Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

John Gormley

Question:

360 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason there was no lead-in time on the decision to stop the back to education allowance during the summer months; her views on the fact that many students had made plans on the basis of acquiring this allowance; if she will consider reversing this decision, in view of information coming to her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19253/03]

Joe Higgins

Question:

361 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will review her decision to cease back to education allowance payments during the summer period for all students currently enrolled on the scheme, with a view to allowing these students to complete their studies on the same terms on which they originally started out. [19275/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 360 and 361 together.

The back to education allowance scheme is a second chance education opportunities scheme designed to help the unemployed and other groups to improve their qualifications and to enhance their employment prospects. A review of the basic purpose underlying my Department's back to education provisions was carried out towards the end of 2002. In light of this, and in view of the expenditure constraints facing us this year, the scheme has been revised.

Payments under the scheme for the summer period have been discontinued for BTEA participants who were in receipt of an unemployment payment as many students traditionally find seasonal work at home or abroad during the summer months. Participants in the scheme who fail to find employment during the summer may be entitled to an unemployment payment, subject to satisfying the usual qualifying conditions. All other participants on the scheme – lone parents and people with disabilities – remain unaffected by this decision and will retain payment during the summer period. Furthermore, BTEA participants who have to, as an integral part of their course of study, undertake a period of work experience, placement or research during the summer months will continue to be paid the allowance for this period.
Second, persons pursuing postgraduate courses are no longer covered by the scheme, apart from persons pursuing higher diploma – in all disciplines or graduate diploma in primary school teaching.
It is incorrect to suggest that there was no lead in time in notifying participants of these changes. All participants were contacted in March to inform them of the changes to the scheme. In May all participants were contacted again and informed of the decision to continue payment for particular postgraduate courses. My Department's websites containing information on the scheme were also updated on the changes.
I am satisfied that the new arrangements will ensure that the back to education scheme continues to provide support to those people who are most distant from the labour market and I have no plans to alter these arrangements.
Question No. 362 withdrawn.