Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 10 November 2011

Venue: Room 29, Parliament Buildings

The meeting opened in public session at 10.04am.

1. Apologies

Apologies were as indicated above.

Mr Mark H Durkan joined the meeting at 10.04am

2. Draft Minutes of Meeting 27 October 2011

Agreed: The minutes of the meeting held on Thursday 27 October 2011 were agreed.

3. Matters Arising

Agreed: Members agreed a Committee response to the recent DSD consultation on the Minimum Unit Pricing of Alcohol.

Mr Gregory Campbell joined the meeting at 10.07am

The Chairperson provided an update on preparations for the Committee’s forthcoming Fuel Poverty Event which takes place in the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings.

Mr Michael Copeland apprised the Committee of a recent meeting with Mr Alex Hill, Chief Advisor to Scotland and Northern Ireland at the Met Office.

4. Chairpersons’ Business

The Chairperson briefed the Committee on a recent meeting with the Minister to discuss the forthcoming Pensions Bill for Northern Ireland.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to request how and when the Department intends to take the NI Pensions Bill forward.

5. Green New Deal – Briefing by the NI Green New Deal Group

The following representatives from the Green New Deal Group joined the meeting at 10.13am:

Mr Paddy McIntyre Chairman, Green New Deal Group NI;

Mr John Woods Project Leader, Green New Deal Group NI;

Mr Seamus McAleavey Member of Steering Group, Green New Deal Group NI.

The representatives briefed the Committee on the proposals for the Green New Deal Group’s proposals for housing.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 10.48am.

Agreed: Members agreed to forward the briefing papers to the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment and to the All-Party Working Group on Construction.

Agreed: Members agreed to write to the Minister to seek confirmation of a date when a decision is expected on the allocation of the £12m in question; and what criteria is being used to examine the economic appraisal of the Green New Deal business plan and other alternative plans in informing that decision.

6. Welfare Reform Bill – Departmental Briefing

The following senior officials from the Social Security Agency and the Department for Social Development joined the meeting at 10.49am:

Mr Thomas O’Reilly – Chief Executive, Social Security Agency; and

Ms Heather Cousins – Deputy Secretary, Resources, Housing and Social Security Group.

The officials provided an overview of the key proposals contained within the forthcoming Welfare Reform Bill for Northern Ireland.

Mr Alex Easton left the meeting at 11.15am

Mr David McClarty left the meeting at 11.25am

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 11.42am

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The representatives left the meeting at 11.43am

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the relevant briefing papers to the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety; the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Committee for Employment and Learning.

7. Proposed Subordinate Legislation
7.1 The Jobseeker’s Allowance (Sanctions for Failure to Attend) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

Agreed: The Committee noted that this Rule was introduced in Great Britain in February 2010 and agreed to write to the Department to seek clarity on the implications for parity in light of the delayed introduction in Northern Ireland.

Mr Michael Copeland rejoined the meeting at 11.46am

8. Statutory Rules
8.1 SR 2011 No.383: The Social Fund (Cold Weather Payments) (General) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

Question put and agreed:

“The Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule: SR 2011 No. 383: The Social Fund (Cold Weather Payments) (General) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011 and subject to the Examiner of Statutory Rules’ Report has no objection to the Rule.”

8.2 SR 2011/357 The Social Security (Miscellaneous Amendments No 2) Regulations (NI) 2011

Question put and agreed:

“The Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule: SR 2011 No. 357 : The Social Security (Miscellaneous Amendments No.2) Regulations (NI) 2011 and subject to the Examiner of Statutory Rules’ report has no objection to the Rule.”

Members noted the Department’s assurances that lack of childcare will be taken into account in determining “good cause” for failure to attend an interview.

9. Correspondence

9.1 The Committee considered correspondence from Advice NI in respect Mortgage Debt.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to invite Advice NI to brief the Committee on these papers early in 2012.

9.2 The Committee considered the Annual Report from the Comptroller and Auditor General and in particular the section relating to the Department for Social Development.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Minister to ask what steps the Department is taking to reduce the significant level of official error in the payment of benefits and to seek more information on what measures the Department is taking to address the generally poor performance of Housing Associations.

9.3 The Committee considered correspondence from the Social Security Agency in respect of the proposed reform of the Social Fund.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Social Security Agency to seek clarity on why more organisations from the Voluntary and Community Sector were not invited to participate as Members of the Oversight Board.

9.4 The Committee considered correspondence from the Department in respect of Helm Housing Association.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to clarify why the interim report was not made available to the Committee despite being widely reported on in the press.

9.5 The Committee considered correspondence from the Department in respect of the Warm Home Discount scheme which operates in Great Britain.

Agreed: The Committee expressed its concern that this scheme was not yet available in Northern Ireland and noted that this was an example where the principle of parity was broken to the detriment of people living in Northern Ireland. The Committee also agreed to forward this correspondence to the Committee for Enterprise Trade and Investment and Age NI.

9.6 The Committee considered correspondence from the Department regarding the Boiler Replacement Scheme.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to query the implications of the low uptake of the pilot boiler replacement scheme and to ask what additional measures will be taken to address the low uptake of this scheme to date. The Committee also requested that is briefed on the outcome of the evaluation of the pilot Boiler Replacement Scheme once it is completed.

9.7 The Committee considered correspondence from the Participation and the Practice of Rights Project on behalf of the Seven Towers Residents’ Group.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the correspondence to the Department to request a response to the issues raised by the PPR Project in their paper and an explanation as to why alternative proposals were not explored. The Committee also agreed to express its concern that the NIHE had failed to notify the residents or Department of the serious health and safety risks posed by the balconies in the Seven Towers flats.

9.8 The Committee considered a number of items of correspondence from groups in the community and voluntary expressing concerns about the Department’s plans for the new Regional Infrastructure Programme.

Members expressed concern that they had not yet had an opportunity to hear directly from stakeholders affected by the proposals.

9.9 Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Minister to request that he delays the next step of the process to allow time for the Committee to consult with key stakeholders. The Committee expects to hear from the stakeholders at its meeting of 1 December 2011.

Agreed: The Committee agreed it was content with the proposed way forward for the remaining items of correspondence sent to the Committee as outlined in the Clerk’s briefing note.

10. Forward Work Programme

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

11. Any Other Business

Agreed: The Clerk agreed to consult the Committee on proposed phrases which sum up the Committee’s work to be used as part of a new Committee display stand.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to seek an update on progress in implementing the proposals contained within the Housing (Amendment) Act Northern Ireland 2011.

12. Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 17 November 2011 in Room 29, Parliament Buildings at 10.00am.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12.05pm

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