The Northern Ireland Assembly has been dissolved. The election will take place on Thursday 5 May 2016.

Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2012/2013

Date: 10 October 2012

Venue: Room 144, Parliament Buildings

The meeting began in public session at 10:10am.  

1. Apologies

Apologies were as indicated above.

2. Chairperson’s Business

The Chairperson welcomed back Mr Sammy Douglas MLA to the Committee.

3. Welfare Reform Bill – Departmental Briefing

The following officials from the Department joined the meeting at 10.12am

Ms Anne McCleary;

Mr Michael Pollock;

Ms Martina Campbell; and

Ms Margaret Stitt.

The officials briefed the Committee on Clauses 1 – 14 of the Bill.

Ms Paula Bradley joined the meeting at 10.29am

Ms Judith Cochrane joined the meeting at 10.46am

Mr Gregory Campbell left the meeting at 12.00pm

Mr Sammy Douglas left the meeting at 12.00pm

Mr Fra McCann left the meeting at 12.00pm

The Chairperson suspended the meeting at 12.00pm

The Committee reconvened at 12.33pm and the clerk provided an overview of the morning’s discussions.

The officials briefed the Committee on Clauses 15 – 30 of the Bill.

Ms Judith Cochrane left the meeting at 13.23pm

Mr Sammy Douglas re-joined the meeting at 13.30pm

Mr Fra McCann re-joined the meeting at 12.37pm

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 13.45pm

Ms Pam Brown left the meeting at 13.49pm

Ms Judith Cochrane re-joined the meeting at 13.55pm

The briefing was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for their attendance.

The officials left the meeting at 14.03pm.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to ask the following:

Clause 5

  • Clarification on whether money a claimant receives from the Child Maintenance Enforcement Division would be classified as income under UC?

Clause 7

  • Details of what support will be provided to claimants who will be expected to manage the transition to a 4 week period for receipt of Universal Credit?
    • A list of the financial products which will be made available to claimants to assist them in budgeting their finances?
    • The number of people on low-incomes who are paid on weekly or fortnightly basis?
    • Details of what role the Voluntary and Community Sector will provide in the provision of advice on budgeting?
    • Confirmation as to whether the existing rules on habitual residency will be carried forward and if so, will additional safeguards, such as clear guidance, be introduced to protect citizens born in Northern Ireland who move abroad and later returns to the UK?

Clause 8

  • Confirmation as to whether the allowances provided for childcare costs will be made available to non-registered childminders as well as registered childminders?

Clause 9

  • In the event that the main householder/main applicant for UC is on remand, confirmation on whether the Bill allow sufficient operational flexibility to enable the housing benefit element of UC to be separated and thereby enable the rent to continue to be paid?

Clause 10

  • Clarity on what impact the introduction of Universal Credit will have on the child tax credits and child benefit provided to claimants who are responsible for children or qualifying young people?

Clause 11

  • Clarity on the prescribed period for the support for mortgage interest payments under the Bill and when the temporary measures which reduced the period from 35 to 14 weeks will end?
  • Clarity on how household size will be calculated in cases such as separated families with shared parental responsibilities or short-term foster carers?
  • Confirmation as to whether guidance will be provided on the definition of ‘exceptional circumstances’ and ‘suitable accommodation’?
  • Confirmation as to whether financial incentives will be provided to assist claimants to move to the private rented sector in instances of over occupancy?

Clause 13

  • More detail (duration, quality, qualification of training providers) on what training will be provided for client advisers who will be responsible for carrying out work focused interviews?  In particular, what assurances can the Department give that this will enable the advisers to deal with specific mental health issues such as bi-polar disorder and autism?
  • Confirmation on the time period that claimants will have for submitting evidence in respect of good cause in order to avoid being sanctioned for failure to attend an interview?
  • Confirmation as to whether a claimant’s commitment will take account of any permitted work a claimant may also be undertaking?   Will the same rules apply to voluntary work under the claimant’s commitment?

Clause 14

  • Details of what support (provision of internet, newspapers) will be available to claimants to assist them in their search for work?
  • Details of what consideration has been given to the use of mobile phones in assisting the claimants in their search for work?
  • Details of how a claimant’s physical, literacy, numerical and IT skills will be assessed and will this assessment be undertaken at the same stage of the process?  What type and level of training be provided to claimants to assist them in their work preparation?
  • Confirmation as to whether the potential risks of industrial disease will be taken into account in the claimant commitment?
  • Clarity on whether the claimant commitment will be legally binding?

Clause 16

  • Details of what steps the Department is taking to minimise the risk that work placements will lead to possible redundancies of full-time positions?
  • Confirmation as whether work placements will be tailored to the local job-market?

Clause 17

  • Whether industry specific training relevant to a claimant’s previous profession (i.e. plumbing) would be considered under a claimant commitment?

Clause 18

  • Confirmation as to whether a definition or guidance will be provided on what constitutes “availability”?

Clause 19

  • More details on the process for assessing limited capabilities and who will be undertaking this assessment?  Will the assessors have access to a claimant’s full medical records?
  • Will lone parents in full-time education continue to receive benefit?

Clause 20

  • Confirmation as to whether the claimant’s commitment will make an allowance for claimants who are parents/carers/guardians of children with specific conditions such as ADHD?  And for parents during a child’s settling in period at primary school?

Clause 26

  • In instances where the main applicant in a household receives a higher level sanction- can the Department confirm what the impact will be on the family?
    • Will the same amount, minus the main applicant’s allowance – be paid to the partner and the children?
    • Would the person who is sanctioned cease to be the main applicant?
    • Would the partner be reclassified as a lone parent and therefore receive a lone parents benefits?
    • Can the Department outline the process and timeline for reassessment of UC in this instance?
    • Is ‘good reason’ the same as ‘good cause’?
  • If a sanction is imposed and evidence is subsequently produced that would call into doubt the decision, what procedures are in place to protect the claimant? Example of a claimant with a medical condition that would impair their decision making process is sanctioned for failure to comply and evidence of the condition was subsequently provided to the department.

Clause 27

  • Does the notion of reasonable travel time, in respect of work availability, include travel to another jurisdiction?

Clause 29

  • Confirmation on what will happen to those functions assigned to the Department for Employment and Learning if this Department is later dissolved?

The Chairperson advised Members that at next week’s meeting the Committee will consider Standing Order 35 as a substantive business item.  The Chairperson also advised Members that the Clerk is working with the Bill Office and the Speakers Office on this issue.

4. Any Other Business

There was no other business

5. Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will take place at 10:00am on Thursday 11 October 2012 in Room 29 Parliament Buildings.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 14:04pm.

Mr Alex Maskey
Chairperson, Committee for Social Development.
18 October 2012

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