Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 20 October 2011

Venue: Room 29, Parliament Buildings

The meeting opened in public session at 10.04am.

1. Apologies

Apologies were as indicated above.

2. Draft Minutes of Meeting 13 October 2011

Agreed: The minutes of the meeting held on Thursday 13 October 2011 were agreed.

3. Chairperson’s Business

The Deputy Chairperson advised Members that Mr Alex Hill the Chief Advisor from the Met Office to the governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland has offered to speak informally to the Chair and members of the Committee on 3 November 2011 regarding the weather prospects for this winter.

Agreed: The Committee agreed for the Clerk to contact Mr Hill and schedule a meeting with Michael Copeland and other Members should they wish to attend.

4. Matters Arising

The Committee considered a draft response to the Minister on the consultation on the Review of Gambling legislation.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to revise the draft response to the DSD’s consultation on the Review of Gambling Legislation to include the Committee’s concern about the widespread operation of illegal bookmakers and the need for appropriate enforcement to ensure that members of the public and legitimate bookmakers are protected.

5. Charities Amendment Bill – Departmental Briefing

The following officials from the Department for Social Development joined the meeting at 10.13am:

Ms Maeve Walls, Director, Voluntary and Community Unit;
Mr Roy McGivern, Principal Officer, Voluntary and Community Unit; and
Ms Andrea Patterson, Deputy Principal, Voluntary and Community Unit.

The officials briefed the Committee on the Charities Amendment Bill.

Ms Judith Cochrane joined the meeting at 10.21am

Mr Sammy Douglas declared an interest as a member of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland

Members considered the issue of ‘public benefit’ in particular how this relates to faith-based charities and also raised concerns about the potential demands on small religious groups in respect of the accounting and reporting regulations.

Members also raised concerns about the impact of the delay that implementing this legislation may have had on the work of the Charities Commission for Northern Ireland particularly in respect of registering charities and in dealing with complaints.

Members considered the interim measures that are in place to deal with complaints against charities and also queried the amount of complaints that are under investigation since the interim measures have been put in place.

Members also queried the number of charities in Northern Ireland which highlighted the need for a Northern Ireland register of charities.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing

The officials left the meeting at 10.38am

Agreed: The Committee agreed to wait on the outcome from the Department on this issue and to reconsider it in the New Year.

6. Northern Ireland Housing Executive 40 th Annual Report - Housing Executive Briefing

The following officials from the Housing Executive joined the meeting at 10.41am:

Dr John McPeake - Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Housing Executive; and
Mr Clarke Bailie - Director of Finance, Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

The officials provided a briefing on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive 40th Annual Report.

Ms Pam Lewis joined the meeting at 10.48am
Mr David McClarty left the meeting at 10.57am

Members expressed their appreciation of the work carried out by Housing Executive staff, in particular during last year’s adverse weather conditions and also during the public unrest in East and South Belfast in July 2011.

Members queried officials on a wide range of issues relating to the Annual Report.

Members noted that while a range of targets had been met a number of others hadn’t. Members queried the reasons for this. Members also queried the stringency of some targets.

Members also sought clarification in relation to the figures in the report on fraud and error in relation to Housing Benefit and asked about recovery rates in respect of this. Members also asked what approach was taken in relation to the level of official error noted in the report.

The valuation of land and the housing stock was queried by members.

Members also asked about the Housing Executive’s preparations in respect of its emergency plans for the winter.

Members also raised concerns about the potential impact on welfare reform on the housing sector.

Member also highlighted the need to address fuel poverty in preparation for winter.

Mr David McClarty re-joined the meeting at 11.26am
Mr Fra McCann left the meeting at 11.26am
Mr Alex Easton left the meeting at 11.27am
Mr Fra McCann re-joined the meeting at 11.29am
Ms Judith Cochrane left the meeting at 11.30am
Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 11.32am

Members also sought clarity on the percentage of housing stock with gas central heating and if they have carbon monoxide detectors. Members also queried if there is a need for a fresh look at safety issues regarding carbon monoxide.

Mr Michael Copeland re-joined the meeting at 11.35am
Mr Alex Easton re-joined the meeting at 11.39am

The Committee expressed concerns about the delay in producing a Homelessness Strategy and Supporting People Strategy and asked if sufficient work has been done to deliver substantive briefings on both issues scheduled for the Committee’s meeting on 24 November.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing

The officials left the meeting at 11.55am

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to request further detail relating to the overpayment of housing benefit in respect of fraud and error.

7. Statutory Rules

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

Agreed: The Committee agreed to defer consideration of the Regulations.

7.2 SR 2011/356: The Social Security (Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Carer’s Allowance) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 12.01pm
Mr Gregory Campbell left the meeting at 12.01pm

Question put and agreed:

That the Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule SR 2011/356: The Social Security (Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Carer’s Allowance) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011 and subject to the Examiner of Statutory Rules’ Report has no objection to the Rule”

8. Correspondence

8.1 The Committee considered correspondence from the Minister relating to the Housing Executive’s preliminary consultation on the Housing Selection Scheme.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Minister welcoming his decision to examine the merits of undertaking further change in respect of this scheme following the comments of the Committee and other stakeholders. And to indicate that the Committee looks forward to hearing from him regarding any proposed revision to the scheme in the New Year.

Mr Michael Copeland re-joined the meeting at 12.03pm

8.2 The Committee considered the Department’s response on Budget issues requested by the Committee.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department highlighting concerns regarding the significant reduction of staff numbers outlined in the budget response; and to clarify whether it is anticipated that there will be further staff reductions as a result of the work carried out by PwC.

8.3 The Committee considered an invitation for Members to attend a housing conference at University of Ulster.

Agreed: The Committee agreed for Fra McCann and a researcher to attend. Members also agreed to contact the Committee office by 24 October if they would like to attend the conference. The researcher will provide a short paper on the key issues arising from the conference.

8.4 The Committee noted a letter from the Department outlining the Minister’s position on Sunday Trading.

8.5 The Committee were content to note invitations for the Fuel Poverty event on 16 November to relevant Committee Chairs on behalf of the Chair and also notified relevant Ministers of the event. The Committee also noted a draft invitation to stakeholders and a proposed list of stakeholders.

Agreed: The Committee agreed for the invitations to be issued before the end of the week; and to check the figures for excess winter mortality in Northern Ireland compared to GB.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to note the remaining items of correspondence.

9. Forward Work Programme

Agreed: The Committee agreed to note the draft Forward Work Programme. The Chairperson reminded the Committee that next week’s meeting is in the Millennium Forum in Derry/Londonderry and will include a trip to the Peace Bridge and the Fort George regeneration site.

10. Any Other Business

There was no other business.

11. Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 27 October 2011 in the Millennium Forum at 10.00am.

The Deputy Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12.17pm

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