognition of depreciation which will broadly mirror that intended for capital allowances.
Regulation 3 inserts a definition of “taxable profits” into the Child Support (Information, Evidence and Disclosure) Regulations 1992, by reference to the Income Tax (Trading and Other Income) Act 2005. It also amends those regulations so that the Agency can demand any information that is required from a non-resident parent to determine their taxable profits. Regulation 4 amends the Child Support (Maintenance Assessments and Special Cases) Regulations 1992 to bring the new methods of calculating self-employed earnings into effect for the old child support scheme. Regulation 5 makes the same adjustments to the new scheme by amending the Child Support (Maintenance Calculations and Special Cases) Regulations 2000. The Child Support Agency has a number of enforcement measures at its disposal to ensure that non-resident parents meet their child maintenance liabilities.
Obtaining a liability order is usually the agency’s first step to enforcing child support debt. At present, an application for a liability order must be heard in the court in the area in which the non-resident parent resides. That means that the agency cannot make an application for a liability order against a non-resident parent who falls within the agency’s jurisdiction and lives abroad.
Similarly, appeals against deduction from earnings orders or enforcement of liability orders by distress must be heard in the court in the area in which the non-resident parent resides. That effectively means that non-resident parents who fall within the agency’s jurisdiction and who live abroad are unable to exercise a right of appeal in those cases. That is clearly wrong and so we have removed those restrictions.
To complement the extension of the courts jurisdiction, the regulations double the time allowed for overseas non-resident parents to appeal against a decision to impose a deduction from earnings order to 56 days. They also extend the minimum notice period that the Child Support Agency must give an overseas non-resident parent when it intends to obtain a liability order to 28 days.
Removing the restriction on the courts jurisdiction will allow the agency to pursue centralisation of actions in respect of liability orders in future, which will improve the efficiency of its enforcement of maintenance arrears.
To effect the required changes to the courts jurisdiction and the relevant notice periods, regulation 2 makes a series of amendments to the Child Support (Collection and Enforcement) Regulations 1992. I am satisfied that the statutory instrument before us is compatible with the European convention on human rights and I commend the regulations to the Committee.
2.57 pm
Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I have read with care the debate on the regulations in the other place and have listened carefully to what the Minister has said. The regulations affect the calculation of child maintenance and it is important that we debate them in full. It is also important that we have a clear understanding of what the impact of the regulations will be and that all members of the Committee are satisfied that they do not adversely affect the welfare of the children involved.
In his opening comments, the Minister plainly said that it is the Government’s intention to use child maintenance to help to achieve the policy objectives of tackling child poverty and promoting parental responsibility, and that, by inference, the regulations share those objectives.
Self-employed, non-resident parents account for only 8 per cent. of Child Support Agency cases, which is a very small amount, but they account for a disproportionate number of assessment and enforcement issues. Therefore it is important that we get the regulations right. We are meeting in Committee to debate the regulations today because the House of Lords ruled that it was not the intention of Parliament that capital allowances be included when child maintenance assessments are made for self-employed, non-resident parents. The regulations are clearly an attempt to amend the law to ensure clarity in the future.
I will take a moment or two to look at what the intention of Parliament was. The original rules for calculating the income of the self-employed were established in the Child Support (Maintenance Assessment and Special Cases) Regulations 1992, which made it clear that capital allowances could not be deducted. In 1999, the Government amended those regulations and it was set out that earnings would be defined as:
“total taxable profits from self-employment of that earner as submitted to the Inland Revenue, less...tax...National Insurance”,
and some other allowances.
The regulations did not include any changes to the way in which depreciation or capital allowances were handled. The House of Lords ruling on that matter in the Smith case was influenced by a number of issues. It acknowledged that the definition of “total taxable profit” was ambiguous. Indeed, it was a little less flattering than that in its description of the Government’s drafting style in that part of the regulations. In particular, it felt that given that the 1999 amendments were administrative, and not substantive changes, the capital allowances were not being dealt with differently from the way in which they were dealt with in the 1992 regulations.
