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Massive Lords Defeat For Iain Duncan Smith Over CSA Charges

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The defeat on CSA charges for single mothers is the coalition's largest so far
The defeat on CSA charges for single mothers is the coalition's largest so far

The government has suffered another defeat on its Welfare Reform Bill in the House of Lords - and this time by an unprecedented majority.

Peers voted to block Iain Duncan Smith's plans to charge single parents to use the Child Support Agency (CSA). The amendment to the Bill was agreed by 270 votes to 128.

The vote was significant not least because it's the coalition's largest Lords defeat so far - a majority of 142 - but also because large numbers of veteran Tories were among the rebels. Tory grandees from the days of Thatcher voted against the charges, including Lord Howe, Lord Lawson and Lord Carrington.

Ministers wanted to charge an upfront fee of £100 for people wanting to use the CSA, plus levy a premium on the money it collected on single parents' behalf if the CSA had to prosecute for the payments.

The amendment which removes this part of the Welfare Bill was tabled by Tory peer Lord Mackay, who believes the levies would unfairly penalise mothers just for wanting to get the money properly due to their children.

Writing for The Telegraph on Wednesday, Lord Mackay outlined why the government's position was unfair. He wrote:

For many parents raising children on one income, making ends meet is already a struggle particularly in these straightened times. Child maintenance from the non-resident parent - even a modest amount - can play a vital role in protecting children. For those unable to persuade the non-resident parent to pay voluntarily, the combination of application and collection charges will be a bitter blow, effectively taking money away from their children.

It appears wrong to me in principle that children should be made to pay the price for the failure of the non-resident parent to accept his responsibilities. In my view, the State has a fundamental responsibility to step in to protect the interests of children and reinforce parental responsibility if necessary, without parents in need being charged for the privilege.

The defeat for the government is the latest in a string of amendments to the Welfare Bill in the Lords. Ministers have promised to overturn some of them, particularly the amendment introduced by bishops on Monday which makes child benefit exempt from calculations towards the benefit cap being introduced. Iain Duncan Smith wants to cap the maximum amount households can claim each year to £26,000.

Previous amendments have attracted the support of Lib Dem, Labour and Crossbench peers - Wednesday night's defeat is the first involving large numbers of Conservative peers.

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