Minutes of the VSS Audit and Risk Committee

Friday 7 August 2020, 11:00am

Remote – via Zoom



ARC Members Present:

Colm Doran (CD)                                    ARC Member (Chair)

Bertha McDougall (BMcD)                      Board Member

Richard Solomon (RS)                            Board Member

Briege Lafferty (BL)                                ARC Member


VSS Officers in Attendance:

Margaret Bateson (MB)                          CEO and Accounting Officer

Tara Lewsley (TL)                                  Head of Corporate Services

Elaine Murphy (EM)                                Head of Service Development

Melissa McCartan (MM)                          Business Support Officer (Minutes)


Other Officers in Attendance:

Sinead Brown (SB)                                 TEO

Lisa Malcolmson (LM)                             EY (Internal Audit)




A     Apologies


        Apologies were received from Pauline Poots, EY Internal Audit representative and Marie Mathews, TEO.


B     Minutes of Previous Meeting


The minutes of the previous Audit and Risk Committee meeting held on 15 April 2020 were agreed.


C      Action Points


TL advised that all action points have been completed.


It was noted that audit recommendations has been added to the agenda and will remain a standing agenda item going forward. It was noted that TEO have accepted the SMT proposal and that the VSS ARC Self Assessments have now been completed.


D     Conflict of Interest


        All papers were noted by the Committee and no conflicts of interest were declared.


E      Accounting Officer Update


E1    CEO/AO Exception Report


MB provided the Committee with an update on current progress against business plan targets and delivering on outcomes.


MB advised that it’s too early in the year to be definitive on the impact of Covid-19, however, it is known that some areas, such as complementary therapies, personal and professional development and social support won’t be achieved this year as a result of the pandemic. MB is confident that VSS and our community partners can manage these underspends with constant flexibility and adaptation of services.  Alternative services have been put in place to ensure that as many victims and survivors as possible continue to receive support during these challenging times.


MB provided the Committee with an update on Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA). It was noted that VSS are currently providing independent emotional support to victims and survivors of HIA on an interim basis following a data breach in the interim Advocate’s Office which occurred in May 2020. It was noted that the Business Case for longer term support and services was submitted to TEO in June 2020.


MB advised the Committee of her upcoming meeting with the Victims Forum. It was noted that VSS will present Covid-19’s impact on VSS service delivery which outlines the VSS stepped phase response to the pandemic.


E2    Progress against Budget


TL provided an update on VSS progress against budget. The following key points were noted:


-       One small underspend in the quarter (predominantly within INP) which results to a -0.4% variance against YTD budget.

-       Commitment against budget is low in a number of areas within INP - Disability Aids is significantly low due to OT assessments not being able to take place until end of June 2020.

-       58 awards were issued in Q1 and 106 awards issued within the first month of Q2. VSS are confident that by the end of Q2 VSS will see an increase in the commitment against budget.

-       Expenditure for PEACE IV Period 14 was significantly impacted by Covid-19 resulting in a £121,000 underspend. It was noted targets will need to be revised in light of the new budget submitted to SEUPB in respect of the approved additional funding.


E3    Strategic Risk Register


MB provided the Committee with an update on the strategic risk register.


It was noted that the Regional Trauma Network (RTN) is currently on hold due to the pandemic and that the targeted outcome is at risk of not being met this financial year. MB updated the Committee on the recent communications between VSS and DoH.


It was noted that risk STG35 Legacy Institutions and STG43 PEACE IV Cashflow remain red. MB asked SB if there is any update on STG43 PEACE IV Cashflow following their latest accountability meeting. SB provided an overview of the agreed actions and advised that TEO will communicate with MB in due course to re-assess this risk rating.


It was noted that risk STG55, Victims Payment Scheme, has been escalated from an amber to red risk following the scheme not launching on schedule and there being no new proposed date for launch as yet. It was noted that although this risk is outside of the control of VSS, VSS will be providing advocacy and welfare support to individuals applying.

MB asked the Committee if there were any questions relating to any other risk on the strategic risk register. BL proposed the idea of rewording long term strategic risks that are outside of the control of VSS so that they are more reflective and highlight the VSS role within that risk.


07.08.20 AP1: Look at rewording long term strategic risks that are outside of the control of VSS.


F      Quarterly Reports


F1    Quarterly ALB Report


The Committee noted this paper.



F2    Quarterly Assurance Statement


The Committee noted this paper.



F3    Quarterly M&E Report


The Committee noted this paper.


G     Internal Audit Update


G1    Internal Audit Report – Review of Financial Controls


LM of EY provided an update on all internal audit reports. It was noted that the Review of Financial Controls Report resulted in 5 priority 3 recommendations, with 4 out of 5 relating to procurement.


Overall the report resulted in a satisfactory audit rating.


