Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Thursday, 31 May 2012

Venue: Room 29, Parliament Buildings

The meeting began in closed session at 10:03am.

The Committee considered correspondence and a draft press release from the Social Security Agency.

Mr Mark H Durkan joined the meeting at 10:05am

Ms Judith Cochrane joined the meeting at 10:05am

The meeting opened in public session at 10:08am.

1. Apologies

Apologies were as indicated above.

2. Draft Minutes of Meeting 24 May 2012       

Agreed:  The minutes of the meeting held on Thursday 24 May 2012 were agreed.

3. Chairperson’s Business

The Chairperson provided the Committee with an overview of the fuel poverty event which took place in the Long Gallery on Monday 28 May.

The Chairperson provided the Committee with an overview of the event in the Long Gallery on 30 May to launch the Bryson Energy Benefits Checks Report.

4. Matters Arising

The Committee noted correspondence from the Department which provided a timetable for potential Executive Bills. 

The Committee considered a draft response to the Department’s Corporate Plan 2011-2015 and the Business Plan 2012/2013.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to forward the response, as amended, to the Department.

Members discussed the 800 ‘off the shelf’ houses that were built last year by the Department 

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to write to the Department to ask for the costs involved to build these houses.

The Committee noted a response from the Minister in respect of the NIHE double glazing programme.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to write to the NIHE to request the following:

  • confirmation of when the review of double glazing installation will be conducted and when it is likely to be completed;
  • details of the Terms of Reference; and
  • details of how the review will impact schemes that are currently lapsed.

The Committee considered a response from the Social Security Agency in respect of the Department’s cancer consultation and the problems encountered by patients in respect of their continuous entitlement to ESA upon returning to Northern Ireland.  The Committee noted the progress made towards including Employment and Support Allowance in the Reciprocal Arrangements.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed forward this response to Macmillan Cancer Support.

The Chairperson briefed Members on the scheduled meeting with the Welfare Reform Committee in the Scottish Parliament on 26 and 27 June 2012 and asked Members to confirm their attendance with the Clerk. 

5. Landlord Registration Scheme Regulations – Departmental Briefing

The following officials from the Department joined the meeting at 10:24am:

Ms Avril Hiles, Housing, DSD;

Mr Stephen Johnston, Housing, DSD; and

Ms Addie Lyttle, Housing, DSD

The officials briefed the Committee on the Landlord Registration Scheme Regulations.

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 10:31am

Members held detailed discussions around the proposed Regulations.  Although the Committee acknowledged that the Regulations are in exercise of the powers conferred on it by the Private Tenancies (NI) Order 2006 and the Housing Amendment Act (NI) 2011, Members expressed some concerns in relation to the proposed Regulations:

  • The Committee expressed concerns around the ‘light touch’ approach being described as a “first step in establishing better regulation of the sector”.  The Committee were of the view that the legislation is an opportunity to have a more robust approach to regulating the sector.
  • The Committee also expressed concerns that there is no timeframe for commitments and no insight into how the landlord registration will develop.
  • The Committee were disappointed that that the proposed Regulations do not include a ‘fit and proper person test’ similar to that applied to prospective landlords in Scotland.
  • The Committee had concerns about the comparatively low level of fine proposed here and noted that the maximum fine for operating as an unregistered landlord in Scotland is £50,000.
  • Some Members expressed concern that the Department stated that they were limited to what they could put into the regulations by the Primary legislation.
  • Given the large amount of public money the private rented sector receives every year in Housing Benefit, the Committee had concerns about the lack of enforcement and regulation of this sector.
  • The Committee acknowledged the benefits of a single statutory body managing the scheme.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

Ms Judith Cochrane left the meeting at 11:14am

The officials left the meeting at 11:14am.

6. Landlord Registration Scheme Regulations – Briefing by the Housing Rights     Service

The following representatives from the Housing Rights Service joined the meeting at 11:14am

  • Ms Nicola McCrudden;
  • Mr Pete O’Neill; and
  • Ms Ursula Toner.

The representatives gave their perspective on the Landlord Registration Scheme Regulations and discussed these with the Committee.

Members acknowledged that the majority of landlords are providing good quality accommodation and that they treat their tenants fairly. 

The Committee reiterated its concern about a ‘light touch’ approach of the Regulations which the Housing Rights Service shared.

The Committee also shared the Housing Rights Service’s view that:

  • landlords should acknowledge their statutory obligations under tenancy law; and
  • that they should disclose relevant convictions including housing related offences.

The Committee agreed with the Housing Rights Service that a requirement for the Registrar to supply a legal information pack to registered landlords should be included in the Regulations.

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for their briefing.

The representatives left the meeting at 11:36am.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to defer consideration of the proposed Landlord Registration Scheme Regulations (NI) 2012.  The Committee also agreed to write to the Department expressing its concerns regarding the proposed Regulations.  

7. Proposed Subordinate Legislation       

The Committee agreed for the following Rule to be made:

  • The Social Security (Industrial Injuries) (Prescribed Diseases) (Amendment No.2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012.

8. Correspondence

The Committee noted correspondence from the Public Accounts Committee advising of its publication of its report on the Uptake of Benefits by Pensioners.

The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel regarding the Legislative Consent Motion – The Supply of Information from HM Revenue and Customs.  The Committee also considered a draft response to the Committee for Finance and Personnel

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to forward the draft response to the Committee for Finance and Personnel.

The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister which forwarded correspondence from a member of the public regarding their welfare review with the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to write to the individual explaining the role of the Committee and to advise them to contact their local MLA if they are seeking political representation.

The Committee noted correspondence from the WJ Law regarding its project on cost neutral care for the elderly.

The Committee considered a recent press release from the Minister regarding the transformation plan for Girdwood.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to schedule a briefing from the Department on the transformation plan for Girdwood.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed for the remaining items of correspondence to be dealt with as per the Correspondence Memo.

9. Forward Work Programme

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

10. Any Other Business     

A Member raised the issue of the British Medical Association which recently called on the government to end the Work Capability Assessment.

Ms Pam Brown left the meeting at 11:42am

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to write to the Department asking the Minister to take the views of the BMA under consideration as part of his reassessment of the WCA as agreed in the Assembly on 21 May.

11. Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will take place at 9.30am on Thursday 7 June 2012 in Room 29 Parliament Buildings.  

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 11:42am

Mr Alex Maskey
Chairperson, Committee for Social Development.
7 June 2012

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