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

Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2012/2013

Date: 16 May 2013

Venue: Room 29

The Chairperson declared the meeting open to the public at 10.05am.

1. Apologies

Apologies were as indicated above

Gregory Campbell MLA joined the meeting at 10.07am

2. Draft Minutes of Meeting 9 May 2013

Agreed: The minutes of the meeting held on 9 May 2013 were agreed.

3. Chairperson’s Business

3.1 The Chairperson drew the Committee’s attention to a letter from the Minister dated 13 May regarding the delay in the issue of correspondence relating to ESA payments, prompted by the Committee’s concerns over the issue of an information leaflet on Welfare Reform. The letter went on to comment that it was unlikely that the IT release for welfare reform will happen before April 2014.

The Committee agreed to return to this at a later date.

Mark Durkan MLA joined the meeting at 10.08am.

3.2 The Chairperson reminded Members that there would be a visit to Ballynafeigh Community Development Association following the Committee Meeting to find out more about Shared Community Schemes. He asked Members to indicate their intention to attend the visit. Three Members indicated that they would be attending.

3.3 The Chairperson drew Members’ attention to a draft Press Release on the Committee visit to Ballynafeigh Community Development Association and the 6 June event on repossessions. The Committee indicated that it was content with these.

4. Matters Arising

4.1 The Chairperson informed the Committee that opposition to ten clauses in the Welfare Reform Bill had been lodged with the Bill Office on Wednesday 15 May. The clauses opposed by the Committee at its Meeting on 12 February 2012 were: 4, 10, 12, 26, 52, 54, 69, 99, 109, 110. The Chair noted that these clauses were opposed in order to obtain speaking rights for Committee members on these clauses at Consideration Stage and was without prejudice to how members might vote in any future stage of the Bill.

4.2 The Chairperson advised the Committee that invitations to the Committee stakeholder event on Repossessions and Negative Equity, now to be held at Stormont Hotel on Thursday 6 June, were issued to stakeholders on Wednesday 15 May. He noted that two speakers were confirmed for the event and that a third speaker had been approached but was yet to confirm.

4.3 The Chairperson drew the Committee’s attention to a letter from Volunteer Now expressing concern over the lack of engagement with the Department over the past year. The Chair noted that concerns had been expressed from other voluntary organisations and recommended that relevant organisations be invited to present formally to the Committee. Members were content for this briefing to be scheduled.

5. Public Benefit and Registration Guidance Consultation – Briefing by the Charity Commission

The following officials from the Charity Commission joined the meeting at 10.12am:

  • Frances McCandless, Chief Executive of the Charity Commission
  • Punam McCookin, Head of Charity Services
  • Tom McGrath, Chief Charity Commissioner

The Charity Commission briefed the Committee on the Public Benefit and Registration Guidance Consultation.

The Committee praised the consultation for its clarity and the officials noted that it would take time to finalise Registration Guidance that suited the needs of all organisations but that they continued to amend guidance based on consultation.

The Committee acknowledged that some Departmental grant funding would be cyclical, perhaps occurring on an annual basis, and queried whether, with thousands of organisations to process, was there sufficient resources to manage this to ensure that organisations did not miss out on their funding. The officials responded that registering for charitable status should not be a barrier to organisations receiving funding.

Judith Cochrane MLA joined the meeting at 10.22am.

The Committee inquired as to whether there was a chance of smaller charities with fewer resources being disallowed from registering as a charity due to difficulties with the process or lack of expertise. The officials responded that this should not be the case. They elaborated that every attempt is being made to ensure that the process is as straightforward as possible and that the approach was based on tried and tested models in England and Wales. They also stated that they are working with umbrella organisations such as NICVA to ensure any possible impact is minimised.

The Officials also noted that as well as large organisations such as NICVA and RCN, much smaller voluntary organisations were also involved in the consultation process – representing good representation across the charity sector. They also noted that there has been very positive engagement with churches.

The Committee asked whether it had become evident that there were any sectors that did not have capacity to engage. The officials replied that, although some organisations had a stronger representation in the consultation generally there was a good spread of organisations from across the sector.

The Committee asked whether there was any mechanism for appeals in place for the system. The officials replied that there were two mechanisms – an internal review and external review. People have the right to appeal to an external arbiter in the form of the Charities Tribunal, part of the Courts Service.

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

The officials left the meetings at 10.28am.

Fra McCann MLA left the meeting at 10.28am.

6. Shared Community Scheme – Departmental Briefing

The following officials from the Department joined the meeting at 10.29am:

  • Beverley Bigger, DSD
  • Jennifer Hawthorne, NIHE Cohesion Unit

The Department briefed the Committee on the Shared Community Programme, the follow up to the Shared Neighbourhood Programme, with particular reference to Ballynafeigh Community Development Association.  This was followed by a question and answer session.

The chairperson began by asking the officials to elaborate on the amended Housing Executive application form which is part of the Department’s Draft Housing Strategy Action Plan.

Ms Judith Cochrane left the meeting at 10.52am

The Committee asked the officials to provide an update on Phase 2 of the Shared Neighbourhood Programme.  Members welcomed the positive work carried out by communities but recognised that the demographics of some areas have changed over the years which have led to sectarian attacks. The officials highlighted the physical intervention that NIHE is sometimes required to install as a landlord to protect property and enhance safety but also noted their role in relationship building within communities.

