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Third Level Education

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 13 July 2021

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Questions (529)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

529. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if the SUSI deduction for holiday earnings earned outside of term time up to a maximum of €4,500 is being applied to students who received the pandemic unemployment payment instead as their employment was interrupted by the pandemic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37692/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter, in the first instance, for SUSI to determine. For the 2021/22 academic year, student grant applications will be assessed based on gross income from all sources for the reference period 1st January 2020 to 31st December 2020.

The Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Act 2020 establishes the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) 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.

The PUP payment has been treated as reckonable income for the SUSI means assessment process since it was introduced in March 2020. This means that the Covid-19 payment is treated in a similar fashion to other Department of 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.

Furthermore, a very important feature of the scheme that I would point to is the change of circumstances provision. 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 SUSI 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 current income and applicants may also be asked to provide evidence of same.

Such a change in circumstances includes no longer being in receipt of a pandemic unemployment payment. Students will no longer receive the PUP from early September, in line with normal circumstances where students do not qualify for unemployment payments while at college.

The change of circumstances provision is a well-established procedure and it can also operate at scale.  For example, over 10,000 applicants declared a change of circumstance in the 2020/21 academic year and some 40% of these applications related to COVID-19. The application of this provision will continue to allow the scheme to be flexible and responsive to people's circumstances.

Under Article 22(5)(b) of the Student Grant Scheme 2021, income from an applicant’s employment which represents holiday earnings outside of term time but within the reference period up to a maximum of €4,500 can be deducted from the total reckonable income assessed.

This holiday earnings disregard under the Student Grant Scheme can only be applied to income from employment earned by the student in the manner described. The holiday earnings disregard pertains specifically to income from employment only; there is no provision to offset this disregard against any other sources of income, such as a social welfare payment.  

The Deputy will be aware that restrictions were eased during the summer months and the Christmas period which enabled many students to return to work. Those students, who engaged in work during non-term times when restrictions were eased in 2020, can avail of the holiday earnings provision and have that income excluded from their reckonable income up to the value of €4,500 for the 2021/22 grant scheme.

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 www.revenue.ie.

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