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Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 3 November 2020

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Questions (999)

Martin Browne


999. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if his attention has been drawn to situations in which persons have been informed that they have lost their SUSI grant entitlements due to the fact that they have been forced to receive Covid-19 payments due to losing their jobs due to the current restrictions; if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that they have been told they have a choice between staying on the Covid-19 payment or applying for the back to education allowance; his views on the impact this has on the students concerned; if cognisance is being taken of this in terms of supports specifically designed for these persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33343/20]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

Under the Student Grant Scheme, grant assistance is available to eligible students attending an approved course in an approved institution who meet the terms and conditions of funding, including those relating to residency, means, nationality and previous academic attainment.

The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter, in the first instance, for SUSI to determine. For the 2020/21 academic year, student grant applications will be assessed based on gross income from all sources for the period 1st January 2019 to 31st December 2019.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment was first implemented by the Department of Social Protection (DSP) in March for employees and self-employed people who had lost their employment due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. The Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Act 2020 establishes the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment as a social insurance benefit scheme separate from other social protection statutory schemes including the Supplementary Welfare Allowance and Jobseeker Allowance and Jobseeker Benefit schemes.

For student grant purposes the Covid-19 payment has been treated as reckonable income for the SUSI means assessment process since it was introduced in March. This means that the Covid-19 payment is treated in a similar fashion to other DEASP payments such as Jobseekers Benefit/Allowance, thus ensuring a consistency of approach and an equitable treatment of students and their families in the SUSI means assessment process.

All applications are assessed nationally with reference to the terms and conditions of the relevant student grant scheme. The terms and conditions of funding are applied impartially to all applicants.

However, if a student or party to their application experiences a change in circumstances that is not a temporary change and is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, they can apply to have their application assessed under the change in circumstances provision of the relevant Student Grant Scheme. The income of all parties to the application will be assessed or reassessed on the current year (2020) and they may also be asked to provide evidence of the current year’s (2020) income.

Students in receipt of the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) are not eligible for maintenance support under the Student Grant Scheme, as this would result in a duplication of income support payments. However, students in receipt of BTEA may be considered for SUSI fee supports up to a maximum of €6,270. Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) is administered by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP). Further enquiries in respect of the BTEA should be referred to DEASP.

The Programme for Government contains an important commitment to review SUSI eligibility and I fully intend to fulfil this commitment so as to promote access to third level, particularly amongst families with low incomes and communities that are under-represented.

Apart from the Student Grant Scheme, students can apply for supports under the Student Assistance Fund. The fund assists students in a sensitive and compassionate manner, who might otherwise be unable to continue their third level studies due to their financial circumstances. Institutions have the autonomy to maximise the flexibility in the Student Assistance Fund to enable HEIs to support students during the Covid-19 pandemic. Details of this fund are available from the Access Office in the higher education institution attended. This fund is administered on a confidential, discretionary basis.

In addition, tax relief at the standard rate of tax may be claimed in respect of tuition fees paid for approved courses at approved colleges of higher education including approved undergraduate and postgraduate courses in EU Member States and in non-EU countries. Further information on this tax relief is available from a student's local Tax office or from the Revenue Commissioners website