Change in child support rules signalled

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Indy Politics
CHANGES to the Child Support Agency's system for assessing how much maintenance absent parents should pay, and how soon, were signalled by Alastair Burt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, yesterday.

While delivering a strong defence of the new formula introduced in April, he did not rule out changes to it, after the review which is being conducted by the Department of Social Security.

Mr Burt was giving evidence to the Social Security Select Committee, which decided to hold an inquiry into the operation of the CSA after members received 400 letters of complaint from aggrieved fathers who were already paying maintenance but were being ordered to pay up to four times more.

Mr Burt told the committee: 'I have always made it clear that we should keep the policy under review . . . We are looking at the comments and criticisms being made and testing them against the basic structure and principles which are in place and which make what was previously a very poor system very much better.

'If, after examination, we think we can make the scheme better still, we will do so. It would be right, however, to say at the outset that the fundamental structure of the system should remain unaltered.'

Both Conservative and Labour members of the committee attacked the formula as unfair, as it failed to take account of things such as 'clean break settlements', expenses such as the cost of travelling to work and to see the children, and the cost of supporting stepchildren.

David Willetts, Conservative MP for Havant, said new bills should be phased in, so all absent parents had a period of 'transitional relief'.

Mr Burt was challenged repeatedly by David Shaw, Conservative MP for Dover, to take account of clean break settlements, loans from the previous marriage, travel to work costs and the cost of travelling to see the children.

Mr Burt said: 'The formula looks at the financial situation now, not in the past. Trying to unstitch previous arrangements have always seemed to us extremely difficult.'

If the formula took account of a whole series of expenses, the child would receive less, he said, and some people might deliberately incur new expenses to reduce their maintenance. When asked repeatedly whether he would change the policy, Mr Burt said: 'It would not be fair to give a nod to any particular change you might suggest.'