COMMITTEE FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
THURSDAY 10 JUNE 2010
ROOM 135 PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS
Mr Simon Hamilton MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Billy Armstrong MLA
Mrs Mary Bradley MLA
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr Tommy Gallagher MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA
Mr Peter McCallion (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Clairita Frazer (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mr Stewart Kennedy (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Allison Ferguson (Clerical Officer)
The meeting began in private session at 10.03am.
The Clerk briefed the Committee on the Consideration Stage of the Welfare Reform Bill.
Mr Hilditch joined the meeting at 10.05am.
The meeting went into open session at 10.10am.
No apologies were recorded.
2. Chairperson’s Business
The Chairperson informed Members that the Deputy Chairperson would chair the meeting from 11.30am.
3. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 3 June 2010
Agreed: The minutes of the meeting held on Thursday 3 June 2010 were agreed.
4. Matters Arising
4.1 Declaration of Interests
The Committee noted Mr Tommy Gallagher’s declaration of interests.
5. Department for Social Development Corporate Plan - Ministerial Briefing
The Minister for Social Development, Alex Attwood and the following Departmental officials joined the meeting at 10.12am:
Mr Will Haire Permanent Secretary, DSD; and
Mr Barney McGahan Deputy Secretary, Resources, Housing and Social Security, DSD.
Mr Armstrong joined the meeting at 10.13am.
The Minister and officials provided a briefing on recent issues and on the key points of DSD Corporate Plan. This was followed by a question and answer session.
At 11:10am, Mr David Hilditch declared an interest as a member of Carrickfergus Borough Council and as the interim Chairman of the Steering Group for the Implementation of the Carrickfergus Masterplan.
Mr Hilditch left the meeting at 11.18am.
The Chairperson thanked the Minister and officials for the briefing .
The Minister and officials left the meeting at11.37am.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Clerk should write to the Department requesting further information on: measures to limit cross-border benefit fraud; the mid-term review of the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy, Northern Ireland Housing Executive capital and revenue maintenance schemes for 2010-11; measures to combat absenteeism in the Department; plans for enhancing the social provisions within the Department’s procurement strategy; how the corporate plan will impact on employment and the proposed review of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive – specifically if the review is to include changes to the Strategic Guidelines.
Agreed: The Committee further agreed that the Clerk should make arrangements for a Committee visit to the Social Security Agency’s Anti-Benefit Fraud Unit.
Mr Hamilton left the meeting at 11.40am.
The Deputy Chairperson assumed the Chair at 11.40am.
Mr Hilditch rejoined the meeting at 11.40am.
6. Subordinate Legislation
The Committee considered the proposed Statutory Rule: The Employment and Support Allowance (Transitional Provisions and Housing Benefit) (Existing Awards) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010.
The following Departmental officials joined the meeting at 11.40am:
Ms Anne McCleary Social Security Policy & Legislation Division; Gerry McCann Social Security Policy & Legislation Division; and
Ms Janis Creane Social Security Policy & Legislation Division, DSD;
Mr Armstrong left the meeting at 11.42am.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it would defer further consideration of the proposed statutory rule pending a further briefing from the Department on the logistical arrangements for the further transfer of claimants to Employment and Support Allowance.
The Committee agreed that Agenda Item 8 (Briefing by Housing Rights Service) would be considered next.
7. Preventing Possession Initiative – Housing Rights Briefing
The following representatives of the Housing Rights Service joined the meeting at 11.59am:
Janet Hunter Director, Housing Rights Service;
Fiona Douglas Policy Officer, Housing Rights Service; and
Ursula Toner Advice Services Manager, Housing Rights Service.
Mr Gallagher left the meeting at 12.07pm.
Mr Armstrong rejoined the meeting at 12.12pm.
Ms Ní Chuilín left the meeting at 12.16pm.
The Clerk called for nominations for the position of Chairperson.
Mr McCann proposed that Mr Craig assume the chair of the Committee.
Mr Hilditch seconded the nomination.
Mr Craig accepted the nomination.
There being no further nominations, the Clerk put the question without debate.
Question put and agreed:
“That Mr Craig do take the chair of the Committee.”
Mr Craig took the Chair at 12.17pm.
The representatives provided a briefing on the Preventing Possession Initiative. This was followed by a question and answer session.
The Chairperson thanked the representatives for their briefing .
The representatives left the meeting at 12.32pm.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Clerk should write to the Department indicating the Committee’s support for the targeting of the SSA Benefit Uptake Programme to householders facing or likely to face repossession proceedings. The Committee further agreed that the Clerk should seek information on an NIHE pilot scheme in which tenants, including those experiencing rent arrears, were advised of their benefit entitlement.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the briefing to the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment for information.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the briefing to the Committee for Justice indicating the Social Development Committee’s support for the extension of legal aid to the Preventing Possession Initiative.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Clerk should write to NICVA to determine whether the Vital Links project was an appropriate vehicle by which Members access to voluntary and community sector advice and expertise could be enhanced.
The Committee agreed that Agenda Item 7 (Correspondence) would be considered next.
8.1 The Committee noted correspondence from the Minister to the Chairperson of the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee regarding the establishment of a cross-departmental working group to help co-ordinate the provision of financial advice to cancer sufferers.
8.2 The Committee noted correspondence from the Department providing an update on the timeline for the public consultation on the new Fuel Poverty Strategy and the next steps to be taken in respect of the strategy.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Clerk should write to the Department to request a further briefing in September when the public phase of the consultation is concluded.
8.3 The Committee considered correspondence from the Department providing an update on the timeline for the evaluation of the Supporting People Programme.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Clerk should write to the Department to request a briefing in the autumn when the Supporting People evaluation report is to be available.
8.4 The Committee considered an invitation to the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations AGM, Dinner and Achievement Awards on the evening of Monday 28 June 2010.
Agreed: The Committee noted that the Chairperson would attend this event - diary permitting.
8.5 The Committee considered an invitation to a one day conference entitled: “Making it happen: Ending Child Poverty by 2020” on Wednesday 23 June 2010.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that Members would respond to this invitation on an individual basis.
8.6 The Committee noted an invitation to an event organised by Community Evaluation Northern Ireland on Thursday 17 June 2010 entitled: “Making Reporting more Effective”.
8.7 The Committee noted an invitation to an event organised by the Centre for Public Policy entitled: “What Future for Social and Affordable Housing” taking place in London on Monday 12 July 2010.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Clerk should request the papers from this event.
8.8 Agreed: The Committee agreed that as no convenient and suitable venue for an external meeting on 24 June 2010 could be booked, the meeting on that date would be held in Parliament Buildings.
9. Ford Report – Clerk’s Briefing
The Committee noted the Ford Report.
10. Forward Work Programme
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the Forward Work Programme.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it would give further consideration to the timing of the Committee Stages of the Bills in the Forward Work Programme and to additional Committee investigation of issues relating to housing.
11. Any Other Business
12. Date, time and place of next meeting
The next meeting is to be held on Thursday 17 June 2010 at 10:00am in Room 135, Parliament Buildings.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12.51pm.