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Dundee Liberal Democrat welcomes party's Child Support Agency reform proposals

January 19, 2006 8:30 AM

Dundee Liberal Democrats have welcomed new Liberal Democrat proposals to deal with the chaos in the Child Support Agency and give hope to the hundreds of thousands of parents and children being failed by the current set-up.

This week the Liberal Democrats used one of their rare Westminster opposition day debates to highlight the issue, and published a 10 page paper on our plans to fundamentally reform child support in the UK.

Dundee Liberal Democrat Council Group Leader, Cllr Fraser Macpherson said, "The Child Support Agency has been in crisis ever since it was established, by a Conservative Government, back in 1993. In 1998, Tony Blair admitted that the CSA had "lost the confidence of the public" and described it as a "mess", in need of "urgent reform". But, seven years on, the CSA is still in a mess. As a Dundee councillor, I have tried to assist a number of constituents with problems getting answers from the CSA and its clear the administrative problems continue.

"We are now expecting yet another announcement from the Government about the future of the CSA, but the omens are not good for those who want to see fundamental reform. Ministers talk about "dealing with the problems in the agency so that we can get it on a stable footing" (James Plaskitt MP, Hansard, 9/1/2006), which does not make it sound as if fundamental reform will be forthcoming."

In advance of the results of the Government's own strategic review into the CSA, Liberal Democrats have published proposals as a fundamental alternative to the current system, which seek to deal with each of the basic design flaws in the current system.

Summary of LibDem proposals:

1. The existing agency should be scrapped, and its functions transferred to HM Revenue and Customs. There will need to be a transitional period, during which automatic access to information on families with children and income details for all taxpayers held by the Revenue must be made available to the existing CSA.

2. The CSA must retain a simple, tax like, formula for assessing maintenance.

3. The ability to make orders in line with the child support formula should be returned to the courts where they are already making other orders.

4. Information gathering powers for the new organisation must be improved to give easier access to information held by other arms of government and organisations such as banks and credit agencies.

5. Payments of maintenance at the determined rate must commence within, say, 28 days. For those who miss the maintenance payment deadlines, or who miss more than one payment, maintenance will be deducted at source from income - in the same way as for PAYE.

6. An effective enforcement arm should be established which begins action by first discussing the debts with both parents and negotiating an affordable payment arrangement, before appropriate enforcement action is taken. The new organization needs a much stronger culture of enforcement.

Note: The paper contains more proposals and more details on some of those included here.

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