G2    Internal Audit Report – Review of PEACEIV


The Review of PEAVE IV Report resulted in 4 priority 2 recommendations.


Overall the report resulted in a satisfactory audit rating.



G3    Internal Audit Report – Follow up


It was noted that the follow up review concluded that of the 10 recommendations made during the 2018-19 year, 4 have been fully implemented and 6 have been partially implemented.


TL advised that since the follow up, VSS have subsequently closed another 3 recommendations and noted that the 3 that remain open now have confirmed deadlines and are on target to be met this year.


TL advised the Committee that the two NIAO audit recommendations have now been closed out by management and the only outstanding audit recommendation is the 19/20 audit which is currently in progress.



G4    Internal Audit Report – Annual Assurance Statement 2019-20

The report concluded a satisfactory rating of assurance.



G5    Internal Audit – 2020/21 Internal audit plan

        LM presented the 2020/21 IA plan to the committee. The Committee noted the



H      External Audit Update


In the absence of an NIAO representative, TL updated the Committee on the VSS recent planning meeting with NIAO. The following key points were noted:


Due to covid-19, the deadline for submission of accounts set by Companies House is now February 2021 rather than before Christmas as in usual years. It was noted that the vast majority of work on accounts has been completed and that the two month extension does not affect the usual VSS timetable.  Draft annual report and accounts will be submitted as usual to NIAO at the start of October 2020.

The budget fee has increased across all Departments and ALBs which VSS have incorporated into the budget.

VSS are confident that they can provide NIAO with electronic files for audit so that the audit can be conducted remotely as much as possible.

VSS are awaiting a response from NIAO in relation to how they plan to approach the testing of VSS funded organisations. It was noted that this will need to be communicated to organisations as soon as possible.


I       Standing Agenda Items



  I1   2018/19 ARC Self-Assessment Report and Action Plan


The Chair provided an update on the ARC Self-Assessment Report and noted that there are no fundamental issues to report. Chair to issue report to TL in the coming week.



  I2   ARC Training Update and Requirements


The Committee noted this paper.



  I3   Gifts and Hospitality Update


The Committee noted this paper.


  I4   Compliance Update


TL provided the Committee with an update on the four suspected fraud cases open at the quarter end. The Committee noted that one case is still awaiting a CCNI Final Report and CCNI have indicated that it is unlikely there will be follow up actions for VSS.


Of the 3 active cases open at the quarter end, two have been referred on to the PSNI/Gardai and one referred on to TEO/GFIS. It was noted that there has been no change to the debtor balances since the last update.


It was noted that there was one whistleblowing allegation received during the quarter. An internal investigation was carried out by VSS which concluded that there was no substance to the allegations received. This case is now closed.


There were no new Ombudsman Complaints received during the period and no open cases carried forward. There were no Governance reviews or Assembly Questions.


There was one FOI request carried forward from the previous quarter. A full response was prepared and issued within the required timeframes and the request closed. Two FOI requests were received and closed during the quarter, with a full response prepared and issued within the required timeframes.


A further four FOI requests were received during the quarter which remain open. It was noted that one response has now exceeded the original deadline for response as VSS await a response from a third party with regards to releasing the requested documentation. A response was issued within the required timeframes for the remaining three requests. 


There were four complaints made to VSS in the quarter which have all now been closed out. It was noted an investigation around one complaint was ongoing as at 30th June 2020 but VSS have since referred the individual to the organisation in line with their own complaints policy. An independent panel was appointed to carry out the fourth complaint which was ongoing as at 30th June 2020 but not upheld.

It was noted there has been some anomalies with the telephone call reports since VSS moved to remote working. We do not believe the missed call figures to be correct.  No issues being reported by staff or clients.  Analysis will be conducted on the missed calls to identify any patterns that might exist and an update will be provided at the next ARC meeting.

GDPR Update

One Data Sharing Agreement is still outstanding from a VSP funded organisation. VSS have obtained legal advice on this matter and are currently acting on that.

It was noted that online refresher training in GDPR has been provided to VSS staff.

TL advised that VSS have purchased and rolled out software designed to mitigate against one of the most common data incident/breaches – sending an email to the wrong person. It was noted that this software will complete checks on emails ahead of sending by looking for potential errors such as external email addresses, missing attachments, etc.


  I5   Procurement Update


The Committee noted this paper.



  I6   Data Protection


Covered in I4.


J      Any Other Business


TL advised that the annual review of Risk Management Policy will be with the Committee at the next ARC meeting in October 2020.


It was noted that the Audit and Risk Committee Annual Report has been drafted and is currently with CD for sign off and will also be with the Committee at the next meeting in October.



K      Date of Next Meeting


The next meeting of the Audit and Risk Committee is scheduled to take place on Wednesday 14 October 2020.