ASSEMBLY BUSINESS

Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Thursday, 29 September 2011

Venue: Room 29, Parliament Buildings

The meeting began in private session at 10.01am

Mr Sammy Douglas declared an interest as a relative is currently employed by Pricewaterhouse Coopers at 10.02am

The meeting moved into public session at 10.03am.

1. Apologies

Apologies were as indicated above.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward its condolences to Mark Durkan on the death of his sister.

2. Draft Minutes of Meeting 22 September 2011

Agreed: The minutes of the meeting held on Thursday 22 September 2011 were agreed.

3. Matters Arising

Agreed: Members agreed to contact the Committee Secretariat over the next week if they had any queries or comments in respect of the proposed next steps for actions arising from the meetings held with key stakeholders following the Committee’s Informal Reception on 22 September 2011.

The Chairperson advised the Committee that a Committee motion in respect of the Prayer of Annulment on the Housing Benefit Regulations is scheduled to be moved in plenary on Monday 10 October 2011. The Chairperson advised that he will be speaking on behalf of the Committee.

4. Chairperson’s Business

The Chairperson welcomed the new Committee Clerk.

Ms Judith Cochrane joined the meeting at 10.08am

The Chairperson advised the Committee that the Deputy Chairperson participated in two plenary debates on behalf of the Committee. The Chairperson thanked the Clerk for preparing the speaking notes for both these debates and also thanked the Deputy Chairperson for speaking on his behalf.

5. NIHE Review – Briefing by Pricewaterhouse Coopers

The following senior representatives from Pricewaterhouse Coopers (NI) joined the meeting at 10.10am:

Mr Richard Parker – Partner, Pricewaterhouse Coopers (UK);
Ms Emma Holden – Pricewaterhouse Coopers (NI); and
Mr Stephen Smyth – NIHE Review Project Lead, Pricewaterhouse Coopers (NI).

The representatives provided a briefing on the outcome of their ‘mature conversation’ with key stakeholders on the findings raised in their report “Strategic Review of Options for the Future Service Delivery of NIHE”. This was followed by a question and answer session.

Ms Pam Lewis joined the meeting at 11.11am

Following the briefing, Members expressed the following views in respect of the proposals contained within the report:

  • That the Review should have been extended to include the Department’s Housing Division and Housing Associations;
  • The need for an independent housing authority to deal with policy and strategy which would feed back to the Minister;
  • The need to ensure a balanced workforce in any new housing authority which is formed following the Review;
  • The need to ensure that the proposed independent regulator with responsibility for rent-setting remains totally independent to minimise the risk of massive hikes in rent - particularly for the most vulnerable tenants;
  • The impact on both the quality of stock and security of tenure for tenants under the new regime;
  • The potential savings to be realised from the restructuring of the Housing Executive and the potential impact on existing staff;
  • The impact of the forthcoming Welfare Reform Bill on the proposals contained within the Report, such as the proposal to join-up citizen services in Job, Benefits and Housing offices;
  • The importance of retaining neighbourhood renewal as a core principle in the proposed Social Enterprise Landlord organisation;
  • The limited lease period allowed for the proposed Social Enterprise Landlord organisation; and
  • The possibility of transferring properties which do not meet the decent homes standard to Housing Associations.

Members also indicated that more information should be provided in any future report on the following issues:

  • The planned constitution and operation of the proposed Social Enterprise Landlord organisations and in particular more details of good practice models in other jurisdictions;
  • The level and format of tenant participation in any proposed Social Enterprise Landlord organisation; and
  • The figures used to assess the level of vulnerability of Housing Executive tenants.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to consult with their respective party groups on the proposals raised by PwC in their Report and to return to the NIHE Review as a substantive agenda item at the next Committee meeting on 6 October 2011.

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for the briefing.

The representatives left the meeting at 11.24am.

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 11.24am.

The Chairperson, Mr Alex Maskey left the meeting at 11.24am. The Deputy Chairperson, Mr Mickey Brady, assumed the Chair at 11.24am.

