Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 30 June 2011

Venue: Room 29, Parliament Buildings

The meeting began at 10.03am in open session.

1. Apologies

Apologies were as indicated above.

2. Chairperson’s Business

The Chairperson briefed the Committee on a recent meeting that he, the Deputy Chairperson and the Clerk held with senior representatives from the Consumer Council and advised the Committee that the Consumer Council and the Assembly Research and Information Service will prepare further briefing papers on fuel poverty for consideration by the Committee after summer recess. The Chairperson also briefed Members on his attendance at the recent NI Federation of Housing Association Achievement Awards.

3. Committee Visit

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the press release in respect of the Committee visit to a Supported Housing Project in South Belfast managed by the Cedar Foundation to be published.

4. Draft Minutes of Meeting 23 June 2011

Agreed: The minutes of the meeting held on Thursday 23 June 2011 were agreed.

5. Report on the Review of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive– Briefing by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (NI).

The following senior representatives from Pricewaterhouse Coopers (NI) joined the meeting at 10.07am:

Mr Richard Parker – Partner, Pricewaterhouse Coopers (UK);
Mr Hugh Crossey – Partner, Pricewaterhouse Coopers (NI); and
Mr Stephen Smyth – NIHE Review Project Lead, Pricewaterhouse Coopers (NI).

The representatives provided a briefing on their Report “Strategic Review of Options for the Future Service Delivery of NIHE”. This was followed by a question and answer session.

Concerns were expressed by some Members in respect of the following:

  • that the Review had not incorporated a review of housing associations and Housing Division within DSD;
  • the impact of the proposed policy of convergence of rent levels on the working poor, particularly in light of proposed changes to Housing Benefit;
  • the independence of both the proposed new Housing Regulator and the proposed new Strategic Housing Authority;
  • the range of stakeholders consulted to date. As part of the next step of the consultation process, some Members called for the range of consultees to be widened to allow direct engagement with the advice sector, the voluntary housing sector and the amalgamation of residents’ associations;
  • The transfer of housing related services to local government and the proposed set-up of a network of “Jobs, Housing and Benefits” offices across Northern Ireland, particularly when the Social Security Agency and the social benefits advice sector are already overstretched; and
  • The proposed set-up for and structure of the new Social Enterprise landlord for the Housing Executive’s existing stock - including mutualisation, tenant rights and ownership and the “community dividend”. Some Members felt that any new structure should reflect the historic success of NIHE’s local community engagement and that the benefits for tenants of setting up a new Social Enterprise model should be clearly set out. Some Members also felt that, given the challenge of setting up a new Social Enterprise model, further discussions should take place with social enterprises in the UK to ensure best practice and lessons learned are incorporated in the NI model.

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for the briefing and wished them well in their engagement with stakeholders over the summer.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it would receive a briefing from PwC in late September 2011 on the outcome of their engagement with key stakeholders over the summer months.

Agreed: The Committee agreed an amendment to the draft press release to be issued in respect of the Committee’s scrutiny session of the PwC Report.

The representatives left the meeting at 11.05am.

6. Proposed Subordinate Legislation

The following Departmental officials joined the meeting at 11.08am:

Anne McCleary Social Security Policy and Legislation Division, DSD;

Conrad McConnell Fraud Policy Unit, Social Security Agency; and

Joanne Moore Fraud Policy Unit, Social Security Agency.

The officials provided further clarification on the following proposed item of subordinate legislation: The Social Security (Loss of Benefit) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2011

6.1 Some Members expressed concern that these proposed Regulations meant that claimants were being prosecuted twice, once by the Court in terms of a fine and then by the Department in the form of benefit sanctions. Some Members also raised the fact that on occasions individuals could be found not guilty of benefit fraud in court, but still face benefit sanctions - as different tests are applied by the Public Prosecution Service and the Department to assess an individual’s case.

Agreed: The Committee agreed it was content for the Department to make the Statutory Rule.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to seek figures on the number of cases sent by the Department to the Public Prosecution Service which are taken forward for prosecution and the number of cases which are returned to the Department.

6.2 The Committee considered the proposed Statutory Rule: The Housing Benefit (Amendment No.2) Regulations (NI) 2011.

Some Members expressed extreme reservation about the proposed increase in the age threshold for the “shared accommodation rate” under Local Housing Allowance arrangements from 25 to 35.

Agreed: The Committee agreed it was content for the Department to make the Statutory Rule.

6.3 The Committee considered the proposed Statutory Rule: The Social Security (Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Carer’s Allowance) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (NI) 2011.

Agreed: The Committee agreed it was content for the Department to make the Statutory Rule.

