Minutes of the VSS Audit and Risk Committee

Wednesday 14 October 2020, 14:00pm

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

Andrew Walker (AW)                               Acting Head of Operations

Tara Lewsley (TL)                                  Acting Head of Corporate Services

David Murray (DM)                                 Acting Finance and Governance Manager  

Melissa McCartan (MM)                          Business Support Officer (Minutes)


Others in Attendance:

Sinead Brown (SB)                                 TEO

Lisa Malcolmson (LM)                             EY (Internal Audit)

Emma Bolton (EB)                                   NIAO




A      Apologies


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


B        Minutes of Previous Meeting


The minutes of the previous Audit and Risk Committee meeting held on 07 August 2020 were agreed.


C        Action Points


TL advised that all action points have 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 an update on the current progress against business plan targets and delivering on outcomes. It was noted Complementary Therapies, Social Support, Personal and Professional Development continue to be below target due to the pandemic, however, alternative services have been put in place. MB is confident that VSS and our community partners can manage these underspends with constant flexibility and adaptation of services.


It was noted VSS issued a Covid-19 survey to all funded and community organisations with an aim to better understand how VSS can continue to adapt and develop support and services for victims and survivors during the pandemic. Following the findings of the Covid-19 survey, it was noted VSS will issue a call to the sector for additional activities.


MB provided an update on the following 4 risks:


-         Risk that comprehensive and victim-centred approach to provision of support to victims and survivors considering application for Victims Payment is not in place ahead of indicative launch date in March 2021. It was noted the business case is anticipated to be approved in Q3 2020/21 but concerns around the funding beyond March 2021 remain, which could affect the ability of VSS and funded organisations to recruit staff into posts.


-         Risk that the needs of the Bereaved are not being met within current schemes. It was noted that the Department have yet to submit the ministerial submission on this matter.


-         Risk that appropriate Health and Wellbeing services are not in place for victims of HIA and date remains unknown. MB advised that VSS submitted business case for permanent support in June 2020 but have not yet received approval from TEO.

Associated risk to VSS reputation, staff health and wellbeing and risk of significant increase in clinical risk due to the limited resource dedicated to contain complex and vulnerable clients. It was noted VSS continue to provide temporary emotional support to victims of HIA since June 2020 and that the new HIA Commissioner will take up post on 14 December 2020.

-       Risk that victims and survivors who are eligible and in receipt of a Home Heat award did not receive second payment in September 2020 as planned. MB advised VSS submitted a proposal to TEO to make a further payment of £250 and remove the need for provision of receipts in recognition of the current exceptional circumstances relating to Covid. It was noted this proposal was rejected and MB updated the Committee on the recent communication between VSS and TEO in relation to this.  Associated risk to VSS reputation in delay of these payments.


The chairman acknowledged the challenges VSS are facing and noted the ARC Committee is aware and sympathetic to these areas and expects the VSS Board to address these risks with the Department. SB then provided a brief update on the 4 risks mentioned above on behalf of TEO.


BL asked MB what the percentage of VSS’ spend on Home Heating is. The Committee agreed that it is a low financial risk and other assessment and mitigating factors have been considered. It was noted that the VSS Board will discuss risk STG59 at their next meeting on 21 October 2020.



E2    Progress against Budget


The Committee noted this paper.


E3    Strategic Risk Register


The Committee noted this paper.


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 Update


LM provided an update on internal audit. It was noted that there is no report available for today’s meeting due to delays on EY’s end. The following key points were noted:


-       The fieldwork for the VSP Verifications report has been completed. Draft report will be issued as soon as possible and presented at the next ARC meeting. It is anticipated that the report will result in a satisfactory audit rating.

-       Audit scoping meetings have been scheduled for PEACE IV and Monitoring and Evaluation reports. Fieldwork to be delivered and completed during Q3 2020/21.

-       Business Continuity Planning to be delivered during Q4 2020/21.

-       Follow up of previous audit recommendations to be delivered during Q4 2020/21.


H        External Audit Update


H1    NIAO Audit Strategy (2019/20)


EB provided an update on external audit. The following key points were noted:


-       The overall account materiality has been set at £269K.

-       The audit fee for 20/21 has increased due to an increase in charge out rates across NIAO office and change to some aspects of the audit methodology.

-       Draft accounts have been received and audit work will commence remotely w/c 19.10.20. Due to the latest restrictions, initial focus will be on accounts work whilst onsite grant testing is on hold until further notice.

-       EB advised the audit will begin next week and noted Companies House deadline has been extended to February 2021.

