Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 02 May 2013
Venue: Room 29, Parliament Buildings
The Chairperson declared the meeting open to the public at 10.04.
Apologies were as indicated above
2. Draft Minutes of Meeting 25 April 2013
Agreed: The minutes of the meeting held on 25 April 2013 were agreed.
3. Chairperson's Business
3.1 The Chairperson advised the Committee that concerns were raised by stakeholders following the meeting on 18 April about the SSA officials' representation of the Oversight Board's position on split payments. In particular he highlighted the concern that the Department gave the impression that the Oversight Board was agreed that split payments should be based on evidence of domestic violence when, in fact, his understanding was that there was division in the Board on that issue.
3.2 The Chairperson informed Members that he met with the Chair of the Housing Executive on Tuesday 30 April regarding statements he made in the press regarding the reform of the Housing Executive.
Members acknowledged that there had been no agreement on the future of the Housing Executive.
4. Matters Arising
4.1 The Chairperson drew the Committee's attention to a leaflet on Welfare Reform that the Department proposed to send out to all households in Northern Ireland on Tuesday 7 May. He advised that at its meeting on March 14, the Committee had expressed concerns over such a leaflet being issued before the legislation was finalised.
The Committee noted that the Department's decision to issue this letter in spite of the Committee's concerns was contemptuous of the Committee and agreed that the Chair should write to the Minister requesting that this leaflet not be distributed until the legislative process was completed.
Mr Mickey Brady MLA left the meeting at 10.13am
4.2 The Chairperson advised that Landlord's Association of Northern Ireland (LANI) wrote to the Committee to express disappointment that issues on tenant liability and responsibility were not raised at the Housing Stakeholders event on 11 April. He confirmed that the Committee Clerk had responded to LANI indicating that the issue will be raised in the Committee's work programme.
4.3 The Chairperson drew the Members' attention to an email from the Examiner of Statutory Rules, commenting on SR 2012/159 – Fuel Allowances Payment Scheme. The email detailed concerns over the Department's failure to provide the Committee with a copy of the Statutory Rule for consideration. The Committee agreed to note the comments made by the Examiner of Statutory Rules.
4.4 The Chairperson noted that Volunteer Now had written previously to the Committee to express concern about the lack of engagement with the volunteer sector by the Department following its decision to terminate the framework of support for the volunteering infrastructure. He advised that the Minister would brief the Committee on his decision on the way forward at the meeting on Thursday 9 May. The Committee agreed that they would put it to the Minister that the Department should be bringing forward proposals rather than decisions and that there needed to be clear discussions with stakeholders on the issue.
4.5 The Chairperson reminded the Committee that there would be an event on repossessions following the Committee meeting on Thursday 6 June, held in conjunction with the Housing Rights Service. The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposed programme for this event.
5. NIHE Heating Policy Review consultation update – Departmental Briefing
The following officials from the NIHE joined the meeting at 10.17am:
• Harry Dornan, Assistant Director, Estate Services
• Liz Findlay, Senior Principal Officer, Estate Services
• John Morrison, Principal Officer, Heating Services Unit
The Department briefed the Committee on the NIHE Heating Policy Review consultation. This was followed by a question and answer session.
Committee Members expressed concerns over new heating systems that had been installed in high rise blocks that were proving more expensive for residents. The Department responded that there was a lack of understanding around some new heating systems and that educating residents regarding the efficient use of new heating systems may be required.
The Committee expressed concerns that, although gas was generally considered a preferential and more economically sound source of heating, that the up-front cost of switching to oil was prohibitive for many residents. Members also expressed concern that, while gas may currently be the cheaper alternative, this could change in the future.
Ms Pam Brown MLA left the meeting at 10.26am.
The Department acknowledged that it was difficult to monitor or predict what more cost effective means of heating were likely to be in the future.
The Committee also expressed concerns around the issue of tipping oil tanks and the damage that this ultimately caused. The Department noted that education around these issues was vital.
Members of the Committee asked when gas pipelines would be extended outside Belfast. The Department advised that pipelines were soon to be extended to Fermanagh, Dungannon and Omagh.
The Committee noted the importance of cavity wall insulation but highlighted the potential degradation of such insulation in older houses. The Department noted that Environmental Protection Certificates (EPCs) take cavity wall insulation into consideration, but acknowledged that it is difficult to identify need for top ups in cavity wall insulation. It is currently carrying out a review into this issue.
Members of the Committee emphasised the need for a holistic approach when considering how homes are heated, taking into consideration insulation and heating systems.
Mr Michael Copeland MLA left the meeting at 11.15am.
The Chairperson thanked the officials for their attendance at the meeting.
The officials left the meeting at 11.16am.
6. Affordable Warmth Pilot – Departmental Briefing
The following officials from the Department joined the meeting at 11.17am:
• Eilish O'Neill, DSD
• Professor Christine Liddell, University of Ulster
The Chairperson asked for an update on fuel poverty from the Department.
Ms Pam Brown MLA joined the meeting at 11.20am.
The Department delivered a short briefing on the Affordable Warmth Pilot and handed over to Prof Christine Liddell from University of Ulster to outline the research process and area-based pilot scheme in more detail. This was followed by a question and answer session.
Mr Fra McCann MLA left the meeting at 11.30am.
Ms Judith Cochrane MLA and Mr Gregory Campbell MLA left the meeting at 11.34am.
Prof. Liddell highlighted concerns over the number of people who had to spend 30% - 40% of their income on heating and emphasized that fuel poverty started to become a serious issue particularly when households required a secondary source of heating.
The Chairperson asked what were the proposed next steps in the process.
The Department emphasised the success of the targeting methods used in this study and noted that this would be used as a tool in future schemes. It also proposed test delivery in one council area.
Ms O'Neill also expressed the desire to get councils involved in a larger scheme and potential employment opportunities in surveying door to door, but advised that a number of councils had declined the opportunity to become involved.
The Committee also asked if the thematic action groups established to develop solutions to fuel poverty had been involved in the process. The Department advised that the thematic groups were involved at the consultation held previously at Crumlin Road.
The Chairperson thanked the officials for their attendance at the meeting and advised that the Committee would return to this issue at a later date.
The officials left the meeting at 11.53am.
7.1 The Committee noted a letter from the HSSPS Committee regarding organising a meeting on Special Needs Management Allowance The Chair stated that a meeting should be arranged with the HSSPS Committee to include the Chairs and Clerks from each Committee, Departmental representatives from each department and other interested Members.
The Committee agreed that this meeting should be expedited.
7.2 The Committee noted the rest of the correspondence as per the correspondence memo.
8. Forward Work Programme
The Committee was content with the proposed Forward Work Programme.
9. Any Other Business
The Chairperson raised the issue of Newry-based company Garrivan & O'Rourke, which recently went into administration. He expressed concerns that the company had existing maintenance contracts with the NIHE and recommended that the Committee should seek an urgent briefing from the Department on this issue.
The Committee was content for this briefing to be arranged.
10. Date, time and place of next meeting
The next meeting will take place at 10.00am on Thursday 9 May 2013 in Room 29 Parliament Buildings.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 11.56am.