Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Thursday, 08 September 2011

Venue: Room 29, Parliament Buildings

The meeting began at 10.07am in open session.

1. Apologies

Apologies were as noted.

2. Chairperson’s Business

The Chairperson referred to a meeting with the Minister in respect of the Red Sky contract that took place during the summer recess.

3. Draft Minutes of Meeting 30 June 2011

Agreed: The minutes of the meeting held on Thursday 30 June 2011 were agreed.

4. Matters Arising – Summary of Responses to DWP Green Paper on Future Pension Reform

The Committee considered the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published paper on a summary of the responses to the DWP Green Paper on Future Pension Reform which includes a reference to the Social Development Committee response.

5. Declaration of Members’ Interests

Agreed: The Committee agreed to note copies of registered Declaration of Interests for Members of the Social Development Committee.

Ms Judith Cochrane joined the meeting at 10.11am

6. Update on Collaborative Working in Disadvantaged Areas – Departmental Briefing

The following senior Departmental officials joined the meeting at 10.12am:

Mr Henry Johnston – Director, Urban Regeneration and Strategy Directorate;

Mr Declan McGeown – Head of Community Safety, Department of Justice; and

Chief Superintendent Mr Peter Farrar – Deputy Head Criminal Justice Department, PSNI.

The officials provided a briefing on the Collaborative Working in Disadvantaged Areas Programme. This was followed by a question and answer session.

Ms Pam Lewis joined the meeting at 10.19am

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 11.01am.

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 11.01am

7. Proposed Pensions Bill – Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) Consultation – Departmental Briefing

Agreed : The Committee agreed to its response to the EQIA Consultation on the Proposed Pensions Bill for Northern Ireland until it receives a Departmental briefing on the proposed Bill, including a summary of responses from stakeholders, currently scheduled for 6 October 2011 Committee meeting.

8. Draft Committee Press Release on EQIA on Welfare Reform

Agreed: The Committee agreed to publish the Committee press release urging people to respond to the Department’s consultation on the EQIA on Welfare Reform proposals.

9. Response to the Consultation on Pavement Cafés - Departmental Briefing

The following officials from the Department for Social Development joined the meeting at 11.03am:

Mr Henry Johnston – Director, Urban Regeneration and Strategy Directorate; and

Mr Gary McAlorum - Urban Regeneration and Strategy Directorate.

The officials provided a briefing on the outcome of the consultation on a statutory licensing scheme for Pavement Cafés. This was followed by a question and answer session.

Mr Mark H Durkan declared an interest as his family owns a licensed premises at 11.12am.

Agreed: The Committee welcomed the proposed legislation in particular its potential impact on the tourism industry and for renewal of towns and cities in Northern Ireland. The Committee also welcomed the fact that there would now be a single agency responsible for both licensing and enforcement and called on the Department to ensure more collaborative working with the Planning Service and to consider the implications of any proposed legislation on existing licensing laws.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 11.15am.

Agreed: The Committee agreed not to submit a formal Committee response to the Consultation.

10. Proposed Subordinate Legislation

The following officials from the Department for Social Development joined the meeting at 11.16am:

Anne McCleary Social Security Policy and Legislation Division, DSD;

Conrad McConnell Fraud Policy Unit, Social Security Agency; and

Joanne Moore Fraud Policy Unit, Social Security Agency.

The officials provided further clarification on the following items of subordinate legislations before the Committee.

Mr Michael Copeland re-joined the meeting at 11.16am

10.1 Social Security (Miscellaneous Amendments No.X) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

Some Members questioned the rationale for these Regulations and expressed concern that as the social security forms are very complex, some claimants may need assistance to complete them and as a result may require the additional two weeks. Some Members also sought assurances on the existing safeguards in place for vulnerable people in respect of demonstrating “good cause” for failing to return the questionnaire on time.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the Rule to be made.

10.2 Social Security (Miscellaneous Amendments No.Y) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

Some Members expressed concern in respect of the Rules’ requirement for lone parents who are 18 years old or over to attend quarterly work-focused interviews when their youngest child is aged between 4 and 5 in October 2011. Some Members were concerned about the lack of available childcare to enable parents to meet this requirement and the fact that this coincides with the new school year when many parents will have caring responsibilities to accommodate their child’s settling in period in a new school/pre-school.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the Rule to be made.

10.3 Agreed: The Committee agreed to note correspondence from the Department in respect of the form of acceptable proof-of-age documentation required for licensed premises.

