Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Questions (650)

Bríd Smith


650. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if SUSI, when calculating the period of time in which an applicant's parents must have been on jobseeker's benefit, has a threshold that states this period must be over 391 days but that when calculating this period only allot six days a week and that therefore the period must be a total of 65 calendar weeks; if so, if this method is unique to SUSI when calculating applicants’ eligibility criteria; if it is the practice of SUSI to cut off the payments of a student’s grant in 2020 if it discovers an error or possible error in the way in which it calculated the income of the parents in 2018 given that the year applicable is supposed to be the preceding year and cutting off students income can have huge and detrimental effects on students concerned; if SUSI communicates with students in a situation in which it has decided to stop the payment of a student grant for any reason; and if such communication allows for an appeal of that decision prior to the cessation of the grant payments. [37978/20]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter for SUSI to determine. In assessing an application for the 2020/21 academic year, SUSI will have regard to the following qualifying criteria for the special rate of maintenance grant: 1. The student must qualify for the standard rate of grant; 2. Total reckonable income, after income disregards and Child Dependant Increase(s) are excluded, must not exceed €24,500; 3. As at 31st of December 2019, the reckonable income must include one of the eligible long-term social welfare payments prescribed in Schedule 2 of the Student Grant Scheme 2020.

The report of the Action Group on Access to Third Level Education made detailed recommendations concerning the introduction of special rates of maintenance grants for disadvantaged students. The target group of "those most in need" was defined in terms of the dependants of people receiving long-term welfare payments, where the necessary conditions are fulfilled.

In general terms, Jobseekers Benefit is considered to be a short-term payment unless it is held for 391 consecutive days at 31 December 2019. The 391 days is the time period as determined by DEASP for a social welfare payment to be regarded as long term, and refers to social welfare days as opposed to calendar days. Jobseeker’s Benefit is operated by DEASP on a 6 day week basis.

The Student Grant Scheme makes provision for combining periods of Jobseeker's Allowance, Jobseeker's Benefit and other eligible payments for the purposes of meeting 391 days as determined by the Department of Social Protection.

Families on low incomes may wish to enquire with the Department of Social Protection as to their eligibility for the Working Family Payment (which is an eligible payment for the purposes of the Special Rate of Grant).

As part of SUSI’s internal processes, Post Assessment Quality Reviews are carried out on applications both for the current academic year and all prior academic years. This includes fast track renewal applications. If a student was in receipt of funding in the previous academic year, they may have the option to make a fast track renewal application. The student is asked if there have been any changes since the last academic year and if the student answers there has not been any change, the same rate of funding is awarded as in the previous year. If a change is found during a review, the rate awarded may be revised. In such cases, the student receives a letter notifying them of the revised decision and/or SUSI may request additional documentation to ensure that applicants are awarded the best possible rate of grant. A revised decision can be appealed and the appeals process is outlined in the letter.

If an individual applicant considers that she/he has been unjustly refused a student grant, or that the rate of grant awarded is not the correct one, she/he may appeal, in the first instance, to SUSI.

Where an individual applicant has had an appeal turned down in writing by an appeals officer in SUSI and remains of the view that the scheme has not been interpreted correctly in his/her case, an appeal may be submitted to the independent Student Grants Appeals Board within the required timeframe, (i.e. not later than 30 days after the notification of the determination of the appeals officer to the applicant). Such appeals can be made by the appellant on line via www.studentgrantappeals.ie.

Students in third-level institutions experiencing exceptional financial need can apply for support under the Student Assistance Fund. This 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. Details of this fund are available from the Access Office in the institution attended. This fund is administered on a confidential, discretionary basis.

In addition, tax relief at the standard rate of tax may also be available in respect of tuition fees paid for approved courses at approved colleges of higher education. Further information on this tax relief is available from a student's local Tax Office or from the Revenue Commissioners website, www.revenue.ie.