Budget Process

Ceisteanna (133)

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

133. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection the priorities brought forward by stakeholders at the recent pre-budget forum; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23129/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

As part of the budgetary process, my Department organises a pre-Budget forum annually for community, voluntary, employee and employer representative organisations to discuss and debate policy issues and present their thoughts and proposals on the upcoming Budget to each other, to senior officials of the Department and to me.

This Forum offers a unique opportunity for the representatives attending to present their views on what they feel should be included and prioritised in the forthcoming budget.

Approximately 45 organisations were represented at this year's event, which took place in Dublin Castle on 30th July. Due to social distancing requirements as a result of Covid-19, this year's event was smaller than in previous years, with just one representative from each organisation invited. The format of the event was also changed, as it was not possible to facilitate workshops as had been the case in previous years.

In advance of the forum, the organisations were invited to outline their priorities for the forthcoming budget in the form of a pre-Budget submission. This year, the Department received over fifty detailed submissions from the organisations attending, as well as from those who were unable to attend on the day.

The submissions raised issues and outlined priorities across a broad range of areas which affect pensioners, lone parents, people with disabilities, carers, jobseekers and more. Many of these detailed submissions are available on the organisations' websites.

The options for the forthcoming Budget will be considered by the Government over the coming weeks and the pre-Budget forum, and the submissions received in advance, are an important part of the process.

Pensions Reform

Ceisteanna (134)

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

134. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to reintroduce the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017 which contained important protections for defined benefit pension scheme members; if not, the way in which she plans to protect these members; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23130/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The General Scheme of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2017 ( which subsequently became the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017) contained a number of defined benefit pension related measures. The proposed defined benefit pension provisions were of a very technical nature and involved complex policy and legal issues. In an effort to achieve a resilient solution, extensive consultation were undertaken with, and numerous legal advices were obtained from, the Office of the Attorney General on various aspects of this policy. As the Deputy will be aware, the Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the Dáil and Seanad in January 2020.

The Programme for Government, “Our Shared Future”, commits to progressing a number of pension related matters as a priority. Officials in my Department are actively working to draft legislation to set out how the planned increase in the State pension age next year will be deferred and it will remain at 66 years pending the report of the Commission on Pensions which the Government is establishing.

The Programme for Government also proposes an “Early Retirement Allowance or Pension” for 65 year olds paid at the same rate as Jobseekers Benefit without a requirement to sign on, partake in any activation measures or be available for and genuinely seeking work. The new payment will be introduced as early as possible for those who are retired from employment. Officials in my Department are currently considering the design of the scheme and assessing the necessary legislation, ICT system requirements and administrative processes required for the introduction of this payment.

My Department, in conjunction with the Pensions Authority, is also continuing to actively monitor the defined benefit regulatory regime to ensure it appropriately balances fairness between all generations of scheme members with the need to help sponsoring employers, employees and scheme trustees maintain the sustainability of their pension schemes.

I hope this clarifies matters for the Deputy.

Departmental Reports

Ceisteanna (135)

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

135. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection the status of report on the impact assessment of the current and projected future increases in carbon tax on low-income families by her Department; the stage the report is at; when it will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23131/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The report on the impact assessment of the current and projected future increases in carbon tax on low-income families by my Department was required by Section 25 of Social Welfare no. 2 Act 2019 (Number 48 of 2019).

The development and operation of emergency social welfare measures and the diversion of staffing resources required to deal with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic have, of necessity, impacted on the timely delivery of this Report.

At this point in time, a draft of the report has been submitted to me for consideration and I hope to bring forward a final version of the report in the near future.

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Free Travel Scheme

Ceisteanna (136)

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

136. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to the difficulties faced by those entitled to a free travel pass but are unable to access one as they cannot obtain a public services card; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23132/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The SAFE registration process, which my Department uses to authenticate a person's identity, is a face to face process which results in the issuing of a Public Services Card (PSC). At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, my Department temporarily postponed the SAFE registration process to comply with public health guidelines in respect of social distancing.

My Department has currently resumed SAFE registration services in Intreo Centres and Branch Offices countrywide. This is being done in accordance with relevant guidelines to ensure the health and safety of customers and staff.