It was agreed that NIAO will issue an update via email on the progress of the audit in December 2020 ahead of the next ARC meeting in January 2021.


I         Standing Agenda Items


  I1   2019/20 ARC Self-Assessment Report and Action Plan (No paper)


There was discussion around ownership of AP Counter-Fraud Standards following the completion of the ARC Self-Assessment carried out in July 2020. TL to pick up with CD via email.


  I2   ARC Training Update and Requirements


The Committee noted this paper.



  I3   Audit Recommendations


DM provided an update on the outstanding audit recommendations.


It was noted that the final 2 audit recommendations for 18/19 are due to be closed out by end of October 2020.


DM advised that 10 out of the 11 remaining audit recommendations for 19/20 are also due to be closed out by the end of October 2020.


The chairman acknowledged the compliance and cooperation by VSS management for both internal and external audit recommendations.


  I4   Gifts and Hospitality Update


The Committee noted this paper.



  I5   Compliance Update


DM provided the Committee with an update on the five 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 4 active cases open at the quarter end, one has been referred on to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), another has been referred on to the PSNI, one case has been referred on to GFIS, and the fourth referred on to SEUPB, who are currently advising on next steps.


It was noted that there has been no change to the debtor balances since the last update. DM advised VSS have completed all mandatory letters in respect of case VSS/FR/41, and that if no response is received within the required timeframe, consideration of legal action will be the next step.


The Committee noted that there were no new whistleblowing allegations received during the quarter and one carried forward.


There was one Ombudsman Complaint received during the quarter. A response was provided on the same day. No further communications have been received.

There are no ongoing governance reviews as at 30 September 2020. It was noted two AQ’s were received via TEO during the period. Two full responses have been issued and are now closed.

It was noted Four FOI requests were carried forward from the previous quarter. A full response was prepared and issued for all requests. One response was issued outside of the required timeframe as a result of a delay on receiving information from TEO as they were taking DSO advice. All requests are now closed in full.

Five further FOI requests were received during the quarter. A full response was prepared and issued within the required timeframes for three of the five requests. These requests are now closed. The two open requests remain within the required timeframe for response. DM advised VSS do not expect any issues in responding within the timeframes.

There was one complaint made to VSS in the quarter. VSS have issued an acknowledgement and expect to provide a response within 10 working days from receipt.

DM provided an update on call handling for Q2. It was noted call volumes increased in September 2020 due to client calls to enquire about the arrangement for the payment of the 2020/21 home heating award.


GDPR Update

One Data Sharing Agreement is still outstanding from a VSP funded group. DM advised work is ongoing on this matter but existing data sharing agreements remain in place.

It was noted two data incidents occurred doing the quarter which have both been deemed low risk and closed.


  I6   Procurement Update


The Committee noted this paper.



  I7   Data Protection


Covered in I4.


J        Any Other Business


There was discussion around the chairperson’s term ending on 31 October 2020. It was noted CD will stay on as temporary Chair of ARC until a recruitment process is undertaken.


J1  Annual review of Risk Management Policy – Verbal Update


TL advised that the Risk Management Strategy has been updated to line with the February 2020 revision of the Treasury’s Orange Book. It was noted this will be presented to the VSS Board in November and will be shared with the ARC for consideration in January 2021.



J2  Audit and Risk Committee Annual Report


It was noted that the Audit and Risk Committee Annual Report has been agreed by members for reporting to the VSS Board.


J3  Spot Check Methodology


The Committee noted the following papers; Annex 1 - INP 2020-21 Governance Proposal, Annex 2 – INP 2020-22 Governance Controls Methodology, and INP 2021-22 Governance Controls Summary.


AW provided an update on the spot check methodology and highlighted previous spot check findings and the proposed controls for 20-21 onwards.


It was noted that since April 2017, four rounds of annual spot checks have been undertaken by VSS comprising 30% of all victims and survivors in receipt of cash payments. The conclusions reached upon completion of these checks are that the risk of ineligible expenditure is extremely low, however, VSS still recognises the need to have a framework of ongoing controls and governance arrangements in place.


In terms of next steps, AW provided an update on the interim/transitional arrangements ahead of the April 2021 payments and noted that it is envisaged that the revised framework of controls will certainly be operational for the entirety of the 2021/22 year.


AW then welcomed feedback/questions from the Committee. The ARC members agreed that they are in support of the revised approach.



J4  Annual Review of the ARC Terms of Reference


The Committee noted one minor change made to the ARC Terms of Reference. It was noted this paper will go to VSS Board for approval.


K        Date of Next Meeting


The next meeting of the Audit and Risk Committee is scheduled to take place on Wednesday 13 January 2020.