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Live Reporting

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for today

    The members gallop through a long list of subsidiary legislation, all of which goes through on the nod.

    Paula Bradley then draws the meeting to a close.

    That's all from Stormont for today.

    We're due to be back on Wednesday morning at 09:45 for a meeting of the Education Committee, including a briefing on the department's response to the current health crisis.

    If any other emergency business pops up at Stormont we'll be here to cover it live for you.

    In the meantime, keep safe and stay at home.

    NI Assembly
  2. 'Regulations are part of an emergency response'

    The minister heads off to her executive meeting and Paula Bradley takes the members through a number of minor pieces of legislation.

    They include the Discretionary Support COVID-19 regulations.

    The committee chair then welcomes Anne McCleary and David Tarr from the Department for Communities to the meeting - they join by audio link.

    In her opening statement, McClearly says "members will be aware these regulations are part of an emergency response".

    She adds this is an "unimaginable time of worry and stress for everybody" and outlines aspects of the discretionary support regulations.

    NI Assembly
    Image caption: Anne McCleary and David Tarr join the meeting by audio link

    She says it applies to those "diagnosed with the condition or advised to self isolate as a result of it" and says it is a "grant rather than a loan" which can be applied for more than once "as long as the eligibility criteria can be met".

    She says amendment two of the bill "can further widen discretionary support scheme to low income house holds, but raises the criteria to just over £20,000 to bring in line with the benefit cap".

    She says has been designed to help "people in financial distress, which is unique to this jurisdiction".

    She adds it will be of benefit to those who find themselves struggling through "no fault of their own".

  3. 'Liaising with local councils in coming days'

    Mark H Durkan asks the minister about collaboration with local government.

    Ms Hargey says there is work ongoing around "food parcels and working with local government in setting up distribution hubs" for these.

    She adds, the department will be "liaising with local councils in coming days on funding being disseminated".

    Deirdre Hargey

    She adds it will be done "using existing guidance and criteria around food supply, around security and connectivity and poverty".

    She says this may "differ across different councils depending on need".

  4. 'Relaxation' of grants to voluntary sector

    Kellie Armstrong says she has been contacted by a number of councils that were allocated funding by the Department for Communities for events that cannot now take place.

    They find themselves unable to reallocate this money.

    NI Assembly
    Image caption: The minister joins the committee by audio link

    The minister says she has "made a couple of relaxations of grants primarily in the community and voluntary sector".

    She says the department is looking beyond the crisis at the support that will be needed for councils and the local community and voluntary sectors.

    Ms Hargey says they can look at the events funding issue in future.

  5. 'Funeral poverty is a real reality at the moment'

    The DUP's Jonathan Buckley says due to the "unexpected nature" of the current crisis, "funeral poverty is a real reality at the moment".

    He asks the minister what discussions are being had around "ways to address this very sensitive issue".

    Jonathan Buckley

    Ms Hargey says Minister for Justice Noami Long "has been engaging with funeral directors around plans".

    She adds that she has ensured "funeral support payments are increasing from £700 to £1,000 to support those families on low income and in the qualifying group".

    She adds that the department hopes to make the "application process" as "seamless" as possible as it will be "a really traumatic time".

  6. Bill to proceed by accelerated passage

    The members agree to allow the bill to proceed via accelerated passage and the minister agrees to take a few brief questions before rushing off to meeting of the executive.

    Committee chairperson Paula Bradley asks about emergency payments to parents of children of free school meals.

    She says people have been told they need to give banks details and some do not have a bank account.

    Is it possible to pay by cheque?

    NI Assembly

    The minister says she has nothing on this at the moment.

    She knows the Education Authority has been working through it and has 95% is applicants' bank details so far and they are trying to come to "some alternative system".

  7. Rules around rowdy tenants?

    The SDLP's Mark H Durkan is working remotely.

    He asks the minister if the "legislation stops any evictions happening," even in the instance where a tenant is having "parties every weekend, inviting people to their place of accommodation in breach of social distancing".

    The minister says "people have been given clear guidance around not mixing and social distancing".

    Mark H Durkan
    Image caption: Mark H Durkan joins the meeting by audio link

    She adds this type of case "would be an issue for the police and other agencies to look at a case by case basis".

    She says it would be looked at "through the new COVID-19 legislation that came in last week".

  8. 'Pity it's not retrospective legislation'

    The DUP's Robin Newton declares that he is a landlord.

    He says he thinks this is an "essential" piece of legislation.

    Mr Newton says it's a pity it is not retrospective.

    He asks if the legislation could pose a problem for a tenant who wishes to give up their tenancy.

    Robin newton
    Image caption: Robin Newton joins the meeting by audio link

    Departmental official Eilish O'Neill, who is also part of the minister's team, says that if a tenant wants to leave early than an arrangement can often be reached with the landlord.

    Her colleague, David Polley says the legislation does not affect the tenant's position regarding giving notice to the landlord.

  9. Department 'working on a variety of measures'

    Fra McCann of Sinn Féin joins the committee by audio link.

    He says the "assurances" that were apparent in the "last few months no longer exist".

    He again raises the issue of communication to ensure all interested parties are "clear and sure of the direction the minister and department are going ins".

    Ms Hargey reiterates that she understands the importance of this.

