Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Thursday, 08 March 2012

Venue: Room 29, Parliament Buildings

The meeting began in public session at 9.33am                     

1.  Apologies.

Apologies were as indicated above.

2.  Draft Minutes of Meeting 1 March 2012.     

Agreed:  The minutes of the meeting held on Thursday 1 March 2012 were agreed.

3.  Chairperson’s Business.

Mr Sammy Douglas joined the meeting at 9.35am

The Chairperson advised the Members that he recently met with a group who are seeking to provide a Lagan River rescue service. 

Agreed: The Committee agreed to schedule a briefing from one of the groups who are seeking to provide this service.

The Chairperson also advised the Members that he and 3 other Members of the Committee took part in a panel debate as part of the NICVA/Law Centre conference on Welfare Reform.

4.  Matters Arising.

The Committee considered a draft response to the Child Support and Management of Payment and Arrears Consultation.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward this to DWP as the Committee’s response to the Consultation.  

The Committee held discussions around issues raised by a member of the public regarding the difficulties he is having in obtaining a licence for his new betting shop.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to ask when the Minister is likely to have a timescale for primary legislation as the current legislation is affecting small bookmaking businesses.  The Committee also agreed to schedule a briefing from the Department on this issue.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the bookmaker to advise him that the Committee has written to the Department on this issue and has requested a briefing from officials.   

5.  Welfare Reform EQIA – Briefing by the Equality Commission.

The following representatives from the Equality Commission joined the meeting at 9.43am:

Ms Evelyn Collins CBE, Chief Executive

Mr Darren McKinstry, Director of Policy and Research

Ms Lisa King, Director of Advice and Compliance

The representatives briefed the Committee on its response to the Welfare Reform EQIA. 

This was followed by a question and answer session.

Discussions were held around a number of issues including the section 75 categories that might be affected by the Welfare Reform Bill.  Concerns were raised on a number of issues including:

  • The potential negative impact on women in respect of the payment of the new Universal Credit to the main earner following joint claim and joint assessment;
  • the cap on Housing Benefit which could potentially result in tenants being placed in further financial hardship;
  • the change to qualification criteria for the Personal Independence Payment and the experiences faced by disabled people through the ATOS assessment scheme;
  • the conditionality placed on lone parents to be available for work when their child reaches 5 years; and
  • the lack of a childcare strategy in Northern Ireland.

 

Ms Pam Lewis joined the meeting at 9.55am

The Committee acknowledged that some aspects of the Bill could potentially have a more adverse impact in Northern Ireland than other parts of the UK.  The Committee recognised that the Department must fully consider the responses received to the EQIA and take these into account as it develops its policy going forward.

Mr David McClarty left the meeting at 10.10am

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 10.12am

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for the briefing.

Mr David McClarty re-joined the meeting 10.21am

The representatives left the meeting at 10.22am

6.  Volunteering Strategy and Action Plan – Departmental Briefing

The following officials from the Department joined the meeting at 10.23am:

Mr Russell McCaughey, Acting Director, Voluntary Community Unit

Mr Jack O’Connor, Voluntary and Community Unit

The officials briefed the Committee on the Volunteering Strategy and Action Plan.  This     was followed by a question and answer session.

The Committee welcomed the fact that DSD are the lead Department in the Volunteering Strategy and that a cross-Government and cross-volunteering sector approach will be adopted to implement the Strategy.

Some Members questioned if any discussions have taken place with other     Departments regarding their input in the joined-up approach.

Members acknowledged the substantial contribution that faith-based organisations make to volunteering but questioned if the Department are encouraging faith-based and community organisations to work collaboratively in order to avoid duplication.

Members recognised the goodwill of people who get involved in volunteering activities like the Special Olympics.

Some Members argued that people who are on benefits are not able to volunteer as they need to be available for work.  Members questioned if any discussions have taken place to help those people who claim benefits and wish to volunteer in their local community.

Mr Michael Copeland re-joined the meeting at 10.28am

Mr Alex Easton left the meeting at 10.31am

Ms Judith Cochrane joined the meeting at 10.38am

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 10.54am

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to ask for a copy of the literature that is being provided to the Social Security Agency which provides advice to claimants who wish to volunteer. 

 8.  Consultation on Bereavement Benefit for the 21st Century – Departmental Briefing

The following officials from the Department joined the meeting at 10.55am: 

Ms Anne McCleary

Mr Michael Pollock

Mr Alex Easton re-joined the meeting at 10.57am                   

The officials briefed the Committee on the Bereavement Benefit for the 21st Century Consultation.

This was followed by a question and answer session.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 11.19am

The Committee considered a draft response to the Consultation.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward to the Department the response to the consultation as amended.  The Committee also agreed to write to the Department to ask for the definition of ‘civil partnership’.

9.  Proposed Subordinate Legislation

The Social Security (Recovery) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012.

