Lilley gives Child Support Agency another chance

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT yesterday ruled out changes to the Child Support Agency, despite an end- of-term report which showed a dramatic under-performance and a significant reduction in the agency's targets for the next 12 months.

Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, said he would wait to see the full impact of changes made in February, and a second Social Security Select Committee report due in October before deciding on further action.

Ros Hepplewhite, the agency's chief executive, yesterday emphasised the difficulty of implementing a major social reform against a culture in which child maintenance was seen as optional; but she admitted in the report: 'Overall, our standards of service did not reach acceptable levels.'

The Government's response to the agency's first year - which has been beset by protests, security scares, confidentiality breaches, a sex scandal and suicides - includes plans to hire 700 more staff, raise the target budget by pounds 70m, introduce a telephone case inquiry service and halve the number of income support cases the agency will be expected to tackle.

Donald Dewar, the shadow Secretary of State for Social Security, said the report was 'hopelessly inadequate' and failed to reveal key data about performance. Mr Lilley rejected Mr Dewar's demand to change the system so that single parents on benefit are allowed to keep some of the money recovered from absent parents rather than lose it all through reduced benefit payments.

He also rejected Mr Dewar's calls for an independent appeal procedure, more account to be taken of 'clean break' settlements; and more flexibility on absent parents' expenses. Mr Lilley warned: 'We must be careful that we do not empty our surgeries of angry absent parents only to fill them with angry lone parents.'

CSA admits failures, page 2

Inside Parliament, page 6