Their lordships pointed out that if it had been the Government’s intention to change the way in which capital allowances were handled, it would have resulted in some very significant changes to child support liabilities for self-employed people, but that that was not what had been put forward when the regulations had been discussed. In short, they felt that it was Parliament’s intention not to change the way in which capital allowances were handled. They were right in their opinion that the 1999 regulations were poorly drafted. I think that the Minister might touch upon that later. The Government should note and act on it.
It might be entirely reasonable in introducing the regulations today to state that capital allowances will now be included when income is assessed, but it is clear from their lordships careful deliberations and analysis of the issue—they went into far more detail than, frankly, we have time to do today—that the intention of neither the 1992 regulations nor the 1999 regulations was to change the way in which capital allowances were dealt with. What is presented today, therefore, is a pretty significant change in policy.
As the Minister is aware, regulatory impact assessments are required when policy changes are introduced. I would like him to explain to the Committee why such an assessment has not been made when the rules state clearly that it is a prerequisite for such regulations. Given that the regulatory impact assessment is a tool for delivering better regulation and that we are here today because the original regulations were so poorly drafted, I am surprised that he is trying to sidestep such an important part of the process.
I am well aware that the Cabinet Office guidance on regulatory impact assessments state that changes that affect only public services need to meet a “threshold assessment” and that the costs associated with the measure need to be more than £5 million. Given that the policy relates to the lifetime child maintenance assessments of many hundreds of children, I would think that the impact of the regulations would be well in excess of £5 million. I look forward to the Minister’s response. Why do we not have that important document looking at the impact of the assessments on that important group of children before being asked to vote on the regulations?
The second part of my remarks relates to the way in which the regulations impact on child welfare. In their debates on the rulings on the Smith case, their lordships were concerned that a change in the treatment of capital allowances would have a significant effect on child maintenance calculations. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact that these measures will have on the level of maintenance payments awarded to children whose non-resident parents are self-employed and where capital allowances are a factor? Unfortunately, no details are available to the Committee on that at this time, because there is no regulatory impact assessment to provide them and Lord McKenzie was not able to respond to that question when it was raised in the other place by Lord Taylor.
How will the Minister ensure that taking capital allowances into account when calculating total taxable profit will not unfairly disadvantage the children of self-employed non-resident parents? What impact will that have on the Government’s progress towards achieving their child poverty targets? I should particularly like the Minister to address that. All those issues were raised with Lord McKenzie, but he was unable to give specific responses in the previous debate.
Lord Taylor also raised the issue of the accuracy of income data. May I raise that again today? The agency will rely on the accuracy of the data supplied by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs relating to the income of self-employed parents. Has the Minister established with the Treasury that, for reasons of child welfare, priority must be given to pursuing those self-employed parents who may not currently fall into HMRC’s most important bracket because they are not high-worth taxpayers, but in respect of whom there is evidence that taxable income is being minimised? What resource will HMRC put behind pursuing those people? We need reassurance on that today. Can the Minister detail what Treasury resources are being allocated to that task? HMRC obviously has to deal with a great number of issues in relation to enforcement. Will that task be a priority for it? If not, how can the Minister work with the Treasury to ensure that it is?
Under the present system, the onus would be on the parent with care to challenge any low assessments and apply for a variation or what is called a departure under the old scheme. What support will there be for the parent with care when undertaking those actions? Currently, the onus is on the person making the application to state the grounds on which it is being made and to provide sufficient evidence. Is the Minister comfortable with the present procedure, or will any additional support be given to those people to ensure that they have access to the correct data?
How many maintenance cases does the Minister expect that the agency will be forced to reassess as a result of the new regulations, and what discussions has he had with the agency to ensure that it has the capacity to do that? Given that the regulations will have an impact on the Child Support Agency, which is still struggling to deal with its existing case load, the Minister needs to explain today what additional resources can be put in place to try to handle what will undoubtedly be quite complex cases.
