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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am very grateful that noble Lords found the Keeling guidance helpful. I will take the matter away and see whether, under regulations in not only this field but others, it
The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, talked about the complexity involved in making changes described aptly by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, as sandpaper changes. The situation is not possible to resolve. By definition, one has to adjust and adapt the language of any piece of legislation and subsequent regulations that refer to income in any form whenever one changes the format of the income, particularly benefits or tax credits. Our staff are well aware of what pension credit isminimum income guarantee with a savings creditand will not find themselves baffled by it. Obviously, we have to protect the legal basis of our assessments in such a way.
The noble Lord asked a couple of specific questions about the regulations. The first was on war widows under Regulation 6 and so on. That says that a non-resident parent receiving a war widower's pension should be treated like a war widow and as a result have a flat-rate liability. The numbers are very small, but the question is one of equity. Since introducing the provision, the rights of men to a war widower's pension have been established. That is why the change is necessary.
The noble Lord's second point was on pensions under Regulation 6(2)(e). My understanding is that we are adding schemes that, because of their statutory basis, do not need to go through IR approval. In other words, they are additional schemes that have a statutory basis and are not covered by the existing IR approval basis. Some additional police and local authority schemes come into that category. I am happy to write to him further on that if he would like.
The general points that the noble Lord raised were about the computer being a mess. I think that people believe that we have a simpler computer because we are simplifying the system. That is not the case. Given the pathway into child support through Jobcentre Plus and the #10 payment to the parent with care back on to their income support or income-based JSA, we need an interface that we have never needed to establish before between the old income-support computerit dates from the 1980sand the new system. The system is extremely complex. As I understand it, the DWP systems are larger than the tax self-assessment computer and several times larger than the biggest banking system, which belongs to Lloyds-TSB. That may give some idea of the complexity.
That is not to seek to diminish the very real teething problems that we have experienced as we have gone along. However, to get those in proportion, the Standish Group said in 2001 that only about 16 per cent of public and private major computer schemes were on time, that the average cost-run in all schemes was about 75 per cent, and that the average over time applied to more than 50 per cent. Although I would not wish to say that, by those standards, the CSA
Lord Higgins: My Lords, as I understand it, the Government propose the so-called migration from one scheme to another to take place in one big bang. That seems to be the case from the evidence given to the Select Committee. Is the computer system capable of suddenly taking on a million extra cases all in one go? It seems rather hazardous, given the amount of data involved in those cases.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the noble Lord's point is very acute and well taken. The Secretary of State has not yet made and will not make a decision on when we bring the existing cases over. Clearly, they have to be migrated in terms of the system before we actually bring individuals on to the system. There may well be a case for what I would call a more incremental approach, but those and similar options are being explored. The important pointand we have the support of all the voluntary organisations to which I have spokenis that we ensure that as we bring new cases on, they have the smoothest possible transition. It may well be that the proposal of the noble Lord is one way to do that, but no decisions have yet been made on that. We are still ironing out some of the teething problems with the new cases.
I turn to the second point raised by the noble Lord, which concerns sanctions. He asked about the deduction order. Although it is not necessarily a sanction, many people choose to pay by a deduction from earnings, in the same way as the noble Lord may pay his bills by direct debit. He was right in his point about driving licences. It is the case from the latest figures that I have that only about two licences have been taken away. The point to bear in mind is not that we wanted to take driving licences away, but that we wanted to make non-resident parents, particularly the self-employed with the white van, pay up. And they pay up, when they realise that they may lose their driving licence and therefore their livelihoods. Sometimes, there are cases where people are #40,000 in arrears. They have five children and are ducking and weaving. They clearly appear to have the resources to pay some of those sums. We have found that the threat of removal of a driving licence sometimes focuses minds wonderfully in generating a willingness to work with the agency in tackling questions of arrears and coming into the system.
The noble Lord asked about the two billion of moneys written off. Yes, that is the total money not collected nominally. I am not making excuses, but we need to disentangle it. Some of that moneymaybe a third or a quarterwould have come from NRPs who are now dead or who are overseas and untraceable. Although the money is on the books, we are unlikely to be able to obtain it for fairly obvious reasons.
Another portion of the moneysomething of the order of a third, but I do not wish to be held to account in my statisticsis again nominal moneys. Under the old scheme that I wanted to drop, but not under the
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked a specific question about women's refuges. The sanctions that apply to lone parents who have failed to co-operate apply only where no good cause has been established. If a woman has moved to a refuge, it appears a prima facie case that she has done so from a well-founded fear of distress and violence. Therefore, "good cause" should apply. I have had no evidence that our "good cause" provisions have produced hardship or unfairness, let alone threats or danger to women.
I shall make two final points. We obviously have teething problems with the computer and we all agree that we should adjust that and make sure that the system is robust before we introduce the new cases.
We should also emphasise just how successful is the new policy. I was there when an NRP received a cold call informing him that he would be required to pay maintenance. He was receiving JSA and we told him that under the new scheme he would be paying five pounds per week. He then said that he was looking for a job and asked what he would have to pay when he found one. He had one child, Alicia. The young woman to whom he was talking told him that he would pay 15 per cent of his net pay. He said, "Oh, fine. That's okay". He then went off to look for a job.
It is clear that a lot of the hassle that we have suffered in the past, legitimate or otherwise, from NRPs who do not know what they should pay and distrust the figures that we had arrived at, which may have been wrong in the first place, seems to be disappearing as a result of the transparency of the new scheme. The anguish, distress and protests of clients are about the speed and reliability of the computer and not about the formula itself. As one member of staff said to me, "When we've got the computers sorted, we'll fly". I am sure that that member of staff was right.
We are now clearing thousands of cases each week. In response to the noble Lord's question about inflow and outflow, the number of new cases cleared in September was greater than the corresponding number of old-scheme cases cleared in September last year. We are clearing new cases as fast as they are coming inapart from the difficult ones which have relations linked to the old scheme and take longer to resolve. More than one half of applications are reaching a maintenance calculation compared with only one-third under the old scheme. Cases that in the past took up to 18 months to bring to enforcement procedure are moving to enforcement within three months. The poorest families are starting to benefit in real terms from the child maintenance premium.