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Welfare Reform Act (Northern Ireland) 2007

Section 36: Directions by Department

Under the present powers, when the Department receives a report under section 128C of the Administration Act, it may invite the Housing Executive to consider the report and respond setting out its proposals for improving performance or remedying failings. Section 36(2) amends section 128D(2) of that Act to allow the Department to require the Housing Executive to submit its proposals for improvement. Subsection (3) further enables the Department to specify the information (and the format and timescales for the information) it requires from the Housing Executive, to fully inform a decision on possible directions. This would not prevent the Housing Executive submitting other information it thinks relevant to the Department’s considerations. To ensure that sufficient time is given to the Housing Executive to consider its response, the Department would be required to give the Housing Executive not less than one month to respond and could extend this, for example, where there were reasonable grounds for doing so following a request from the Housing Executive.

Subsection (4) allows the Department to also take into account any other relevant information it thought appropriate. This might include, for example, past statistical trends, or evidence of the Housing Executive’s commitment to, and success in, the delivery of improvement. It also provides the Department with the power to direct the Housing Executive to take any action the Department thought necessary or expedient to improve the Housing Executive’s performance and the timescales within which it must do so. The current powers, which allow the Department to specify the standards it expects the Housing Executive to attain and the timescales within which the Department expects it to attain them, remain by virtue of new subsection (3A). Where there are serious concerns in respect of a benefits administration matter, but a standard cannot be specified, the provision in the new subsection (3B) enables the Department to give a direction on that matter. The power allows it, for example, to require the Housing Executive to draw up a counter fraud strategy policy for benefits where none existed, or to review and make detailed proposals for improving a particular operational process about which there were serious concerns.

Subsection (5) is a consequential change to take into account the change in subsection (4) and allows the Department to continue to make recommendations to the Housing Executive about the actions it could take to attain the standards set out in a direction.

Subsection (6) places a requirement on the Department, before giving a direction, to give the Housing Executive an opportunity to make representations about the directions to it. However, subsection (6) permits the Department to issue directions without consulting the Housing Executive about their content if the Department considered it a matter of urgency. In such an urgent case, the Department is required to inform the Housing Executive in writing of its reasons for not inviting representations from it before giving the directions.

Subsection (7) inserts a new section 128DA into the Administration Act, enabling the Department to vary or revoke a direction when it thinks it necessary to do so. It would be able to do so where it had received representations from the Housing Executive; to rectify an omission or error; or where there had been a material change of circumstances. For example, it might vary or end a direction where a change in legislation means that the direction was no longer relevant or needed to be changed in a material aspect. This subsection also requires the Department to write to the Housing Executive giving its reasons for making the variation and offer it the opportunity to make representations about the proposed variation.

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