Capital allowances are a tool used by the Government to assist with macro-economic policy and international trade. What measures has the Minister put in place to ensure that there will be no unintended consequences for children in receipt of maintenance from a self-employed non-resident parent if a new policy initiative is put in place by any of his colleagues in the Treasury? The use of capital allowances as a way of incentivising certain types of business is not unknown. Perhaps the Minister can reassure the Committee that he has thought the issue through and that careful mechanics are in place to ensure that there are no unintended consequences for children.
The move to HMRC data for self-employed people puts in place new measures that we debated on Second Reading of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill yesterday. Will the Minister reconsider debates that we had previously on fast-tracking changes to the assessment procedures for all people who are putting themselves forward for Child Support Agency assessment? The data will be available to the CSA. The gateways are clear. The data will be available from HMRC for self-employed people. Why will he not use this opportunity also to amend the way in which assessments are done for all child support cases, so that we can perhaps see a quicker improvement in the assessment process, which is still causing so many problems for the 1.4 million families who rely on the system?
In conclusion, there are many unanswered questions regarding these regulations. I look forward to hearing the Minister address each of them in turn this afternoon. Any discussion or debate about child maintenance is important. The one thing we all have learnt is that the devil is in the detail and there are quite a few more details that the Minister needs to share with us.
3.10 pm
Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): We all agree that these regulations need to be passed today. Clearly regulation 2 is sensible and tidies up what currently can discriminate against some parents. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Basingstoke on certain issues and we share similar concerns about capital allowances. The matter was debated in some detail in the House of Lords and some interesting questions arose but, like the hon. Lady, I found many of the replies unsatisfactory as they did not address the concerns that were raised. I hope that we can gain a better understanding of some of those matters today.
One of the greatest concerns is about the number of people who will be affected by this measure. There has been no regulatory impact assessment. I agree with the hon. Lady that, although it is not strictly necessary, given the history of administrative problems in the Child Support Agency, it would make sense to carry one out as a matter of course. There are so many problems it would be sensible to make sure that we do not inflict any more on the system.
As we have no idea of the number of non-resident parents who are likely to be affected by this, we clearly have no idea of how many children will be affected either. Although the impact is likely to be small, it could have an impact on levels of child poverty if the amount of maintenance being collected from non-resident parents is reduced in some cases. I would like to have a better idea of how many children are likely to be affected and to be reassured that the Department has looked into the issue and has made sure that the impact will not be severe or widespread. Nothing I have seen so far has reassured me on that point.
How will non-resident parents be informed about whether they will be affected by the change? I would have concerns if it were left to them to be proactive and to contact the CSA to ask for a reassessment. Given the history of the CSA in responding to requests for information and for reassessments, a number of parents would be very concerned if it were left to them to work out the implications of the changes. I would be grateful if the Minister could expand a little on what plans the Department has to ensure that those affected receive an explanation of what the implications are for them individually.
That leads into a further issue. There is evidence that where the amount that a parent is liable to pay is wrongly assessed and greatly above the level that they were expecting, they pay nothing at all. When the CSA wrote to parents giving an over-exaggerated amount of their assessment, to try to encourage them to contact the CSA and negotiate a lower rate, what happened was that the amount of unpaid maintenance went through the roof. A massive amount of the debt that is now allocated to the CSA is actually not real debt, but a result of the over-inflated assessments made. If people feel that the maintenance that they are being asked to pay is above what they should genuinely be paying, and that the re-assessments are going to take a long time to process, there are clear concerns that some of the non-resident parents stop paying entirely. I would be grateful if the Minister could elaborate on whether anything has been done about that matter to ensure that claims are processed quickly, so that that does not happen.
