Minutes of the VSS Audit and Risk Committee

Wednesday 21 July 2021, 14:00

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

Jonathan McCullough (JMcC) ARC Member


VSS Officers in Attendance:

Margaret Bateson (MB) Chief Executive Officer

Tara Lewsley (TL) Acting Head of Corporate Services

David Murray (DM) Acting Finance and Governance Manager

Others in Attendance:

Marie Mathews (MM) TEO

Stephen Lindsay (SL) Cavanagh Kelly

Kathy Doey (EB) NIAO




A Apologies


Apologies received from Sinead Brown, TEO.

B Minutes of Previous Meeting


The minutes of the previous Audit and Risk Committee meeting held on 14 April 2021 were agreed.


C Action Points


There were no outstanding action points to be discussed.



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 progress against business plan targets and delivering on outcomes. The following key points were highlighted:


-       Following ministerial approval, VSS re-opened Self-Directed Assistance Payments for the Bereaved on 1 April 2021. 607 applications have been received to date.

-       Ministerial approval was given for Persistent Pain Home Heating awards in 2021/22 to be a cash based payment. Unfortunately, retrospective approval was not given for the payments made in 2020/21 to be cash based and so VSS have been required to request receipts for utilities from all 764 clients who recieved a 2020/21 Home Heating payment. This has allowed cash payments to be issued to 460 of 746 eligible victims and survivors at 30 June 2021 for the 2021/22 financial year. A risk analysis is planned on all other recipients in Q2 2021/22.

-       TPDPS (Victims Payment Scheme) progress has continued with internal systems and preparations for the revised launch date by DOJ of 31 August 2021.  We have supported the welfare organisations with additional resources.

-       Following recruitment processes, our community and voluntary partners (WAVE & Advice NI) now have a full staff complement providing HIA services with staff inductions and training complete this quarter.

-        VSS continues to provide Interim emotional support for survivors of Mother & Baby Institutions, Magdalene Laundries and Workhouses engaging in the Inquiry process.

-        VSS has been commissioned by DoH to commence a co-design process with survivors of Mother & Baby Institutions, Magdalene Laundries and Workhouses. This commenced on 21st June 2021 and will run until September 2021.


E2 Progress against Budget


DM presented the key points from the budget report, and provided assurances that any significant variances were based on timing differences only. RS raised a point about Psychological Support being overspent against budget and asked if more budget needed to be committed to this area. DM confirmed that the budget would be reviewed in full in July 21 to assess the impact of new information across all budget lines.


E3 Strategic Risk Register


The Committee noted no new risks were raised in the period.

BL asked MB for an update on a previous risk in respect of staff health and wellbeing and the progress on returning to the office. MB confirmed that it had been established during staff planning days that teams were keen to establish solidarity across the organisation and that efficiencies could be achieved in some areas while working in the office. MB noted that whilst a number of staff were supportive of a return to the office there was still some resistance from a small number of staff. MB acknowledged that staff were tired, with the Health and Wellbeing team particularly affected by the remote working environment. MB confirmed that a phased return to the office will allow for suitable supervision and peer support which are important in looking towards the future.

MB also addressed the recent announcement of the amnesty, confirming that this had resulted in an increase in calls to staff, and anger from clients. MB confirmed that the Advocacy programme was particularly affected and VSS were continuing to explore avenues to allow victims and survivors to tell their stories.


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


SL introduced Cavanagh Kelly as the new contractor responsible for the internal audit function within VSS. CD highlighted that VSS have always had a constructive relationship with the internal audit contractor and looked forward to this continuing. JMcC highlighted the importance of Cavanagh Kelly showing pragmatism in their approach to their work, ensuring that victims and survivors were prioritised throughout.


The Committee agreed the Internal Audit charter.


TL confirmed that the Internal Audit Strategy was being agreed and the committee agreed that this should be circulated to, and agreed by email, by the committee.


H External Audit Update


KD discussed the 2020/21 Audit Strategy, including the significant risks, materiality thresholds and the timetable for completion, as well as providing confirmation that the audit team is unchanged from the prior year.


RS queried the increase in the audit fee given that VSS is a small organisation and KD confirmed that these costs were due to increased centralised costs but that these fees were under review.


BMcD questioned why regularity of group expenditure continued to be viewed as a significant risk by NIAO. BMcD asked KD to provide details of the percentage of irregular expenditure that has been noted by NIAO in recent audits and CD confirmed that work should be proportionate to the risk presented. RS requested that the audit work for grants be costed. KD confirmed that a response would be provided for the next ARC meeting.


I Standing Agenda Items


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


The Committee noted this paper.


I2 ARC Training Update and Requirements


The Committee noted this paper.


I3 Audit Recommendations


The Committee noted this paper.


I4 Gifts and Hospitality Update


The Committee noted this paper.


I5 Compliance Update


DM provided the Committee with an update on the three suspected fraud cases open at the quarter end.


The Committee noted that one case is still awaiting a CCNI Final Report and that further contact has been made with CCNI in January 2021 but no response has been received to date. Of the 2 active cases open at the quarter end, all have been referred on to TEO and GFIS, who have subsequently engaged the PSNI/Gardai.


MM confirmed that the number of cases still open with TEO did not reconcile with those presented in the Compliance Report. MM agreed to share details of the outstanding cases with VSS to establish where the reasons for this discrepancy.


Of the five debtor balances identified at quarter end, it was noted all cases are actively being sought by VSS, with one referred on to legal.

The Committee noted that no new whistleblowing allegations were raised in respect of funded organisations during the period. One whistle-blowing allegation, brought forward the previous period and relating to a funded organisation, was closed with no evidence of wrong doing found.

No new Ombudsman complaints were received in the quarter. One case, brought forward from the previous quarter, has since been closed, with NIPSO confirming the case was not being accepted for investigation.

There are no ongoing governance reviews at 30 June 2021, and seven assembly questions received, for which a response was provided within timescales.

The Committee noted that three FOI requests were received during the quarter, from two individuals representing the same organisation.

It was noted five complaints were made to VSS in the quarter. All complaints were closed within 10 working days, except for one complaint that was passed to a VSS board. DM advised that one of the complaints was upheld, and a further one partially upheld.

DM provided an update on call handling for Q1 2021-22. The Committee noted that incoming calls increased throughout the month of April, attributable to the launch of INP 21/22 and is in keeping with previous years.

The committee noted that there was a significant increase in the number of dropped calls in May and June, and TL confirmed that VSS had experienced that issues with the phone system, as well as staff shortages during the quarter.


GDPR Update

The committee noted that no data incidents were recorded during the period.

A revised Data Sharing Agreement has been agreed and is currently being finalised. This will then be shared with all funded organisations at the earliest opportunity.


I6 Procurement Update


The Committee noted this paper.


I7 Data Protection


Covered in I4.


J Any Other Business


Nothing further to note.


K Date of Next Meeting


The next VSS Audit and Risk Committee meeting is scheduled to take place on Wednesday 13 October 2021.