Officials of my Department are contacting customers who are entitled to Free Travel and who have not yet received their Free Travel PSC, inviting them to contact their local Intreo Centre or Branch Office to arrange their SAFE registration.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Employment Support Services

Ceisteanna (137)

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

137. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection the date referrals of jobseekers to contracted employment services will recommence; and when activation services for those already referred will recommence. [23133/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

I am happy to confirm for the Deputy that activation services in my Department and referrals to external contractors began to recommence on 8th June last in line with the move to Phase 2 of the easing of the Covid-19 restrictions.

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Community Employment Schemes

Ceisteanna (138)

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

138. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason for a change to the eligibility rules for community employment participants over 55 years of age in circumstances in which they can no longer remain on the scheme beyond three years; if her attention has been drawn to the difficulties being posed to sponsors in replacing these participants; if she will consider reversing the rule change; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23134/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Community Employment (CE) Scheme is an active labour market programme designed to provide eligible long-term unemployed people and other disadvantaged persons with an opportunity to engage in useful work within their communities on a temporary, fixed term basis

There have been no recent changes to the eligibility rules for CE participants. However, a number of changes were introduced to the eligibility criteria for CE in 2017 to broaden access to the CE programme to a greater number of people on the Live Register and to standardise the conditions around the length of time a person can remain on a scheme.

In general, participation in CE for those aged between 21 and 55 years is for 1 year. Where a CE participant is working towards a QQI major award or working towards a recognised industry standard, their time on CE may be extended by up 2 years to complete this training. In addition, those over 55 years of age can remain on CE for 3 years.

An overall lifetime limit of 6 years applies to all CE participants (7 years for those from a disability payment). A person may re-qualify for CE after 12 months of being in receipt of a qualifying payment, provided they have not reached their lifetime limit.

Placements on CE are temporary and are subject to time limits to safeguard the availability of opportunities for employment on CE schemes for other candidates. I am mindful of ensuring that there is capacity on the CE scheme, within the financial allocation available to my Department, to enable other long-term jobseekers access to the work experience and training opportunities available through CE. Unfortunately, this is particularly relevant in the current environment with the rise in Live Register numbers following the Covid-19 emergency.

The Department is increasing its case management activity on all of its employment support schemes to ensure that jobseekers continue to have the necessary access to the opportunities available. CE candidates should not be constrained by existing CE participants remaining on their CE schemes beyond agreed end-dates. My officials are working closely with CE sponsoring authorities to ensure they receive the necessary referrals for vacancies arising on their CE schemes.

Work Placement Programmes

Ceisteanna (139)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

139. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Social Protection her views on providing funding for the supported employment service to independently operate its own work placement programmes to support those more distant from the labour market to gain work experience. [23139/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

My Department's employment support programme for people with disabilities is delivered nationally through its EmployAbility service. The Department has contracts for the provision of the EmployAbility service with 24 companies. This is a specialist employment service designed to improve employment outcomes for jobseekers with a disability and is available to people with disabilities who are capable of working in the open labour market for 8 or more hours per week. It is based on the ethos that participation in employment can be achieved by people with a disability when they are able to avail of individualised supports that are based on their choices and preferences.

The EmployAbility service offers a dedicated Job Coach for people with disabilities interested in employment in the open labour market and provides:

- employment assistance and access to a pool of potential employees with varying levels of skills, abilities and training;

- ongoing support for both the employer and employee throughout employment;

- a professional job matching service to help ensure successful recruitment;

- advice and information on additional employment supports.

The estimated expenditure on Employability in 2020 is €9.9 million.

Any proposal requiring additional funding would increase the cost of contracting the EmployAbility service and can only be considered in an overall budgetary context.

The Deputy may also wish to note that the Wage Subsidy Scheme is an employment support to private sector employers, the objective of which is to encourage employers to employ people with disabilities. The scheme provides financial incentives to private sector employers to hire people with a disability for between 21 and 39 subsidised hours per week under a contract of employment.

