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

Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2012/2013

Date: 24 January 2013

Venue: Room 29 Parliament Buildings

The Chairperson declared the meeting open to the public at 10.04am.

1. Apologies

Apologies were as indicated above.

2. Draft Minutes of Meeting 17 January 2013

Agreed:  The minutes of the meeting held on 17 January 2012 were agreed.

3. Chairperson’s Business

3.1 The Deputy Chairperson provided the Committee with a brief overview of the fuel poverty event which was organised by the 7 Councils of Causeway Coast and Glens and Mid and East Antrim.  

Ms Pam Brown joined the meeting at 10.07am

3.2 The Chairperson briefed the Committee on a meeting he had with the Chief Executive of Volunteer Now on 23 January to discuss the delay in moving ahead with the Regional Infrastructure Support Programme in relation to the volunteering programme.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to write to the Department to ask what plans the Department has for engagement for stakeholders on this issue going forward.

3.3 The Chairperson advised the Committee that the Clerk has been contacted by officials from the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) requesting the opportunity to meet with Members during a three day visit to the North.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to schedule the SSAC to attend the Committee meeting on 21 February 2013.

4. Matters Arising

The Chairperson reminded Members that at last week’s meeting the Committee agreed a motion to extend the Committee Stage of the Welfare Reform Bill to 19 February. The Chairperson advised Members that the motion is on the order papers for Monday 28 January and asked Members to consider the following tasks that the Committee still needs to undertake:

  • Consider the Ad Hoc Committee Report;
  • Receive a briefing from the Minister on Thursday 31st January on his response to the Committee’s paper sent in November and then consider our response;
  •  Consider all amendments;
  • Undertake clause-by-clause scrutiny; and
  • Agree the Committee’s Report.
5. Fuel Poverty Update on Working Groups – Departmental Briefing

The following Departmental officials joined the meeting 10.13am

  • Deidre Ward, Deputy Director of Housing; and
  • Oliver McHugh, Housing Division

The officials provided the Committee with an update on the Fuel Poverty Working Groups.  This was followed by a question and answer session.

The Committee welcomed the work that has been undertaken so far by the Cross Sectoral Fuel Poverty Partnership and the Thematic Action Groups. 

Members questioned if the Department had given consideration to the potential impact Welfare Reform might have on those already in fuel poverty.

Members welcomed the area based pilot scheme which is currently being carried out with the help of the University of Ulster.  The Committee noted that out of 270 people checked for benefit entitlement as part of this pilot, 70 were identified as being entitled to a higher level of benefit.

The Committee looked forward to the full analysis of this project and the potential to roll it out across communities.

Members asked if the Boiler Replacement Scheme included financial assistance to move from one fuel system to another e.g. oil to gas, and the Department confirmed this to be the case. Members asked the Department to provide details of the amount of households that have applied to replace their oil boilers with a gas boiler and how many of those   applications have been granted.

Members welcomed the announcement that the Department is working with DETI and is close to agreeing match funding that could double the spend of £4m to £8m on the Boiler Replacement Scheme.  

The Committee asked if the Partnership would consider publicising the option that some companies offer to pay by direct debit and therefore avail of a reduction in the price of oil.

Ms Paula Bradley joined the meeting at 10.50am

Mr Fra McCann left the meeting at 10.55am

The Committee recommended that the Partnership should consider a wider communication strategy to convey the positive work that has already been undertaken by the Partnership.

Members raised the issue that some Houses in Multiple Occupancy are not being able to convert to gas heating if there are less than six people living in the property. The Committee recommended that the Partnership should consider raising this issue with the energy suppliers, in particular the gas energy suppliers.

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

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to forward the draft action list to the relevant Committees.

The officials left the meeting at 11.01am.                                    

6. NI Cancer Consultation – Departmental Briefing            

The following Departmental officials joined the meeting at 11.02am:

  • Margaret Boyle, Assistant Director of Working Age Services; and
  • Cathy Duff, Work Capability Assessment Review Project Manager.                                 

The officials briefed the Committee on the responses to the NI Cancer Consultation which was followed by a question and answer session.

The Committee sought an update on an issue which was previously raised in respect of cancer patients losing their automatic entitlement to ESA.  If cancer patients wanted to return to Northern Ireland for treatment they would have to be reassessed for ESA.  The Committee welcomed that this issue has now been fully resolved.

The Committee recognised that cancer patients can also suffer long term, psychological effects.  Members questioned whether the Department has considered and included mental health issues in the assessment descriptors.

The Committee requested that the Department provides it with a list of the current cancer conditions that are considered in the assessment and what may be added to it.

The Committee were encouraged to see the primacy of medical evidence being considered at the outset.  The Committee were also encouraged with the Department’s work with advice groups and hospices.              

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

The officials left the meeting at 11.17am.

7. Benefit Uptake Strategy – Departmental Briefing

The following Departmental officials joined the meeting 11.18am

  • ·Brian Doherty, SSA; and
  • Sharron Carlin, SSA

The officials briefed the Committee on the Benefit Uptake Strategy.  This was followed by question and answer session which covered a number of issues including; the importance for the Department to continue campaigns for benefit uptake in light of the forthcoming Welfare Reform Bill; whether the Department has assessed how many people will have their benefits reduced given the expected changes in the welfare system; whether the Department has any plans to conduct benefit checks as people migrate to the Universal Credit system.

The Committee welcomed the opportunity for the Department to brief the Committee on the outcome of the Maximising Incomes and Outcomes Consultation.

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

The officials left the meeting at 11.49am.

8. Correspondence

The Committee considered an update from the Department on its progress to the end of September 2012 against its Programme for Government commitments.  The Committee were content for the officials to follow up with the Department on progress made to December 2012. 

The Committee noted the Department’s response to issues raised by the Fostering Network NI regarding the Welfare Reform Bill and under occupancy. 

The Committee considered correspondence from the CAL Committee regarding a coordinated visit to Londonderry/Derry with Statutory Committees to celebrate the City of Culture.  Members were content to take part in a coordinated visit.

The Committee also considered a proposal to hold Committee meetings in each of the Member’s constituencies.

Agreed: Members agreed in principle to this proposal.  The clerk will bring  a schedule for the Committee to consider.

The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for the Environment regarding the ‘Make IT Green’ scheme.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to forward this item of correspondence to the Department.          

The Committee considered an invitation to attend a forum on Welfare Reform in central London on 20 March.

Agreed: Members agreed to let the Clerk know if they would like to attend. 

Members were content for the items of correspondence to be dealt with as per the correspondence memo.

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 11.53am

9. Forward Work Programme

The Committee noted the Forward Work Programme.         

10. Any Other Business

There was no other business.

11. Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will take place at 10:00am on Wednesday 30 January 2013 in     Room 29 Parliament Buildings.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 11.56am.

Mr Alex Maskey
Chairperson, Committee for Social Development.
31 January 2013

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