Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Thursday, 06 October 2011

Venue: Room 29, Parliament Buildings

The meeting opened in public session at 10.04am.

1. Apologies

Apologies were as indicated above.

2. Draft Minutes of Meeting 29 September 2011

Agreed: The minutes of the meeting held on Thursday 29 September 2011 were agreed.

3. Chairperson’s Business

The Chairperson advised Members that a letter was issued to the Chairpersons of a number of other statutory Committees in respect of the Committee’s planned event on Fuel Poverty on Wednesday16 November 2011.

Mr Gregory Campbell arrived at 10.07am

Mr Fra McCann arrived at 10.08am

4. Matters Arising

The Chairperson requested that Members complete and return the questionnaire on electronic committee meeting packs to Committee Secretariat after the meeting.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the action points arising from the Committee’s Informal Stakeholder event which was held on 22 September 2011 in Parliament Buildings.

Agreed: The Committee agreed a draft Committee response to the Department’s preliminary consultation on the Housing Selection Scheme.

5. NIHE Independent Review – Committee Response to the Pricewaterhouse Coopers Report

The Committee considered a draft Committee response to the independent Pricewaterhouse Coopers Report on the Review of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

Some Members expressed concerns in respect of the limited lease period allowed for the proposed Social Enterprise Landlord Organisation. In particular, Members were concerned about the impact of this restricted lease period for succession tenancies and on a tenant’s right-to-buy. Members also reiterated their concerns in respect of the proposed joined-up citizens service in jobs, benefits and housing offices and the decent homes standard. There was also a query about how interested organisations could engage with the Review process and clarity was sought in respect of NIHE housing stock.

Agreed: Members agreed to consult the Clerk of the Committee with any additional points they would like to include in the Committee response.

Agreed: It was agreed that the Clerk would circulate a revised draft response for agreement by Members prior to submitting a final Committee response.

Agreed: It was agreed that the Committee would write to the Department to seek clarity on how organisations could feed into the review and the timescale for feeding in any additional comments. It was also agreed that the Committee would seek further information on whether the NIHE stock would be considered as a net asset or a net liability? Members also sought clarity on whether there is a legal requirement to achieve the decent homes standard?

6. Social Fund Reform – Departmental Briefing

The following senior officials from the Department for Social Development and the Social Security Agency joined the meeting at 10.27am:

Mr Tommy O’Reilly – Chief Executive, Social Security Agency (SSA);
Mr Mickey Kelly – Acting Director, Working Age Services (SSA); and
Ms Anne McCleary – Director, Social Security Policy and Legislation, DSD.

The officials briefed the Committee on the proposed changes to the Social Fund, the implications for Northern Ireland and the process for taking forward the Reform of the Social Fund.

Members recognised the weaknesses that exist in the different components of the existing discretionary Social Fund and welcomed the fact that the any future reform of the Social Fund would not be constrained by the principle of parity in social security matters.

Members expressed concern that success of any proposed new system would be predicated on the effectiveness of the local system but that unlike GB, Northern Ireland is lacking the necessary infrastructure to ensure a seamless transition.

Members queried the membership of the proposed Oversight Board and welcomed the engagement of senior Social Security Staff in the research process but felt that every effort should be taken to ensure that the views of those impacted by the proposed changes and the views of frontline service providers are sought as part of the consultation process.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 11.01am.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to seek more information on the following:

  • Clarity on whether the proposed changes will adversely affect what people in Northern Ireland receive in return for their contributions to the National Insurance Fund as opposed to citizens in the rest of Great Britain;
  • Details of the number of people who will be affected by the abolition of the discretionary elements of the Social Fund;
  • Details of how many boards the Members of the Oversight Board sit on and how much time they will be allocating to the Oversight Board;
  • The actual cost involved in administering the Social Fund budget in 2010/2011; and
  • The timetable for the introduction of the Welfare Reform Bill in Northern Ireland.

Agreed: The Committee also agreed that it would like to be kept updated on progress with Phase 1 of the Research Process – in particular, it would like to receive the names of the organisations the appointed Researchers will speak to as part of the consultation process.

7. Review of Gambling Law – Departmental Briefing

The following officials from the Department for Social Development joined the meeting at 11.04am:

Mr Liam Quinn – Social Policy Unit, DSD;
Mr Gary McAlorum - Social Policy Unit, DSD.

The officials provided a briefing on the responses received to the Department’s consultation on the Future Regulation of Gambling in Northern Ireland.

Concerns were expressed by a number of Members in respect of the prevalence and impact of online gambling and the need for regulation of this sector. A number of Members indicated that they were not in support of any changes to the existing legislation and indicated that an analysis of the responses received to the consultation would suggest significant public apathy in respect of changing the legislation. Other Members expressed concern that any changes to the legislation should be mindful of the need to protect the jobs in the local betting industry but also carefully consider the social impact of any relaxation of the gambling law.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 11.33am.

Michael Copeland left the meeting at 11.33am.

8. Statutory Rules

8.1 The Social Security (Loss of Benefit) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

Agreed: The Committee agreed to defer consideration of the Regulations.

9. Correspondence

9.1 The Committee noted correspondence from DSD in respect of figures on Housing Benefit Expenditure and Administration Costs in Northern Ireland.

9.2 The Committee considered correspondence in respect of budget reductions impacting on the Regional Support Programme.

Ms Judith Cochrane left the meeting at 11.36am

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request that DSD’s Voluntary and Community Unit brief the Committee on the impact of budget reductions on the Regional Support Programme when they come to brief the Committee on 17 November 2011.

9.3 The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for the Environment and the Department in respect of the boiler replacement scheme.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the letter from the Department to the Committee for the Environment for consideration.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to request details on the number of boilers which were replaced under the pilot scheme, to encourage the Department to make the scheme as accessible and as effective as possible and to ensure that the Committee is copied into the outcome of any future evaluation of the pilot scheme.

9.4 The Committee considered a letter from the Committee for Employment and Learning requesting that the Committee consider holding a joint meeting to discuss the Welfare Reform Bill.

Mr Michael Copeland rejoined the meeting at 11.38am

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Committee for Employment and Learning to advise that it agreed in principle to holding a joint meeting to consider mutual areas of interest in respect of the Welfare Reform Bill but would reconsider this request later in the year when there is greater clarity about the timeframe for the introduction of the Bill in Northern Ireland.

9.5 The Committee considered a letter from a Member of the public in respect of a retirement bond scheme.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the letter to the Department for consideration.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to note the remaining items of correspondence.

10. Forward Work Programme

The Clerk highlighted forthcoming Committee visits to the Child Maintenance Enforcement Division on 13 October 2011 and the Ilex Regeneration Company in Derry/Londonderry on 27 October 2011.

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

Ms Judith Cochrane rejoined the meeting at 11.39am

11. Any Other Business

The Chairperson reminded the Committee that Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Association is holding its annual conference on 13 th & 14 th October. The Chair invited other Members of the Committee who would wish to attend to notify the Committee Secretariat.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to request written confirmation of the Minister’s plans in respect of Sunday Trading Laws.

12. Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 13 October 2011 in Room 29, Parliament Buildings at 10.00am.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 11.40pm.

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