Letter: Justice for the family

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Sir: Ros Hepplewhite (Letters, 30 October) is correct in claiming that the Child Support Agency is operating within the law, but she is cutting a corner in claiming that the Child Support Act, which set it up, was debated in Parliament 'with a broad consensus of support'.

In the House of Lords this consensus was extended only to the principle of the Act, and debates were dominated by a chorus of criticism, from every quarter of the House, of the way the Act was designed to operate.

Most of the criticism now appears to have been justified. The Act needs a fundamental review. This review should be governed by three principles. First, existing court orders that command the confidence of both parties should not be upset. To upset them can only bring the law into disrepute, which is not helpful.

Second, the Government should uphold its own principle that no useful purpose is served by shifting poverty from the first family to the second. For example, a man who is spending pounds 2,500 a year on a season ticket to go to work, and finds that the Child Support Agency is not allowed to take this expense into account, may be better off abandoning work and living on benefit. This is not in the public interest.

Third, however perfect the formula under which the agency operates, there will always be a need for discretion to accommodate facts unforeseen by the formula. A justice achieved by ignoring material facts is illusory.

Yours sincerely,

RUSSELL

House of Lords

London, SW1

30 October

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