Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Thursday, 12 January 2012

Venue: Room 29, Parliament Buildings

The meeting opened in closed session at 10.04am.

1. Helm Housing Association

The following Departmental officials joined the meeting at 10.06am

Jim Wilkinson, Housing Director
Michael Sands, Deputy Director Housing
Donald Heaney, Housing – Governance and Inspection

The officials briefed the Committee on the Helm Housing Association

The officials left the meeting at 10.32am.

The meeting opened in public session at 10.32am.

2. Apologies

Apologies were as indicated above.

3. Draft Minutes of Meeting 15 December 2011          

Agreed:  The minutes of the meeting held on Thursday 15 December 2011 were agreed as amended.

4. Chairperson’s Business

There was no Chairperson’s Business

5. Mortgage Debt Advice Service – Briefing by the Housing Rights Service

The following representatives from the Housing Rights Service joined the meeting at 10.35am

  • Ms Janet Hunter, Director
  • Ms Ruth Barry, Policy Officer
  • Mr Christopher McGrath, Housing Debt Adviser

 

The representatives briefed the Committee on the Mortgage Debt Advice Service.

The Committee had a detailed discussion on the Mortgage Debt Advice Service provided by the Housing Rights Service.

Members were briefed on the pressure placed on the Service by the increasing number of people across Northern Ireland who are seeking advice on housing-related debt.  The issues faced by people included negative equity and increased repossession levels due to decreased forbearance by lenders.

Issues that raised concern for the future were proposed changes by the Government to the Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) and the concern with the impact that Welfare Reform will have on housing.

Members also voiced concern that households were paying rates based on house values that had significantly depreciated.

Members questioned what action Housing Rights Service could take to ensure that those in need of advice engaged with the organisation at the earliest possible stage.

Members highlighted that people need to be made aware that declaring bankruptcy is not an easy solution to housing debt.

The Committee acknowledged the Housing Rights Services recommendations to introduce and support a range of initiatives at sustaining homes across NI and the need to develop a comprehensive Housing Strategy for NI.

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for the briefing.

The representatives left the meeting at 11.27am

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 11.27am

The Committee considered the DWP Support for Mortgage informal call for evidence.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Housing Rights Service and request a copy of its more detailed paper on the Mortgage Debt Advice Service. 

The Committee also agreed to seek a copy of the Housing Rights Service response to the DWP’s Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) informal call for evidence.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to draft a response to the call for evidence once it considered the Housing Rights Service response.

6. Review of Gambling Laws – Briefing by the NI Turf Guardians Association (NITGA)

The following representatives from the NITGA joined the meeting at 11.29am

  • Mr Adrian Eastwood, NITGA
  • Mr Paul McLean, A. McLean Bookmakers
  • Mr Gary Toal, Toals Bookmakers
  • Mr Joe Lewins, Ladbrokes Ireland

The representatives briefed the Committee on the Review of Gambling Laws.

Mr Michael Copeland re-joined the meeting at 11.31am

The Committee discussed with representatives from NITGA the Department’s review of gambling laws.  This was a wide-ranging discussion taking in economic issues as well as the social implications of more liberal gambling laws.

Ms Pam Lewis left the meeting at 11.49am

The representatives raised their concern about the potential loss of 975 jobs to the industry if Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) were to be removed from betting shops. 

Ms Pam Lewis re-joined the meeting at 11.59am

Members acknowledged the impact illegal gambling has on the industry and questioned the level of enforcement carried out by HMRC and the PSNI to address this issue.

Mr Alex Easton joined the meeting at 12.05pm

The Committee recognised that the majority of people who gamble do so sensibly and that gambling should be carried out within a strictly regulated legal framework and in a safe environment.

Members acknowledged the threat of online gambling to the indigenous industry but questioned whether Sunday opening would help in a meaningful way to address this.

In relation to FOBTs Members questioned whether there was evidence to suggest if these contributed to the addictive nature of gambling and asked if any analysis has been undertaken regarding this matter.

Members also questioned that if there was Sunday opening would the revenue generated by betting shops mainly come from problem gamblers.  The representatives assured Members that this revenue would come from their regular customers not mainly from problem gamblers. Members acknowledged that problem gamblers would find a way to gamble whether there was Sunday opening or not.

