Stormont department gave details on welfare to the NIO
A Stormont department shared information with the Northern Ireland Office over welfare reform, it has been confirmed.
The contact was authorised by Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey during one of the brief periods in recent weeks when he was in office.
But senior officials told the Assembly committee monitoring the Department for Social Development (DSD) that the information amounted to "facts and figures".
DSD temporary permanent secretary Andrew Hamilton added the decision was taken after Secretary of State Theresa Villiers made it clear the Government was prepared to legislate directly to take control of benefits.
She described that as a "last resort" if talks failed to broker a compromise to salvage the deal reached just before Christmas in the Stormont House Agreement.
There was speculation that the information transfer was an operational matter which did not require a ministerial decision.