    Fra McCann
    Image caption: Fra McCann and Sinéad Ennis, both of Sinn Féin, join the committee by audio link.

    Mr McCann's party colleague Sinéad Ennis asks the minister asks if there will be any further COVID-19 specific announcements from the department in the coming weeks.

    Ms Hargey replies that there will be and that her department is "working on a variety of measures" which they will "notify the committee" about "as we’re going along with those".

  10. 'Students are falling between the net'

    Sinn Féin's Carál Ní Chuilín is the first of the members on audio link to ask questions.

    She refers to an earlier comment by David Polley that students are not eligible for universal credit

    Ms Ní Chuilín suggests to the minister that she should get the executive, through the Minister for the Economy, to look at setting up a hardship fund.

    "Students are falling between the net," she says.

    Carál Ní Chuilín
    Image caption: Carál Ní Chuilín joins the meeting by audio link

    The minister says that the changes to discretionary support she brought to the assembly recently "would allow students to avail of that crisis discretionary support as long as they fall within the income threshold".

    She says she is trying to increase the level of the income threshold, and to arrange extra support through the student hardship fund.

  11. 'So much information going out it's confusing people'

    The DUP's Jonathan Buckley asks the minister when landlords will receive communication and guidance from the department about the ongoing situation.

    Ms Hargey says they are "in the middle of finalising guidance to landlords and hope to communicate that by end of week".

    Jonathan Buckley

    Meanwhile, the UUP's Andy Allen, who declared an interest at the start of the meeting that he is a private landlord, asks the minister about the volume of information being given out and whether it will be presented in a "simple format".

    Ms Hargey says she understands "there's so much information going out it's confusing people" and will look at this issue.

    Mr Allen also asks the minister if there will be work done at the end of the crisis to "ensure we don't end up with an increased level of homelessness" if tenants aren't able to pay.

    The minister says "that's a fair point Andy," adding that the "ultimate aim of all of our actions is to keep people in their home".

    Andy Allen
  12. Students on fixed-term tenancies

    Kellie Armstrong of Alliance raises an issue about students and fixed-term contracts.

    She says some landlords are demanding that outstanding contracts be paid up in full.

    Specifically she wants to know about tenants' credit ratings.

    "This legislation doesn't prevent a landlord from reporting someone for breach of a contract."

    Kellie Armstrong

    The minister says David Polley has been speaking to the student unions on this matter.

    She says the courts service will not be listing evictions and the department is are issuing guidance to landlords saying how they should be approaching the situation - they have a responsibility in a time of public health emergency.

  13. Health minister receives 'threatening' messages

    Comments about Robin Swann were posted on social media on Friday.

    A 26-year-old was arrested in Ballymena, County Antrim, on Sunday, on suspicion of improper use of telecommunications causing anxiety.

    He has subsequently been released on bail pending further inquiries and police say the investigation is ongoing.

    Read more on this story here.

    View more on twitter
  14. 'Prevents a retrospective approach'

    The DUP's Paula Bradley moves to questions to the minister

    She begins by asking why the bill "prevents a retrospective approach" when she says there are "likely to be people under threat of eviction" in the next couple of weeks.

    The minister replies that the legal advice the department has received means it will only come into force "on the date when royal assent has been passed" and that's why an accelerated approach is being taken.

    Paula Bradley

    David Polley, from the Department for Communities, also joins the committee by audio link.

    He says the department has been told the "courts are currently only taking emergency or urgent issues" and they have confirmed "evictions or repossessions would not be deemed as urgent issues".

    As such, "at the minute people should not be told they need to leave the house, as courts will routinely adjourn that," he says.

    He also says that a delay in passing the bill could potentially be looked at in the future if this situation was ever to occur again.

  15. Minister's briefing on emergency housing blill

    Minister Deirdre Hargey begins her briefing on the Private Tenancies (Emergency Modifications) Bill by audio link.

    She's here to ask the members for their support for accelerated of the bill through the assembly.

    The legislation is designed to protect private tenants from eviction during the period of the health crisis by ending the notice to quit period from four weeks to 12 weeks.

    Deirdre Hargey
    Image caption: Deirdre Hargey joins the committee meeting by audio link

    Ms Hargey says 18% of the population of Northern Ireland lives in 134,000 privately rented properties.

    She says there is a danger that if the bill does pass through accelerated passage it will not be ready before the end of the summer recess.

  16. Five MLAs join committee by audio link

    Chair of the Committee Paula Bradley opens the meeting.

    She says five MLAs are joining by audio link due to social distancing advice - while the four MLAs present in the Senate Chamber are well spread out around the table.

    NI Assembly

    Mrs Bradley runs through some committee business.

    She then asks the MLAs on conference call to outline any concerns they would like to raise with the Communities Minster Deirdre Hargey about the written brief she has supplied in terms of work around COVID-19 so far.

    Sinn Féin's Caral Ní Chulín says she's received a lot of messages from students facing pressure to continue paying for privately rented accommodation, despite not being able to live there at present.

  17. On today's Communities agenda

    NI Assembly
    NI Assembly
  18. Good morning

    Welcome to Monday's live coverage of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

    This morning we have a meeting of the Communities Committee, including a briefing from the Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey.

    The meeting starts shortly. Do stay with us.