Smith attacks 'rigid' rules on maintenance

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The Independent Online
THE Prime Minister yesterday acknowledged growing concern about the workings of the Child Support Agency and said the issue was being examined by Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security.

He was responding at Commons question time after John Smith, the Labour leader, pointed to 'widespread anxiety and dismay' over the 'rigid and inflexible' financial formula being imposed on absent fathers for maintenance of their children.

Mr Smith urged an immediate review of the agency's workings and challenged Mr Major over reports that only pounds 50m of the pounds 530m it would raise this year would go to benefit children.

Sidestepping the Opposition leader's demands, the Prime Minister insisted the purpose of the agency would continue to be to 'ensure the assistance is given by both parents towards children'.

But he said he knew of the concerns that had been raised and they were being looked into by Mr Lilley.

Mr Smith, calling for an immediate review, said: 'While it must be right for both parents to contribute properly to the maintenance of their children, the Child Support Agency is causing widespread anxiety and dismay by imposing a rigid and inflexible formula which often ignores the realities of people's lives.'

The Labour leader also urged ministers to look at what appeared to be another possible fault in the system.

He declared: 'Is it right that, out of the pounds 530m which the agency is to raise in its first year, pounds 480m should go to the Treasury and only pounds 50m to the benefit of children?'

The Prime Minister replied: 'I think you know the main purpose of the agency is to ensure assistance is given by both parents towards children. That is the purpose of it and that will continue to be the purpose of it in the future.'