Minutes of the VSS Audit and Risk Committee

Wednesday 15 April 2020, 2:00pm

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                                                  

Melissa McCartan (MM)                          Business Support Officer (Minutes)


Other Officers in Attendance:

Sinead Brown (SB)                                 TEO

Suzanne Walsh (SW)                             NIAO (External Audit)

Lisa Malcolmson                                     EY (Internal Audit)




A      Apologies


        Apologies were received from Pauline Poots, EY Internal Audit representative, Marie Mathews, TEO, David Murray, VSS Finance and Governance Manager, and Kathy Doey, NIAO External Audit.


B      Minutes of Previous Meeting


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


C      Action Points


TL advised that AP1 15.01.20, open audit recommendations to be included as a separate standing agenda item, will be implemented next quarter.



D      Conflict of Interest


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


E      Accounting Officer Update


E1.1 Resource Guide – INP (COVID 19 Emergency Response)


MB provided the Committee with an update on the VSS response to Covid-19. It was noted all cheques and online payments to victims and survivors in receipt of support via the Self-Directed Assistance Scheme were issued on 1 April 2020. MB advised that VSS proactively rang a number of clients prior to cheques being issued in order to minimise the volume of inbound calls once cheques are received.


MB provided an overview of the changes to each service following the Covid-19 outbreak and noted examples of what these changes might look like. It was noted that a cash advance of £250 will be made to individuals throughout April who are in receipt of the Home Heating grant, with the remaining amount to be considered in September 2020.


It was noted clients have been advised not to send any invoices or receipts to the VSS office while staff work remotely. MB noted that the VSS payment processes will have to adapt and adjust to this difficult time and, in the meantime, suppliers will be directed to email the VSS finance team, who will respond to all related queries. MB acknowledged that this is likely to be a changing and fluid situation and noted VSS will continue to monitor it carefully.


E1.2 Resource Guide – VSP (COVID 19 Emergency Response)


It was noted the VSP Resource Guide was circulated to VSS funded organisations in order to allow fast and timely action in local communities and to quickly adapt to the changing and emerging needs.

It was noted that VSS’ priority will be to continue to meet the needs of those most vulnerable, prioritising physiological needs, safety, security and social connections. It was noted all efforts will be made by VSS and the voluntary and community sector to pull together and protect and care for the most vulnerable.


MB advised the Committee that the changes within the VSP guide would allow a rapid response on the ground and only change requests from groups outside of this guidance will require approval from VSS programmes team.  The guidance will be updated regularly based on learning and the emerging needs throughout the coming weeks and months. It was noted any underspends can be re-profiled to provide new temporary and emerging support and services, such as:

-       Food and Essential Household Items: a monthly cap of £30 will be available per single household, and £50 if there are two or more individuals within a household.

-       Mobile Phone/Device bills: a one off emergency top up/ contribution of £30 per person can be made in order to ensure vulnerable victims and survivors have the ability to stay in contact with friends and family.

-       Electricity & Gas: a one off top up of £50 can be made during this period for vulnerable victims and survivors. It was noted that those who do not receive a VSS home heating grant will be prioritised.


The Committee noted the importance of keeping a record of anything done differently during the Covid-19 period and acknowledged the work done and dedication of VSS staff during such challenging times.



E1.3 Staff Health and Wellbeing Guide (COVID 19 Emergency Response)    


MB provided the Committee with an update on the VSS Staff Health and Wellbeing Guide. It was noted this document along with the VSS Lone Working Policy was circulated to all VSS staff to support their safety and health and wellbeing whilst working from home for the foreseeable future.



E2    Progress against Budget

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

-       Corporate expenditure is largely on target with a small number of underspends across a few areas.

-       No significant areas of underspend have been reported by VSS funded organisations. It is anticipated VSP expenditure will achieve full spend.

-       It is anticipated INP will achieve full spend on the basis that the accrual of £239,000 is in line with budget commitment levels and the impact of Covid-19 will be on 2020-21 rather than 2019-20.

-       Capital expenditure has almost achieved full spend with one small underspend.

-       Forecasts indicate that expenditure for 2019-20 will be within the 1.5% underspend tolerance level.

It was noted the Covid-19 pandemic has presented significant challenges for the operation of the finance function, particularly payments. TL advised new operational processes for payments and the associated controls have been designed by the VSS Finance and Governance Manager, along with the Finance team. This has ensured continued payment of victims and survivors claims under frameworks, continued cashflow to VSS funded organisations and payment of staff salaries. It was noted the priority for the Finance team in Q1 2020/21 will be to continue to refine and adapt these processes in line with new and emerging needs.