Mr David McClarty left the meeting at 12.15pm

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for the briefing.  

The representatives left the meeting at 12.22pm

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 12.22pm

Agreed: The Committee agreed to consider a submission to the Department following a briefing from Legalise Poker in NI which is scheduled for 19 January 2012.  The Committee also agreed to consider forwarding the independent economic assessments to the Department, provided by the NI Turf Guardians, at that time.

7. Proposed Subordinate Legislation

The Jobseeker’s Allowance (Work Experience) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

The following officials from the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) and the Department for Social Development joined the meeting at 12.25pm:

  • Mr Colm Boyle, DEL
  • Mr Jim Russell, DEL
  • Mr Michael Pollock, SSPLD
  • Mr Colm McLaughlin, SSPLD

 

Mr Gregory Campbell left the meeting at 12.26pm

Mr Michael Copeland re-joined the meeting at 12.28pm

The officials briefed the Committee on the proposed legislation and took questions from the Committee.

Members reiterated a number of concerns including that the programme could act as a substitute for the creation of longer-term, permanent and better paying positions; concern about the calibre and types of placements on offer; and the potential for some employers to use the programme as a means of inexpensive, short-term labour.

Ms Pam Lewis left the meeting at 12.46pm

Mr Mickey Brady left the meeting at 12.49pm

Members sought clarification on a number of issues including the voluntary nature of the programme and the requirement for a person on the work experience programme to also seek work at the same time in accordance with Job Seekers requirements.

Mr Mickey Brady re-joined the meeting at 12.58pm

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 12.58pm

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing. 

The officials left the meeting at 13.02pm

Agreed: The Committee agreed for the Rule to be made.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to seek a breakdown of sanctions on a quarterly basis.

Mr Michael Copeland re-joined the meeting at 13.04pm

Mr Alex Maskey left the meeting 13.06pm

Mr Mickey Brady took over as Chairperson at 13.07pm

8. Statutory Rules

The Occupational Pensions Schemes (Employer Debt and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012

Question put and agreed:

That the Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule SR      2012/1: The Occupational Pensions Schemes (Employer Debt and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012 and subject to the Examiner of Statutory Rules’ Report has no objection to the Rule”.

The Social Security (Contributions for JSA and ESA) Regulations (Northern    Ireland) 2011

Question put and agreed:

That the Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule SR      2011/434: The Social Security (Contributions for JSA and ESA) Regulations (Northern   Ireland) 2011 and subject to the Examiner of  Statutory Rules’ Report has no objection to the Rule”.

The Social Security (Electronic Communications) (No.2) Order (Northern Ireland)  2011

Question put and agreed:

“That the Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule SR       2011/431: The Social Security (Electronic Communications) (No.2)  Order (Northern Ireland) 2011 and subject to the Examiner of Statutory Rules’ Report has no objection to the Rule”.

The Committee noted the following Commencement Orders:

  • The Pensions (2008 Act No.2 Act) (Commencement No.6) Order (Northern Ireland) 2011; and
  • The Welfare Reform (2010 Act) (Commencement No.4) Order (Northern Ireland) 2011.

 

9.       Correspondence

The Chairperson drew Members’ attention to correspondence from the Minister        regarding the allocation of the £12m Green New Deal money.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward this item of correspondence to the ETI and Finance and Personnel Committee’s for information.

The Committee noted correspondence from the Department providing further          information regarding the Pay as You Go for Oil pilot scheme.

The Committee considered correspondence from the Department providing additional information regarding the Harrington Review of the Work Capability Assessment.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to invite SSA officials and Legal and Medical          practitioners from the appeals tribunal to brief the Committee on their opinion of the process.

The Committee noted correspondence from the Department advising that the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Division are currently undertaking a baseline survey of  the child maintenance population in NI.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to ensure that it is informed of the outcome of this survey. 

Agreed: The Committee agreed for the remaining items of correspondence to be dealt with as per the proposed next steps in the correspondence Memo.

10. Forward Work Programme

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to note the draft Forward Work Programme.

11. Any Other Business     

There was no other business

12. Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 19 January 2012 in Room 29 Parliament Buildings.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 13.17pm

Mr Alex Maskey
Chairperson, Committee for Social Development.
19 January 2012

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