The following Departmental officials joined the meeting at 11.20am.

Ms Anne McCleary

Mr Sam Dempster

Mr Conrad McConnell

Ms Valerie McCloskey

A question and answer session followed.

Mr David McClarty left the meeting at 11.44am

Some Members expressed concerns regarding the proposed maximum deduction from benefit increasing from £13.60 to £17.00.  Some Members were of the view that claimants will have to pay back more from a benefit that is already at subsistence level and this could potentially have an impact on their dependants.

Following the discussions, the Committee divided on the following motion:

“That the Committee for Social Development is content for the Rule to be made”

Ayes 5;  Noes 4 

The motion was supported.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

Mr Conrad McConnell and Ms Valerie McCloskey left the meeting at 11.53am

The Social Security (Suspension of Payment of Benefits and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for their attendance at the meeting.

Ms Anne McCleary and Mr Sam Dempster left the meeting at 11.55am.

The Committee were content for the Rule to be made.

The Registered Rents (Increase) Order (Northern Ireland) 2012

The Committee were content for the Rule to be made.

The Pensions (Institute and Faculty of Actuaries) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012

The Committee were content for the Rule to be made.

The Pensions (2005 Order) (Disclosure of Restricted Information by the Pensions Regulator) (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) 2012.

The Committee were content for the Rule to be made.

The Occupational Pensions Schemes (Contracting-Out and Modification of Schemes) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012

The Committee were content for the Rule to be made.

Mr Fra McCann left the meeting at 11.57am

The Social Security (Claims and Payments) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012

The Committee were content for the Rule to be made.

The Employment and Support Allowance (Amendment of Linking Rules) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012

The Committee were content for the Rule to be made.

10.  Statutory Rules

The Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012.

Question put and agreed:

“That the Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule SR 83/2012 The Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012 and subject to the Examiner of Statutory Rules’ Report has no objection to the rule”.

Mr Fra McCann re-joined the meeting at 11.59am

The Pneumoconiosis, etc., (Worker’s Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012.

Question put and agreed:

“That the Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule SR 84/2012 The Pneumoconiosis, etc., (Worker’s Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012 and subject to the Examiner of Statutory Rules’ Report has no objection to the rule”.

Mr Mickey Brady left the meeting at 11.59am

11.  Correspondence

The Committee considered correspondence from the Minister regarding claims for Employment and Support Allowance in respect of people being treated for cancer who have returned to Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to schedule a briefing from the Department on this.

The Committee noted correspondence from the Department regarding the Committee’s request for a briefing from legal and/or medical practitioners who sit on the Tribunal panel that hears appeals relating to Work Capability Assessment.

The Committee considered correspondence from the Department which provided information regarding the advantages of wood pellet boilers compared to other forms of heat production. 

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward this response to BS Holdings which originally contacted the Committee on this subject.

The Committee considered correspondence from the Department in response to the Committee’s request for further information regarding the Green New Deal.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to forward this response to the Committee for Finance and Personnel, the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Committee for the Environment for their information.

The Committee noted correspondence from the Department in response to the Committee’s request for further information in relation to the number of empty homes that have housing benefits attributed to them.

The Committee considered correspondence from the Services Industrial Professional  Technical Union (SIPTU) regarding their campaign to protect and enhance the delivery of Community and Voluntary Services.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to schedule a briefing from this group on this issue.

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

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 11.59am

Ms Pam Lewis left the meeting at 12.03pm

The meeting adjourned at 12.03pm

The meeting opened at 12.14pm

12.  Pensions Bill Report

The Committee considered a draft Report on the Committee Stage of the Pensions Bill.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the Executive Summary of the report on page 1 to 2

Agreed: The Committee read and agreed the Introduction to the Bill on pages 3 to 9

Agreed: The Committee read and agreed the Consideration of the Bill on pages 10 to 11

Agreed: The Committee read and agreed the Clause-by-Clause Scrutiny of the Bill on pages 12 to 17

Agreed: The Committee agreed Appendix 1

Agreed: The Committee agreed Appendix 2

Agreed: The Committee agreed Appendix 3

Agreed: The Committee agreed Appendix 4

Agreed: The Committee agreed Appendix 5

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the Report to be printed as the first report of the Social Development Committee for this session of the Assembly

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the relevant extract from the draft minutes of the proceedings of 8 March 2012 be included in the Committee's Report.

Mr Mickey Brady re-joined the meeting at 12.18pm

Mr Michael Copeland re-joined the meeting at 12.18pm

13.  Forward Work Programme

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

14.  Any Other Business        

There was no other business.

15.  Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will take place at 10.00am on Thursday 15 March 2012 in Room 29 Parliament Buildings.

The meeting adjourned at 12.20pm

Mr Alex Maskey
Chairperson, Committee for Social Development.
15 March 2012

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