The basic rate of subsidy is €5.30 per hour giving a total annual subsidy available of €10,748 per annum based on a 39 hour week. The contract of employment offered must be for a minimum of 6 months and the employee should be subject to and have the same rights as per the conditions of employment as any of the other employees. Included in these conditions is the requirement that the employee must be paid the going rate for the job which must be at least the statutory minimum wage. The subsidy rate under this scheme is not linked to the statutory minimum wage - it is a subsidy claimed, subject to certain conditions, against the cost incurred where a productivity shortfall arises from a disability.

I trust that this clarifies the matter.

Employment Support Services

Ceisteanna (140)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

140. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Social Protection her views on providing additional funding for the supported employment service to enable the service to top-up welfare payments to the level of the minimum wage without affecting the underlying payments for the duration of the work placement. [23140/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

My Department's employment support programme for people with disabilities is delivered nationally through its EmployAbility service. The Department has contracts for the provision of the Employability service with 24 companies. This is a specialist employment service designed to improve employment outcomes for jobseekers with a disability and is available to people with disabilities who are capable of working in the open labour market for 8 or more hours per week. It is based on the ethos that participation in employment can be achieved by people with a disability when they are able to avail of individualised supports that are based on their choices and preferences.

The EmployAbility service offers a dedicated Job Coach for people with disabilities interested in employment in the open labour market and provides:

- employment assistance and access to a pool of potential employees with varying levels of skills, abilities and training;

- ongoing support for both the employer and employee throughout employment;

- a professional job matching service to help ensure successful recruitment;

- advice and information on additional employment supports.

The estimated expenditure on Employability in 2020 is €9.9 million.

Any proposal to provide additional funding would increase the cost of contracting the EmployAbility Service and can only be considered in an overall budgetary context.

The Deputy may also wish to note that the Wage Subsidy Scheme is an employment support to private sector employers, the objective of which is to encourage employers to employ people with disabilities and thereby increase the numbers of people with disabilities obtaining and sustaining employment in the open labour market. The scheme provides financial incentives to private sector employers to hire people with a disability for between 21 and 39 subsidised hours per week under a contract of employment.

The basic rate of subsidy is €5.30 per hour giving a total annual subsidy available of €10,748 per annum based on a 39 hour week. The contract of employment offered must be for a minimum of 6 months and the employee should be subject to and have the same rights as per the conditions of employment as any of the other employees. Included in these conditions is the requirement that the employee must be paid the going rate for the job which must be at least the statutory minimum wage. The subsidy rate contribution under this scheme is not linked to the statutory minimum wage - it is a subsidy claimed, subject to certain conditions, against the cost incurred where a productivity shortfall arises from a disability.

I trust that this clarifies the matter.

Springboard Programme

Ceisteanna (141)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

141. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the extent to which a further education course remains available in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23232/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

In advance of commencing a course of education, a person in receipt of Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) will be required to establish an entitlement to a qualifying social welfare weekly payment, generally a Jobseeker’s payment, to access Back to Education Allowance (BTEA). A person will then be required to transfer from their PUP to the relevant qualifying social welfare scheme to continue to receive income support while availing of full-time education provision. The qualification period will be deemed to have been met for a person transferring from a PUP. This means a person applying for 2nd or 3rd level will be deemed to have satisfied the required qualification period when they transfer from a PUP.

Other BTEA eligibility conditions apply, including the age of the applicant. The BTEA is only available to those commencing the first year of a new course.

It is open to the person concerned to submit an application for both a Jobseeker’s Benefit/Allowance and BTEA to the Ballyfermot Intreo Centre. The necessary forms can be accessed on www.gov.ie/DEASP and sent to the Intreo Centre, Rossmore Avenue, Dublin 10.

Once a decision has been made, the person concerned will be informed directly of the outcome and advised how to proceed.

I trust this clarifies matters for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Ceisteanna (142)

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

142. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Social Protection if additional supports will be provided to chauffeurs (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23448/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

As was announced as part of the July Jobs Stimulus package, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment has been extended until the end of March 2021 to support the employees and businesses who continue to be impacted by the COVID- 19 pandemic. The scheme is due to close for new applications on 17th September. Changes have also been announced to the rate of the pandemic unemployment payment to make it more sustainable given the extension period and to ensure that it is targeted at people who are most in need of the support.