TL advised a thorough review of the 2020/21 budget will also take place in Q1 to take account of the changes VSS needed to make in these extraordinary times.


E3    Strategic Risk Register


MB provided the Committee with an update on the strategic risk register. It was noted some progress has been made in relation to risk STG34, Mental Health Trauma Service, with one outstanding issue still to be addressed. It was noted VSS funded organisations plan to engage with the First and Deputy First Minister in relation to the executive direction on the RTN. In light of Covid-19, MB highlighted the difficult circumstances our health colleagues are currently working under and acknowledged that the priorities in the DoH will have changed.


It was noted a proposal has been submitted to the Department to address the additional temporary workload issues in respect of STG52 Senior Management Team Pressures. MB advised this risk is further elevated due to the impact of covid-19 on VSS services and need for urgent contingencies to safeguard staff and victims and survivors. It was noted the proposal has since been rejected and the Committee asked SB to follow up and progress alternative options as soon as possible.


15.04.20 AP1: SB to follow up on VSS SMT proposal with TEO.


It was noted that STG51, Staff Health and Wellbeing, escalated from green to red following the Covid-19 outbreak. MB advised VSS have taken a number of steps since the risk register was prepared over the last number of days to help mitigate the factors contributing to this risk and noted this will now be downgraded.


It was also noted STG35 Legacy Institutions, STG43 PEACE IV Cashflow and STG56 HIA risks remain red.


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


It was noted the VSS Quarterly M&E Report will be 6 monthly this year.


G     Internal Audit Update – verbal update


LM provided the Committee with an update in relation to the internal audit progress. It was noted that the follow up report and the proposed 20/21 audit plan has been issued and will be finalised following an internal review with VSS.


The Finance and PEACE IV reports have been completed and recommendations have been discussed with the relevant people. It was noted these reports, along with the annual assurance report will be presented at July’s ARC meeting. LM advised the Committee there is nothing of significance to note in any of the reports.


H      External Audit Update – verbal update


SW provided the committee with a verbal update on external audit. It was noted the timetable for accounts for the Departments has been pushed back to 3 August 2020. SW advised that guidance is due to be issued in the coming weeks by the Treasury Officer of Accounts with regards to the requirements for the 20/21 annual reporting.


It was noted VSS accounts are normally submitted in September, however NIAO are aware of the current difficulties around resources and Covid-19 and will liaise with VSS closer to the time.



  I     Standing Agenda Items


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


TL advised there are no outstanding actions in the 18/19 ARC Self-Assessment Report. It was noted the 19/20 ARC Self-Assessments have not been circulated prior to today’s meeting as Chair advised not an urgent matter at present. It was noted TL will circulate these ahead of the next ARC meeting scheduled to take place in July.


15.04.20 AP2: – TL to circulate Self-Assessment to ARC Members for agreement. Meeting for ARC Members to be arranged via Zoom ahead of next meeting in July.


  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 seven 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 6 active cases open at the quarter end, one case is now closed, with one in appeal, two currently referred on to the PSNI/Gardai and one in debt recovery. 1 new case has been identified in the quarter which has been referred to TEO/GFIS. It noted VSS await their advice on the next steps. Of the 4 debtor balances identified at quarter end, 2 have been recovered in April 2020. It was noted a further debtor balance is outstanding and VSS have written to the management committee requesting this balance.


The committee noted that there was one whistleblowing allegation received during the quarter. It was noted that an internal review was conducted by VSS and no evidence of misuse of funds was identified. 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. There was one FOI request received and closed during the quarter. It was noted a full response was prepared and issued within the required timeframes. There was one  FOI request received during the quarter which remains open. A response is currently being prepared by VSS management.


The Committee noted that one complaint was received in the quarter ended 31 March 2020. A full review was conducted, and the complaint is now closed.


Client drop ins for March 2020 were a lot lower than normal due to Covid-19. As always, VSS calls increase in March with clients anticipating the opening of new schemes and new financial year. It was noted that the calls missed for March is not a true reflection of calls missed by VSS as many of these were test calls to enable staff to handle calls from home when working remotely. TL noted some calls would have been missed by staff in March due to the reduction of call handling capacity when Covid-19 escalated.


GDPR Update


It was noted one Data Sharing Agreement is still outstanding. TL advised VSS have taken legal advice on this matter and hope to bring this to a resolution soon.



  I5   Procurement Update


The Committee noted this paper.



  I6   Data Protection


Covered in I4.


J    Any Other Business





K    Date of Next Meeting


The next meeting of the Audit and Risk Committee is scheduled to take place on Wednesday 22 July 2020.