11. Statutory Rules

11.1 SR 2011 No.293 The Housing Benefit (Amendment No.2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

Agreed: The Committee agreed to defer consideration of this Statutory Rule pending a briefing from the Voluntary Sector Housing Policy Forum on these Regulations at the Committee meeting on 15 September 2011.

11.2 SR 2011 No.291 The Social Security (Loss of Benefit) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

The Committee expressed its support for the Department’s efforts to tackle benefit fraud but re-iterated its concern that claimants were being prosecuted twice, once by the Court in terms of a fine and then by the Department in the form of benefit sanctions.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to defer consideration of this Rule pending clarification from the Minister on the implications for parity if the Committee decides not to support the Rule and whether there is scope for the Rule to be administered differently here to take account of local circumstances. The Committee also agreed to seek clarity on the administrative adjudication of the Rule in respect of sanctioning by both the Department and the Courts.

Agreed: The Committee also agreed to seek clarification on the number of cases which were sent to the Public Prosecution Service which actually resulted in prosecution.

Mr Fra McCann left the meeting at 11.51am

11.3 SR 2011 No.265 The Employment and Support Allowance (Work-related Activity) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

Question put and agreed:

“The Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule: SR 2011 No. 265 : The Employment and Support Allowance (Work-related Activity) Regulations (NI) 2011 and subject to the Examiner of Statutory Rules’ report recommends that it be confirmed by the Assembly.”

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 11.53am

11.4 SR 2011 No.264 The Charities (Interim Manager) Regulations (NI) 2011

Question put and agreed:

“The Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule: SR 2011 No. 264 : The Charities (Interim Manager) Regulations (NI) 2011 and subject to the Examiner of Statutory Rules’ report has no objection to the Rule.”

11.5 SR 2011 No.280 The Occupational Pension Schemes (Assignment, Forfeiture, Bankruptcy, etc) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2011

Question put and agreed:

“The Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule: SR 2011 No. 264 : The Occupational Pension Schemes (Assignment, Forfeiture, Bankruptcy, etc) Regulations (NI) 2011 and subject to the Examiner of Statutory Rules’ report has no objection to the Rule.”

11.6 The Committee noted correspondence from the Department in respect of SR214/2011 The Registered Rent (Increase) Order (NI) 2011.

12. Outcome on Consultation on Sunday Trading Laws - Departmental Briefing

The following officials from the Department for Social Development joined the meeting at 11.55am:

Mr Henry Johnston – Director, Urban Regeneration and Strategy Directorate; and

Mr Gary McAlorum - Urban Regeneration and Strategy Directorate.

Mr Mark H. Durkan left the meeting at 11.55am

Mr Fra McCann joined the meeting at 11.56am

The officials provided a briefing on the outcome of the consultation on Sunday Trading Laws reviewing shop opening hours. This was followed by a question and answer session.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the way forward as proposed by the Minister and the Department in particular the decision not to ease the current restrictions on Sunday opening of large shops.

The officials left the meeting at 12.00pm.

13. Correspondence

13.1 The Committee considered correspondence from the Green New Deal Group requesting an opportunity to brief the Committee on its revised business plan.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to invite the Green New Deal Group to brief the Committee on 10 November 2011.

13.2 The Committee considered correspondence from the Chartered Institute of Housing (NI) and Saving the Children requesting an opportunity to brief the Committee.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to invite both organisations to the Committee’s Informal Stakeholder Reception on 22 September 2011.

13.3 Agreed: The Committee agreed request a briefing from the Housing Executive in respect of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s 40 th Annual Report.

13.4 Agreed: The Committee agreed to note correspondence from the Fuel Poverty Coalition in respect of a Fuel Poverty Conference on Friday 23 September 2011 at the Millennium Forum in Londonderry.

13.5 Agreed: The Committee agreed to note recent press releases from the Department in respect of fuel poverty and the EQIA on Welfare Reform.

13.6 Agreed: The Committee agreed for the Committee Secretariat to deal with all other items of correspondence in accordance with the next steps outlined in the Clerk’s correspondence memo.

14. Forward Work Programme

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

15. Any Other Business

Agreed: The Committee agreed to send a letter to the Department to seek more information on the eligibility criteria for the pilot Boiler Replacement Scheme which was launched by DSD at the end of June 2011.

16. Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 15 September 2011 in Room 29, Parliament Buildings at 10.00am.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12.11pm.

Mr Alex Maskey
Chairperson, Committee for Social Development.
15 September 2011

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