From 17 September 2020 the pandemic unemployment payment will be paid at three rates. People who previously earned over €300 per week will receive €300 per week. A new rate of €250 will apply to people who earned €200 to €300 and the rate of €203 remains unchanged if they earned less than €200.

In determining the appropriate rate of Pandemic Unemployment Payment in the case of self-employed individuals, my Department will take 2019 earnings into consideration where a person files their returns to Revenue. Prior to this, the information used for the self-employed referred to that of 2018, which is the last tax year for which complete verifiable data on self-employed income is available. This change may provide for an increased rate of payment depending on an individual’s particular circumstances. Reviews can be submitted to PUPRerate@welfare.ie and should be accompanied by supporting documentation. The Department will process applications for review as quickly as possible.

In order to give every opportunity to employed and self-employed workers to receive the highest possible rate of pandemic unemployment payment, my Department will undertake five distinct calculations and base the individual’s rate on the one that is most financially advantageous to each customer. This will be achieved by undertaking an individual calculation of each customer’s rate based on their earnings from employment, self-employment and from a combination of both.

The functionality to facilitate this calculation is currently being developed and will be in place for the re-rating of the pandemic unemployment payment on the 17th of September. At that point anyone who is on the reduced rate of Pandemic Unemployment Payment since June and would be better off under this calculation will receive the benefit of the new calculation backdated to the rate change introduced in June.

A self-employed person must have suffered a reduction in their trading income to the extent that they are available to take up other full-time work. This allows some limited scope for a self-employed person to engage in once-off or emergency work and still retain eligibility for the pandemic unemployment payment. This is essentially occasional, irregular or isolated events and where there is a clear divergence from previous employment patterns. Where a self-employed individual has regular employment or it generates significant income, then they should close their Pandemic Unemployment Payment as they do not satisfy the conditions for the payment. In cases of doubt, an individual should contact their local Intreo Centre for clarification on the matter.

The pandemic unemployment payment is closed for new applications from 17th September. Where a person loses employment after the 17th September they may be eligible for support under the jobseekers schemes depending on their circumstances.

Jobseekers Benefit is a social insurance based income support for people who have suffered a substantial loss of employment and satisfy the other conditions of the scheme. If a person does not qualify for Jobseekers Benefit they may be eligible for means tested Jobseekers Allowance. Jobseekers Benefit Self- employed is available for self- employed people who are no longer trading. A person in receipt of a jobseeker’s payment may take up employment but they must be unemployed for at least 4 days in 7 consecutive days to be eligible for a payment and continue to satisfy the other qualifying conditions of the schemes. The maximum weekly rate for the jobseekers schemes is €203 and increases may also be paid for any qualifying adults and children.

Any person who is experiencing financial hardship may access assistance under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme including Exceptional and Urgent Needs Payments. Information on the supports available under this scheme is available at www.gov.ie.

On 14 August I announced that applications have opened for the Enterprise Support Grant. The Enterprise Support Grant previously supported entrepreneurs who were setting up new enterprises but has now been revamped to specifically provide once-off supports for self-employed people who have been severely impacted and have had to cease operations as a result of the Pandemic. The grant of up to €1000 is designed to help the self- employed small business owners who transition from the Pandemic Unemployment Payment to re-open their business. It will be payable to self-employed micro enterprises that are not eligible for support from the COVID 19 Business Restart Grant or other similar business reopening grants. A person must apply for the Enterprise Support Grant within 4 weeks of closing their Pandemic Unemployment Payment claim. Details on the application process to access this grant is available on www.gov.ie.

I note that the Minister for Transport will reply directly to you regarding the specific transport issues mentioned. Matters in relation to loan repayments, debt write off and taxation should be referred to the Minister for Finance.

I trust that this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Early Years Sector

Ceisteanna (143, 144)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

143. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration when the proposed introduction of baby boxes for all new parents will commence. [23154/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

144. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if the proposed introduction of baby boxes for new parents will include all parents regardless of immigration status. [23155/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 143 and 144 together.

