§ Ms Keeble
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what steps she is taking to ensure that absent 811W parents and parents with care are informed that they may have face-to-face interviews with Child Support Agency staff at local offices; 
(2) how many face-to-face interviews were conducted with absent parents and parents with care during (a) 1995–96 and (b) 1996–97 at the Northampton and Wellingborough offices of the Child Support Agency and at the Corby and Kettering sub-offices; 
(3) how many interviews with absent parents and parents with care were held during (a) 1995–96 and (b) 1996–97 in Child Support Agency offices by region; 
(4) what plans she has to end the provision of face-to-face interviews for absent parents and parents with care at the local office of the Child Support Agency in Northampton. 
§ Mr. Keith Bradley
Children are entitled to the financial and emotional support of both parents wherever they live. We are looking closely at all aspects of the child support scheme to see where improvements can be made. We aim to bring forward proposals by the Summer.
The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the Chief Executive, Mrs. Faith Boardman. She will write to my hon. Friend.
Letter from Mrs. Faith Boardman to Ms Sally Keeble, dated 5 February 1998:I am replying to your Parliamentary Question to the Secretary of State for Social Security concerning interviews with parents, carried out by the Child Support Agency.As part of its ongoing commitment to provide a high quality service to its customers, the Agency offers face to face interviews to both absent parents and parents with care.The facility for face to face interviews is widely publicised by means of:The Child Support Agency Charter.The Maintenance Application pack and Maintenance Enquiry pack include notes for parents telling them that they can contact an Agency local office if they want advice or further information.Parents contacting the Child Support Agency National Enquiry Line are advised of the facility for face to face interviews, where appropriate.The total number of interviews held in 1995–96 was 152,797. A more detailed breakdown was not collated for that year. In 1996–97 interviews were held. The difference reflects customer demand and the increasing popularity of direct contact by means of the telephone. We do not record separately details of the numbers of interviews with absent parents and parents with care respectively. Figures are not available for each Agency office, but are available by Agency Field Division. The specific offices you have enquired about form part of the Anglia & East Midlands Field Division. The breakdown by Agency Field Division was as follows:
- Central North: 7,127
- West Midlands: 5,335
- London: 6,455
- South East: 7,974
- North East: 8,839
- Scotland: 15,614
- Central South: 5,241
- South West: 7,883
- North West: 11,428
- Wales: 13,066
- Anglia & East Midlands: 6,293
- Yorks & Lindsey: 9,694These figures are collated to measure performance against the Agency's Charter Standard to see callers within 10 minutes of arrival when an appointment has been made. Prior to December 1996, the standard was 20 minutes, and was met in over 99 per cent. of cases. This continues to be the case, despite the standard being tightened.We recently revised the organisation of our operations to examine how we could improve the cost effectiveness and efficiency of the Agency. We have concluded that while we need to maintain a geographical presence to provide a direct interface with our public and to present appeals and court cases, the processing desk work which does not involve face-to-face contact with customers can be done much more efficiently and cost effectively in our large centres, thus releasing resources to deal with backlogs and rising workloads.Although we are still engaged in a detailed analysis, it is clear that the size of the field network will reduce significantly over the next three to four years as we transfer the processing work to the centres. The remaining field resources will then be focused specifically on improved face-to-face contact with customers, often in conjunction with other Agencies. We expect the availability and amount of local face-to-face contact to increase as a result. This is originally the area on which field staff were intended to concentrate at the start of the Agency; processing work was undertaken as a short-term measure to help the Agency deal with the number of applications it received in the first two years. The average number of interviews held per member of field staff in the whole of 1996–7 was approximately 36. By moving processing work to our centres, staff will be able to increase this average and extend our face-to-face contact with customers.In cases where the business can best be achieved by interview (e.g. self-employed cases), the Agency is looking at ways to develop the maintenance assessment process to meet this need. A recent initiative in Plymouth tested a new approach which involved specialist liaison between assessment officers in our large centres and field officers. This produced positive results; agreements to pay maintenance were increased and the need to improve punitive interim maintenance assessments was vastly reduced.It is clear from our experience that an interview is not always the most effective way of meeting our customers needs, and the telephone can offer a quicker, more satisfactory alternative. The Agency has begun employing staff to work a wider more flexible range of working patterns over six days of the week to improve the telephone service offered. This will give customers more opportunity to contact the Agency at times convenient to them.Our objective is to provide an efficient accurate service which is more responsive to the variety of needs of our customers, and which offers them access and information in a customer-friendly form. This will increase the flow of maintenance and, where appropriate, enabling parents with care to move from welfare to work.I hope this is helpful.