Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Questions (680)

Marian Harkin

Question:

680. Deputy Marian Harkin asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the reason a change in circumstances has not been taken into consideration for a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38847/20]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

As part of a comprehensive customer service and communications strategy provided by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI), to ensure that all necessary avenues are open to applicants to receive the information they need, a dedicated email and phone line service is provided by SUSI for Oireachtas members. This was established to meet an identified need for applicants who choose to engage the assistance of their public representatives in making enquiries about their grant applications.

This service, which was set up at the behest of Oireachtas members, complements the established channels provided by SUSI which include online application tracking, a dedicated website, a telephone helpdesk, email and social media, including Facebook and Twitter. Enquiries may be emailed direct to SUSI at oireachtas@susi.ie. Staff in SUSI are responding to email queries within a matter of days.

With regard to this specific application, I been advised by my officials that the student that you refer to was awarded €2,000 post graduate fee contribution. She appealed on the basis that she should qualify for a Special Rate of Grant. In order to be eligible for the special rate of grant in the 2020/21 academic year, the reckonable income must include on 31st December 2019 one of the eligible long term payments listed in Schedule 2 of the Student Grant Scheme 2020. She did not hold an eligible payment and now has exhausted the appeals process.

While her income may have been adversely affected in 2020 the Pandemic Unemployment Payment is not an eligible long term payment listed in Schedule 2 therefore she cannot qualify for the special rate of grant. 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 Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection 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.

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. Information on the fund is available through the Access Officer in the third level institution attended. This fund is administered on a confidential, discretionary basis.

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 www.revenue.ie.

Questions Nos. 681 and 682 answered with Question No. 657.