The First 5 strategy sets out work across Government to improve the experiences and outcomes of children in Ireland from birth to age 5. Piloting Baby Boxes is one of many initiatives under First 5. Others include supports for parents to balance working and caring, developments in early learning and care and health initiatives.

Baby Boxes are packages of items and information to assist with the transition to parenthood including safety items, baby clothes, small toys, baby toothbrushes, and books to support early development. The intention behind Baby Boxes is to welcome a new arrival to a family, acknowledging this very significant moment for parents. It is envisaged that Baby Boxes will be distributed on a universal basis. This reflects an important equality principle that each child, regardless of their circumstances, including immigration status, is given something of equal value.

The project will pilot and test the design, items for inclusion, registration and distribution of Baby Boxes in a selected geographic area. An evaluation will inform any plans about wider roll-out.

Owing to COVID-19, work on this project has been delayed. However, an oversight group will be established later this year to oversee this development.

An initial task of this Group will be to finalise the scope of this project and agree a detailed project plan. Key initial considerations will include the identification of the pilot geographic area, agreement on the optimal timing for (pre- or post- natal), and channel of, distribution of the baby box and the likely contents. A researcher will be appointed to oversee focus groups and/or consultations with new and expectant parents to inform the identification of items for inclusion.

Following this initial scoping phase, which should conclude by end Q1 2021, the Oversight Group will oversee a competitive procurement process to appoint suitable tenderers to a) develop and distribute the baby boxes and b) undertake a full evaluation of the pilot. Given the likely value of these contracts, the procurement process will take several months. It is therefore envisaged that distribution of the baby boxes will commence in end Q3 2021 / early Q4 2021.

Child and Family Agency

Ceisteanna (145)

Sorca Clarke

Ceist:

145. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration the number of social workers employed by Tusla by region; the number of social workers available for work, that is, not on maternity or paternity leave or due to illness; and the average caseload being carried by each social worker. [23205/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I wish to inform the Deputy that my Officials have asked Tusla to respond directly to you on this matter.

Family Resource Centres

Ceisteanna (146)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

146. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration his plans to introduce a family resource centre at a location (details supplied); the way in which an application can be made in relation to same; his views on same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23076/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is responsible for the administration of the Family Resource Centre (FRC) Programme. Tusla identifies and monitors the need for the delivery of family support services based on many factors, such as emerging service needs and changing demographics.

Should a new FRC application process be established, Tusla's criteria for such a process would involve Local Area Commissioning planning in order to identify service delivery requirements based on population demographics, presenting and projected needs. Service inadequacies and gaps in service provision are also identified through Tusla’s Commissioning process. It should be noted that any increase in funding for the FRC Programme is dependant on the total funding available to Tusla in 2021.

Tusla will continue to work with Family Resource Centres and other community organisations to meet the needs of vulnerable children, families and communities. The application by any community organisation to the FRC Programme is an operational matter for Tusla, and accordingly I have requested that Tusla respond to you further on this matter.

Third Level Admissions

Ceisteanna (147, 149, 150)

Colm Burke

Ceist:

147. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if students that have taken a gap year from their studies following the leaving certificate 2019 will receive support from his Department in the CAO process to ensure comparability between an unprecedented 2019 and 2020; if there are substantial increases in CAO points in the leaving certificate 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23081/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

149. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the provisions being made for students applying to the CAO in 2020 based on leaving certificate results from previous years. [23152/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

150. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if arrangements are being put in place to support CAO reapplicants disadvantaged by the grade inflation due to calculated grades in 2020 (details supplied). [23189/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 147, 149 and 150 together.

The CAO system is a system that works on the assumption that grades obtained in the Leaving Certificate by candidates determine their points. It is on this basis that the CAO system allocates places to applicants including those from different years.

For the 2020 CAO system to proceed to pave the way for entry to higher education for the majority of applicants within the current timelines, and in a manner than can be properly upheld, 2020 results and the results of leaving certificate examinations from previous years must be treated equally in the CAO system.