In the House of Lords, my noble Friend, Lord Kirkwood suggested that, given that the issue concerning the definition of taxable income was not picked up in 1992 or 2000 and given that we are now looking at yet another Chid Maintenance Bill, it might be sensible to get an independent advisory committee—something like the Social Security Advisory Committee—to scrutinise the legislation and ensure that nothing is missed out. He suggested that professional eyes used to looking at this area of work could ensure that this is as tight as possible. On two separate occasions, this point has been missed. I would be grateful to know if the Minister has any plans to ensure that the legislation is fully scrutinised by an independent body to provide advice and information to hon. Members here and in the upper Chamber. When we deliberate the Child Maintenance Bill, we will then have the best information to ensure that the legislation is as tight as it needs to be.
That issue needs clarity. As the hon. Lady said, we will all have encountered constituents who have been affected by non—resident self-employed parents abusing the system. There is a much higher rate of abuse among self-employed than among employed parents. This is an opportunity to provide some clarity, at least in one element of that.
A case in my constituency has just been resolved this week. The court made a judgment that the non-resident parent, who was self-employed, had to pay £600 a month maintenance. He applied to the CSA two days after the 12 months were up, saying that his income had dropped significantly. No checks were made and his maintenance liability was reduced to £169 a month. It has taken four years and the involvement of an MP to get to the point where the CSA has looked at his tax return. It was seen at that point that last year his income was nearly £250,000. He now owes an absolutely enormous backlog of thousands and thousands of pounds in child maintenance. There is an opportunity here to ensure that such abuses do not continue by providing the Child Support Agency with better access to tax records, as well as to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, so that that loophole is closed up. We certainly welcome this measure. I am glad, too, that through the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill, which we debated yesterday, better use will be made of the records that are held within the HMRC as part of child maintenance. That is clearly to be welcomed.
Although we support the regulations overall, there are some issues that need still to be highlighted, and I would be grateful for the Minister’s response to those issues.
3.19 pm
Mr. Plaskitt: I thank the hon. Members for Cardiff, Central and for Basingstoke for their contributions and the pertinent points that they have raised. I am satisfied that they have raised these main issues in the course of the debate. It might be helpful if I gave some further background, particularly in relation to how the problem arose in the first place, and our view of how the Smith judgment fits into the matter. Then I shall respond to some of the other points that hon. Members have raised. However, both contributions ranged a little wider than the regulations, into the current workings of the agency and, indeed, how the Treasury might set policy on capital allowances, which takes the debate beyond my area of responsibility.
The key problem highlighted by the Lords judgment on the Smith case was that the primary and alternative methods of calculating self-employment income could produce very different results in exceptional cases—and, as I said, the Smith case was very exceptional. Using the first method, capital allowances were admitted, but using the other, depreciation was not. The regulations will address that anomaly by allowing amounts claimed for either capital allowances or depreciation. The two methods will now produce broadly similar results in the vast majority of cases.
The changes introduced in 1999 responded to a number of difficulties in the previous system. That system had attracted criticism from non-resident parents because they were required to provide different information to HMRC—or the Treasury, as it was then—and the CSA. That was complex, confusing and costly for them, and it often meant that their income as assessed by the CSA did not match HMRC calculations. The changes also addressed the issue that the pre-1999 mechanism was administratively very complicated. The main benefits of the changes were that by using income information that a parent had either sent to or received from HMRC, the assessment process for self-employed parents became much simpler, and the result of income calculations should have matched more closely the post-tax income determined by HMRC.
When the system was changed in 1999, it was made clear that those changes were a response to problems with the previous system. It was also clear that the Government’s response was to link self-employed earnings for child support purposes to the most recent year’s taxable earnings as assessed by the Inland Revenue. However, the Government now accept that the changes resulted in regulations that were ambiguous, as the Lords said in their judgment, and could produce different outcomes depending on which calculation method was used, although the impact in most cases would be minimal.
