I congratulate Deputy O'Connor on his election. I think he is the youngest Deputy in the House, as I once was, although I have now reached the ripe old age of 33.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, on which he also wrote to me. The decision on eligibility for student grant applications is a matter for Student Universal Support Ireland. For student grant purposes, students are categorised according to their circumstances either as students dependent on parents or a legal guardian or as independent mature students. A student may be assessed as an independent student, that is, assessed without reference to parental income and address, if he or she has attained the age of 23 on 1 January of the year of first entry to an approved course and is not ordinarily resident with parents from the previous 1 October. Otherwise, he or she is assessed as a dependent student.
A student’s status for grant purposes is defined at his or her first point of entry to an approved further or higher education course or at his or her point of re-entry to an approved course following a break from studies of at least three years, and continues to apply for the duration of his or her studies. Therefore, for students seeking entry to the 2020-21 scheme as independent, 1 October 2019 would be the relevant date for determining their status. This obviously predates the exceptional circumstances arising from the response to Covid-19 earlier in the current year.
Applicants who do not meet the criteria to be assessed as an independent student for grant purposes, or who cannot supply the necessary documentation to establish independent living for the required period, may still apply to SUSI to have their grant eligibility assessed as a dependent student. The relevant information, including details of parental income, would be required.
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. This can be accessed through the access officer in the third level institution attended. We have doubled the funding in the scheme which is administered on a confidential basis.
I get the sense that Deputy O'Connor has a particular issue on the need for common sense to prevail this year. I would welcome his taking the opportunity to expand on that.