The Committee expressed concerns around some of the language used in the Shared Community Programme. There was particular concern that providing housing for those who wish to live together is in fact providing housing for people who may not want to live with a particular community.  Members argued that new build housing should be marketed as shared as the norm. Officials highlighted that housing association new builds are addressed on need which is critical and they are guiding housing associations to deem all new builds to have shared potential.  The officials also highlighted the reality on the ground of deep segregation within estates. 

The Committee referred to the figure, as indicated by the officials, that there has been 25% increase in intimidation over the past year which has led to an increase in homelessness.  The officials acknowledged that this is the first year in 18 years that this figure has risen and that further analysis of the figures is required in order to establish the reason for this increase and whether it is predominantly due to intimidation within communities or between communities. 

The Chairperson asked that these figures are treated with caution until further analysis is carried out.

In terms of promoting and involving people in the community, the Committee asked the officials how they can ensure the involvement of people in community groups who normally would chose not to be involved in such programmes.  The officials explained that they bring together all the groups within an existing area to set up a forum.  They also advised that they task their researchers to carry out a comprehensive door to door attitude survey and ask the views of those individuals.

The Committee queried what constitutes paramilitary intimidation and asked if there were lines of communication to establish whether those being blamed for intimidation were in fact responsible.  The officials explained that they are duty bound to verify the threat to life when an individual claims homelessness on the basis of intimidation.  To that end they liaise with the PSNI for verification of such claims and act accordingly.

In relation to work carried out in interface areas, the Committee acknowledged that good relations projects funded by the Department have stimulated economic and social regeneration.

The Committee finished by commending the officials for the work they have been done and continue to be involved in.

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

The officials left the meeting at 11.22am.

7. Public Maintenance Contracts and the Garrivan and O’Rourke Situation – Departmental Briefing

The following officials from the Department joined the meeting at 11.23:

  • Mr Gerry Flynn, Director of Housing and Regeneration
  • Mr Declan Allen, Head of Procurement

The Chairperson began by highlighting the difficulties that have been faced by employees of organisations contracted by the NIHE in respect of their TUPE arrangements and that these were exacerbated when companies such as Garrivan and O’Rourke entered administration.

The Chairperson also expressed disappointment regarding the responses he had previously received from the Department and the Housing Executive on these issues.

The Chairperson asked the officials to provide the Committee with an update on events in relation to the Garrivan and O’Rourke contract and the impact this has had on the workforce and on the provision of maintenance services to tenants.  

The officials provided the Committee with an update on the Garrivan and O’Rourke contract which was followed by a detailed discussion on a number of important issues.

Members expressed concern regarding the backlog of maintenance jobs affecting tenants as a result of Garrivan and O’Rourke going into administration.  The Committee questioned what financial checks had been carried out before awarding the contract. 

The Committee questioned the sustainability of a contract awarded on a ‘cost minus bid’ and highlighted that these sorts of contracts could place a company into financial instability. The Committee sought reassurance that action will be taken to prevent a similar situation arising again.

In respect of the TUPE arrangements, the Committee asked if the rates had stayed the same for employers and whether these rates are more or less than those of the Housing Executive.  The officials confirmed the employees rates stayed the same but were unsure as to whether these were more or less than the Housing Executive. The officials agreed to confirm this. 

Mr Gregory Campbell left the meeting at 12.16pm

Ms Pam Brown left the meeting at 12.25pm

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 12.26pm

The Committee acknowledged that Housing Executive contracts are not the only work that companies are involved in and the reasons for entering administration were likely to be multi-faceted.

The Committee asked the officials if they knew how much of the £7m NI Housing revenue easement noted in the previous monitoring round represented money earmarked for maintenance contracts.  The officials agreed to provide the Committee with this information.

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

Mr Sammy Douglas left the meeting at 12.31pm

The officials left the meeting at 12.32pm.

This session was recorded by Hansard.

8. Proposed Subordinate Legislation

The Committee was content for the following proposed Statutory Rule to be made:

  • The Emergency Grants (Eligible Tenants) (Amendment) Order (NI) 2013.

9. Correspondence

9.1 The Chairperson drew the Committee’s attention to a letter from the Department requesting Committee support for a Legislative Consent Motion, seeking Committee agreement on Clause 41 of the Westminster Pensions Bill and noted that the Legislative Consent Motion would allow the provision to extend to Northern Ireland.

The Committee supported the Department’s request and agreed for the Minister to lay a Legislative Consent Motion to allow the provision to extend to Northern Ireland.  The Chairperson also informed the Committee that the Department would brief the Committee on the Pensions Bill on Thursday 17 June.

9.2 The Chairperson drew the Committee’s attention to a letter from NIPSA regarding the transfer of staff from NIHE and HMRC to DSD at the end of the planned migration period for phasing out of Housing Benefit and Tax Credits (assuming the Welfare Reform Bill proceeds). He noted that there is concern that the normal TUPE arrangements would not apply to the transfer of staff and that Cabinet Office practice would be used instead.

The Chairperson asked if the Committee was content to schedule a briefing from NIPSA on the issue. The Committee agreed to this meeting being scheduled.

10. Forward Work Programme

The Committee was content with the proposed Forward Work Programme.

11. Any Other Business

There was no other business

Mr Sammy Douglas re-joined the meeting at 12.36pm

12. Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will take place at 10.00am on Thursday 23 May 2013 in The Braid Town Hall, Ballymena.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12.39pm.

Mr Alex Maskey
Chairperson, Committee for Social Development
23 May 2013

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