I have also been asked why it is considered appropriate to allow for capital allowances in the calculation. Doing so reflects the reality that loss of asset value is a customary business expense. The proposed changes will retain the approach for working out self-employment earnings introduced in 1999. It is administratively straightforward and will work perfectly well for most self-employed parents. Also, a closer link to HMRC rules will allow the CSA calculations to be more easily understood, and non-resident parents will be able to supply the same information to HMRC and the CSA.
Mrs. Miller: The Minister clearly has a good grasp of this complex issue. Can he help me understand a little bit more? The debate in the other place detailed that there are hundreds of child support cases involving self-employed non-resident parents—although perhaps not 1,000—in which capital allowances have come into play. Although he says rightly that it is only a minority of cases—1.4 million families use the system, so by definition it is only a handful—it is none the less important for the people involved. Can he explain plainly what difference it will make in good old-fashioned pounds, shillings and pence, if the system changes and capital allowances are taken into account, in terms of the maintenance given to the children involved?
Mr. Plaskitt: I was just coming to that point, so the intervention was timely. The hon. Lady raised four additional points to those that I have covered. Let me take them in order, including the point that she has just raised about the impact of this measure.
First, the hon. Lady was concerned that there was not a regulatory impact assessment attached to the regulations. As she herself said, that is because it does not pass the threshold that requires one; that is the reason why there is no RIA. It does not cross the threshold in terms of its impact. I can now give her some information on the scale of its impact, because she was also asking for that information and, in itself, that information helps to explain why there is not a requirement for an RIA.
There are about 84,500 cases with the agencies involving self-employed, non-resident parents. Of those, about 8,000 cases involve capital allowance assessments. However, on the information that I have, within that number of 8,000 a very small proportion—probably 10 per cent. or less—involve capital allowance calculations that are in any way significant, in terms of having a bearing on the ultimate assessment for child maintenance. That is why I said that the overall impact of this measure is likely to be extremely small.
The Smith case highlighted one really extreme instance where the application of two alternative methods of making the calculation produced wildly different maintenance assessment results. That is not likely to happen in any other case. Given that we are now down to only a small number of cases, the impact—which was also a point that the hon. Member for Basingstoke raised—is likely to be very small.
Jenny Willott: Can the Minister clarify what he means by “significant”?
Mr. Plaskitt: By “significant”, I mean that the switch that we will make, if this order is agreed, would have an impact on the child maintenance assessment that would significantly alter the level of payment that the non-resident parent was making. It is hard for me, therefore, to define what “significant” is, because we are looking at a handful of cases and the term “significant” relates to the proportion by which an assessment changes. So I cannot give the hon. Lady a pound and penny figure for that very reason.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke wanted to know what the impact of this measure would be on child poverty targets. As I have already tried to establish, we think that we will be dealing with a very small number of cases here. Therefore, I think that the overall impact on child poverty targets will be, frankly, negligible. Of course, the measure could have an impact on individual assessments, but we must recognise that we are trying to move to a system that addresses some of the other issues that have plagued the agency over the years, namely complexity and inconsistencies. I am inclined to think that, by moving to a system that matches the assessment and the collection of income information with the method used by HMRC, we are likely to get greater compliance and co-operation from non-resident parents than may otherwise be the case. So there are other potential gains from this reform, alongside the particular issue of the impact on child poverty targets, although the hon. Lady is right to raise that issue.
The hon. Lady also asked me about the accuracy of the data. That is where I think that the information strays beyond the responsibility of the CSA. It is not for the agency to determine whether the information that self-employed, non-resident parents are supplying to the tax authorities is accurate or not. Obviously, the CSA cannot do that. However, where a parent with care clearly has legitimate evidence that the lifestyle of the non-resident parent appears to be completely inconsistent with information that they have supplied to the CSA, that evidence can, of course, be reported to the agency. Where there is significant evidence of such inconsistency, the agency can and does investigate. That is the mechanism that we must continue to rely on in such circumstances, where the parent with care has such suspicions. We cannot expect HMRC to be responsible for following up income data in relation to child maintenance, as opposed to data on income received, which is its responsibility.