6. Preliminary Consultation on the Housing Selection Scheme – Departmental Briefing

The following officials from the Department and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive joined the meeting at 11.25am:

Mr Stephen Martin - Head of Housing Bill Team, DSD;
Mr Gerry Flynn - Assistant Director, Housing and Regeneration, NIHE.
Mr Maurice Rooney – Principal Officer, Housing and Regeneration, NIHE.

The officials provided a briefing on the responses received to the preliminary consultation on the NIHE Housing Selection Scheme. This was followed by a question and answer session.

Some Members had queries in respect of the number of applicants awarded Full Duty Applicant status as a result of intimidation. As a result some Members expressed concern about the removal of the 200 intimidation points in light of a significant number of intimidation cases in 2010/2011.

Concern was also expressed by some Members with regards to the lack of availability of hostel accommodation in areas of high demand and about the problems experienced by Housing Associations and other organisations with the Housing Executive’s new Housing Management System for dealing with waiting lists.

Agreed: Members agreed to write to the Department to request that the Committee be copied into the outcome of any future evaluation of the new Housing Management System.

Agreed: The Department agreed to forward to the Committee details of the number of people who were forced to declare themselves as homeless as a result of the disturbances in the Short Strand, Ballyclare and other parts of Northern Ireland at the end of June 2011.

Mr Gregory Campbell left the meeting at 11.22am

The Deputy Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 11.29am.

Agreed: Members agreed that they would consider and agree a final Committee response to the Consultation at the meeting of 6 October 2011.

7. Proposed Subordinate Legislation

7.1 The Job Seeker’s Allowance (Sanctions for Failure to Attend) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was not content for the Rule to be made.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to request clarification on the definition of “good cause” as outlined in the Regulations. The Committee also agreed to seek clarification on the number of people sanctioned, the areas they have been sanctioned in and the time period that individuals have been sanctioned for since the introduction of sanctions.

7.2 The Social Fund (Cold Weather Payments) (General) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was not content for the Rule to be made.

Some Members of the Committee expressed reservations about the use of postcodes as an equitable means for determining eligibility for cold weather payments.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to seek information on the number of eligible claimants who will now be served by the Magilligan weather station.

7.3 The Social Security (Work-focused Interviews for Lone Parents and Partners) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was not content for the Rule to be made.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to seek clarification on the definition of “good cause” and whether any childcare provision will be made for lone parents who are required to attend work-focused interviews.

8. Correspondence

8.1 The Committee considered correspondence from DSD’s Voluntary and Community Unit in respect of a recent consultation on a draft guidance document on the Provision of Local Generalist Voluntary Sector Advice.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request that the Voluntary and Community Unit brief the Committee on the outcome of this consultation at its scheduled briefing on 17 November 2011.

8.2 Agreed: The Committee agreed that a memo from the Environment Committee regarding energy use be forwarded to the Department for a response.

8.3 Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward a Research Paper on Public Sector Gas Uptake from the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment to the Department for consideration.

8.4 Agreed: The Committee agreed to note the remaining items of correspondence from the Environment Committee, the Strategic Investment Board, the Consumer Council, Advice NI, the Bamford Monitoring Group of the Patient Council, the Belfast Drugs & Alcohol Working Group, Citizens Advice, and the UK Delegation to the OECD in Paris.

9. Forward Work Programme

Agreed: The Committee agreed to note the draft Forward Work Programme for September – November 2011.

10. Any Other Business

The Deputy Chairperson requested that Committee Members who had not yet completed a questionnaire on electronic committee meeting packs should do so and submit a copy to the Committee Secretariat.

A Member highlighted a concern raised by another Committee Member in respect of the Committee’s decision to annul Statutory Rule SR 2011/293 Housing Benefit (Amendment No.2) Regulations (NI) 2011 at its meeting of 22 September 2011.

11. Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 6 October 2011 in Room 29, Parliament Buildings at 10.00am.

The Deputy Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12.11pm.

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