Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 25 April 2013
Venue: Room 29, Parliament Buildings
The Chairperson declared the meeting open to the public at 10.07am.
Apologies were as indicated above
2. Draft Minutes of Meeting 18 April 2013
Agreed: The minutes of the meeting held on 18 April 2013 were agreed.
3. Chairperson's Business
The Chairperson notified the Committee that he may need to leave the Committee meeting early.
The Chairperson informed the Committee that the informal meeting with RNIB, scheduled to follow this week's meeting, is postponed until 30 May and will follow the Committee meeting that day.
The Chairperson informed the Committee that, following the meeting on 16 May, there will be a visit to Ballynafeigh Community Development Association. Lunch will be provided after the meeting and transport will be provided to the venue.
The Chairperson informed the Committee that following the meeting on 6 June there would be an event on housing repossessions and negative equity, held in conjunction with the Housing Rights, in the Glasshouse at Stormont Castle. The Clerk advised that a draft agenda for the meeting would be presented at the Committee meeting on 9 May.
The Chairperson advised that Include Youth wish to hold a small graduation event in the Long Gallery for young people who are currently involved in the Aiming Higher programme. The Chairperson asked whether the Committee was happy to sponsor the event. Ms Paula Bradley MLA and Mr Mark H Durkan MLA indicated that they would be content to sign the sponsorship form for this event.
Mr Michael Copeland MLA joined the meeting at 10.12am
4. Matters Arising
The Chairperson referred Members to a letter he had sent to the Minister to express his concern about a recent interview given by the Chair of the Housing Executive regarding the future of that organisation.
The Chairperson informed the Committee that he will meet the Chair of the Housing Executive next Tuesday, 30 April, to discuss this. Members commented on the potential of such statements to contribute to the speculation on the future of the Housing Executive and that this was unhelpful and destabilizing both for staff and tenants.
5. Regulation of Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) – Departmental Briefing
The following officials from the Department joined the meeting at 10.14am:
• Stephen Johnston, DSD
• David Grimley, DSD
• Phillip Conlon, DSD
The Chairperson commented that, as the briefing papers on this issue were received late from the Department, the Members had not had enough time to fully consider it. He asked for the briefing to proceed with this in mind and indicated that the Committee may request another briefing from the Department once it had time to reflect on the issues raised.
The officials apologised for the late submission and proceeded to brief the Committee on the regulation of HMOs, giving an overview of responses from their consultation. This was followed by a question and answer session.
Mr Gregory Campbell MLA joined the meeting at 10.17am
The Chairperson commented that it was important to address where the findings would fit into the broader Housing Strategy.
Some Members expressed a view that there would be a benefit to bringing stakeholders together into a working group to develop legislation and also that education on HMO regulations was vital.
The Department stated that it felt the HMO regulations were consistent with the overall Housing Strategy, which states that regulation around HMOs should be increased.
The meeting was briefly adjourned at 10.37am because of audio issues.
The meeting reconvened at 10.37am.
The Department advised that the owner or manager of an HMO should be required to be licensed and that offences should be built into primary legislation. The Department is intending to meet with stakeholders in May with a view to forming a working group in June.
The Committee highlighted the need to tie in regulation of HMOs with planning zone regulations to protect against proliferation of HMOs in a particular area.
The Committee stated that it would consider these responses and possibly schedule another briefing with the Department at a later date for follow up and clarification of issues.
The Chairperson thanked the officials for their attendance at the meeting.
The officials left the meeting at 10.50am.
6. Welfare Reform Amendments
The Chairperson brought forward the agenda item on consideration of amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill.
The Chairperson informed the Committee that consideration stage of the Bill had not yet been scheduled and asked if the Committee was content to defer consideration of the amendments.
The Committee agreed to defer consideration of the amendments.
7. Child Maintenance Population – Departmental Briefing
The following officials from the Department joined the meeting at 10.52am:
• Bernie Rooney, Director of NI Child Maintenance Service
• Frances Rushe, NI Child Maintenance Service
• Michelle Crawford, DSD Analytical Services Unit
• Heather Cousins, DSD, Deputy Secretary
The Department briefed the Committee on the Final Report in the survey of the Child Maintenance Population. This was followed by a question and answer session.
The Committee questioned whether there was a correlation between 72% of Parents with Care (PWC) not knowing that Child Maintenance Support (CMS) would not take away any of the child maintenance that the other parent paid if they received benefits and the 18% of PWC preferring not to receive CMS.
The officials advised that they could go back to the raw data to determine whether they could draw a correlation between these two findings and report back to the Committee.
The Committee questioned whether there may be cases where payments of CMS reduced income to a level that would entitle the parent making the payments, to other benefits.
The officials advised that they would get back to the Committee on this.
The Chairperson thanked the officials for their attendance at the meeting.
The officials left the meeting at 11.27am.
The Chairperson left the meeting at 11.28am.
The Deputy Chairperson took over from the Chairperson at 11.28am.
8. Statutory Rules
SR 159/2012 – The Fuel Allowance Payments Scheme Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012.
The Clerk informed the Committee that neither the SL1 nor the subsequent SR relating to this scheme had been brought before the Committee for consideration. The Committee noted this significant breach of procedure and the Minister's assurance that steps would be taken to ensure this did not happen again.
The Committee also noted that the scheme, which is beneficial to the public, had already been implemented.
The Committee noted the Statutory Rule.
9.1 The Committee noted a response received from the Department in relation to Special Needs Management Allowance and noted that the Clerk is currently seeking to arrange a joint meeting with the Health Committee on this issue.
9.2 The Committee noted a response from the Department in relation to the closure of University of Ulster crèches and agreed to forward this response to the Committee for Employment and Learning.
9.3 The Committee noted correspondence from the Speaker advising that a public petition has been presented regarding the 'Crossmaglen Jobs and Benefits Office' and that the Speaker has written to the Minister on this issue.
9.4 The Committee noted that NI Community Relations Council forwarded a briefing paper relating to the Housing Event which the Committee held on 11 April 2013.
10. Forward Work Programme
The Committee was content with the proposed Forward Work Programme.
11. Any Other Business
There was no other business.
12. Date, time and place of next meeting
The next meeting will take place at 10.00am on Thursday 2 May 2013 in Room 29 Parliament Buildings.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 11.38am.