Mrs. Miller: I understand the Minister’s point regarding whose responsibility it is to chase up the accuracy of HMRC data; I certainly do not think that it is the responsibility of the Department for Work and Pensions to do that. If the Department for Work and Pensions is relying on the accuracy of the data for such an important thing as child maintenance assessment, would it not be prudent for us to be asking the Treasury to prioritise and ensure that the assessments of self-employed, non-resident parents who pay maintenance are accurate? If we have evidence to suggest that they are not accurate, the Treasury is best placed to chase up matters on behalf of the parent with care and the agency.
Mr. Plaskitt: I entirely understand where the hon. Lady is coming from. It leads me to her fourth point about the sharing of data between Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the agency. The gateways to that have been put in place. She asked whether we could fast-track the information, a point to which she might return. It is most important for us first to ensure that the IT platforms relate properly together; that the gateways are secure; that the information is secure and that the information received by the CSA runs compatibly with the system that is in place. Unfortunately, as we know from experience, such matters take a bit of time so I cannot say that we shall go faster than the equipment can allow us to do. Clearly, that position must be put right and such work is in the process of being done.
Jenny Willott: Does the Minister know how many reassessments were made in the past year when a parent with care contacted the CSA with worries about the accuracy of the self-employed, non-resident parent’s declaration of income?
Mr. Plaskitt: Offhand, I do not have the number, but I anticipate that there have certainly been several thousand such cases. That is what I would have expected. I shall let the hon. Lady have the information.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central raised a few additional points. She wanted to know how non-resident parents would be informed of the change. As she knows, it is up to any non-resident parent to seek a change in their maintenance assessment, in the light of significant changes in circumstances. In any event, I imagine that those affected by the measure will be aware of the change and are always free to seek the reassessment of their liabilities.
The hon. Lady asked about the implications on the work load of the agency. Given the figures affected, the impact of the changes alone on the work load will be extremely small. We do not therefore have concerns about that. She suggested that it might be necessary to look again at how the rules are applied as we move forward into the arrangements with the new commission. The work that has led to the regulations represents a thorough assessment of how we shall treat capital in the maintenance assessment allowance. I am not sure that I shall suggest our undertaking the work again, because what has been done is sufficient to meet that purpose.
Jenny Willott: I was asking whether it was possible to have independent scrutiny of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill in its entirety. Given the particular element was missed in both the 1992 and 1999 legislation and not picked up, can we ensure that we do not make a similar error in new legislation?
Mr. Plaskitt: I assure the hon. Lady that the Bill will receive ample scrutiny. There will be plenty of opportunity for her and others to raise any outstanding concerns.
I think that I have dealt with the points raised during the debate and I thank hon. Members for their comments—
Mrs. Miller: Before the Minister sits down, I want to revisit the matter of the impact assessment. I am not sure that I follow his line of thinking about whether the order has reached the threshold assessment. Will he tell the Committee why the measure does not equate to £5 million of impact on those involved? From my reading of it, the £5 million threshold relates not only to the cost of implementing the policy but also to its impact, and it clearly has an impact. Although we are talking of only 500 or 800 cases, the level of child maintenance will presumably mount to more than £5 million—or have I misinterpreted the regulatory impact assessment?
Mr. Plaskitt: Even if the hon. Lady’s interpretation of where the £5 million sits is correct, and I am not sure that it is, I doubt whether the overall impact of the alterations to assessments affected by the change on capital allowances would amount to £5 million. Moreover, as I understand it, that is not how the RIA should be interpreted.
I thank the hon. Ladies for their comments today. Our debate has been constructive and helpful. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,
That the Committee has considered the draft Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2007.
Committee rose at twenty-four minutes to Four o'clock.
 
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