6.4 The Committee considered the proposed Statutory Rule: The Occupational Pension Schemes (Employer Debt and Miscellaneous Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2011.

Agreed: The Committee agreed it was content for the Department to make the Statutory Rule.

6.5 The Committee considered the proposed Statutory Rule: The Occupational and Personal Pension Schemes (Consultation by Employers) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2011.

Agreed: The Committee agreed it was content for the Department to make the Statutory Rule.

6.6 The Committee considered Departmental correspondence relating to the Statutory Rule: The Employment and Support Allowance (Work-Related Activity) Regulations (NI) 2011.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it would write to the Department to express the Committee’s concerns in respect of the training provided to enable staff to identify and deal with specific mental health illnesses.

A Member declared an interest as his wife works for a mental health organisation.

6.7 The Committee noted correspondence from the Committee for Employment and Learning in respect of the proposed Statutory Rule: Social Security (Electronic Communications) Order (NI) 2011.

7. Statutory Rules
7.1 SR 2011 No.226: The Child Support and Social Security (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

Question put and agreed:

“The Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule: SR 2011 No. 226 : The Child Support and Social Security (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (NI) 2011 and subject to the Examiner of Statutory Rules’ report has no objection to the Rule.”

7.2 SR 2011 No.231: The Social Security (Industrial Injuries) (Prescribed Diseases) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

Question put and agreed:

“The Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule: SR 2011 No. 231 : The Social Security (Industrial Injuries) (Prescribed Diseases) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2011 and subject to the Examiner of Statutory Rules’ report has no objection to the Rule.”

7.3 The Committee noted correspondence from the Department in respect of SR 136/2011 The Housing Benefit (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (NI) 2011.

7.4The Committee considered correspondence from the Department in respect of SR 214/2011 The Registered Rents (Increase) Order (NI) 2011.

Agreed:The Committee agreed that it would write to the Department to seek clarification on the properties included in the first of the registered rents’ bands.

8. Urban Regeneration and Community Development Policy Framework - Departmental Briefing

The following officials from the Department for Social Development joined the meeting at 11.38am:

Mr Henry Johnston – Director, Urban Regeneration and Strategy Directorate, DSD; and

Mr Stephen Duffy - Urban Regeneration and Strategy Directorate, DSD.

The officials provided a briefing on draft Urban Regeneration and Community Development Policy Framework. This was followed by a question and answer session.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 12.04pm.

9. Business Improvement Districts - Departmental Briefing

The following officials from the Department for Social Development joined the meeting at 12.04pm:

Mr Henry Johnston – Director, Urban Regeneration and Strategy Directorate, DSD;

Mr Henry McArdle - Urban Regeneration and Strategy Directorate; and

Mr Anthony McDaid – Urban Regeneration and Strategy Directorate.

The officials provided a briefing on responses received to the Departmental consultation on Business Improvement Districts. This was followed by a question and answer session.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 12.16pm.

10. Correspondence

10.1 The Committee considered correspondence from Advice NI requesting an opportunity to brief the Committee on the Mortgage Rescue Scheme.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to invite Advice NI to the Committee’s informal stakeholder event that is scheduled to take place in September 2011.

10.2 The Committee considered correspondence from the Chartered Institute of Housing (NI) concerning a planned seminar on Housing Benefit Reform.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request a copy of the papers from this Seminar.

10.3 Agreed: The Committee agreed to note a letter from the Minister in relation to the Social Housing Development Programme, correspondence from the Department in respect of the Review of Shop Opening House, the acceleration of State Pension age for women and the proposed introduction of the Charities (Amendment) Bill.

10.4 Agreed: The Committee agreed to note various items of correspondence from the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, the Charity Commission NI, Advice NI, Macmillan Cancer Support, the Chartered Institute of Housing (UK), the Equality Commission and the Public Accounts Committee.

11. Forward Work Programme

Agreed: The Committee agreed to note a copy of an initial draft Forward Work Programme for September – October 2011.

12. Any Other Business

The Chairperson briefed the Committee on a meeting between the Deputy Chairperson, two other Committee Members and representatives from the Federation of Master Builders following last week’s Committee meeting.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to send a letter to the Department to seek more information on the Green New Deal in Northern Ireland.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to delegate authority to the Chairperson or Deputy Chairperson (subject to availability) on the consideration of non-routine or contentious Freedom of Information requests over the summer recess period.

The Chairperson advised the Committee that Committee staff will be uploading key policy documents considered by the Committee during the last 6 weeks on to the Social Development Committee’s webpage over the summer recess.

13. Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 8 September 2011 in Room 29, Parliament Buildings at 10.00am.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12.20pm.

Mr Alex Maskey
Chairperson, Committee for Social Development.
8 September 2011

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