In order to help mitigate the impact of the changes to the grading system, I have announced the creation of an additional 1,250 places on high-demand courses in Higher Education Institutions. These places are provided in order to help ease anxiety and reduce uncertainty among students awaiting a CAO offer. Active engagement is currently underway with a view to providing further additional places in light of issues such as those raised by the Deputy.

Nonetheless, there will be fluctuations in CAO points this year, as there are every year, which will depend on the volume of applications, the number of applicants who meet the entry requirements, the number of places available and the grades received by applicants. As we are in the midst of a global pandemic and economic flux, there is more uncertainty than usual this year due to factors such as reduced opportunities in the economy, students seeking to defer or re-apply in subsequent years and uncertainty around students travelling internationally both to and from Ireland.

The first indications regarding movements of CAO points will not be clear until the completion of the first round process on Friday 11 September. The full picture, taking account of all supply and demand variables, will not be known until all places are filled at the end of the CAO process. My Department will continue to monitor developments closely in collaboration with the higher education sector and the Department of Education.

Student Universal Support Ireland

Questions Nos. 149 and 150 answered with Question No. 147.

Ceisteanna (148)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

148. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the recourse available in the case of a person (details supplied). [23101/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

The student grant scheme, administered by SUSI, provides maintenance grants to students who meet the prescribed conditions of funding, including those relating to nationality, residency, previous academic attainment and means.

Student maintenance grants are payable at either the adjacent or non-adjacent rate. The distance to be measured is the shortest non-tolled most direct route from the student’s residence to the institution attended. The adjacent rate of maintenance grant is payable in the case of students whose normal residence is 45km or less from the approved institution which he or she is attending. The non-adjacent rate of maintenance grant is payable in all other cases.

The measurement of the distances relating to the award of adjacent or non-adjacent rates of student grant is a matter for SUSI, the grant awarding authority. The distance measurement for student grant rates is governed by Article 27(3)(a) and (b) of the Student Grant Scheme 2020. This provides that the relevant distance will be measured in line with agreed guidelines. The guidelines require that the shortest most direct route between the applicant's normal residence and the institution being attended should apply. In determining the shortest most direct route, the awarding authority shall establish:

- the method for measuring a route; and

- the factors to be taken into account in establishing and measuring a route. SUSI has progressively introduced a number of measures that are intended to make the Student Grant Scheme more efficient for students. One of these measures was the introduction of Eircode which has helped to reduce processing times for applicants.

The distance is always measured from the student's normal residence to the campus the student is attending and never the reverse. The distance is always measured avoiding tolls. The 'depart at' time is set to 1am to ensure consistency by measuring each SUSI Applicant's adjacency at the same time

The decision on eligibility for student grant assistance is a matter, in the first instance, for the centralised student grant awarding authority SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland) to determine.

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 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. Such appeals can be made by the appellant on line via www.studentgrantappeals.ie.

My officials advised that the student in question has engaged fully in the statutory appeals process and that on 1st September 2020 the independent Student Grant Appeals Board upheld the decisions of the grant awarding authority and the Appeals Officer and determined that the distance from the student’s residence to the relevant third level institution was under 45km and the adjacent rate of grant was the correct rate of grant to be awarded.

Apart from the Student Grant Scheme, 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 third level institution attended. This fund is administered on a confidential, discretionary basis.

Questions Nos. 149 and 150 answered with Question No. 147.

Student Universal Support Ireland

Ceisteanna (151)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Ceist:

151. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the cost to the Exchequer if SUSI grant eligibility was calculated on gross income rather than net income if the income threshold remained at the same numerical value; the cost if SUSI grant eligibility was calculated on gross income rather than net income if the numerical value of income thresholds were increased by 10%; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23062/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

The assessment of means under the student grant scheme is based on gross income from all sources, with certain social welfare and health service executive payments being exempt.

While SUSI has statistics on those students who have applied for grant support and gross income only, they can estimate with some degree of certainty, what impact changes to the thresholds might have for those students on lower income levels, the accuracy of its estimates become less reliable at the higher income levels. Prospective applicants on higher incomes may not have applied for support as their income was above the relevant threshold. As such, it is not possible to accurately cost the number of additional students who may qualify for support, if the thresholds are increased. Allowing for the limitations regarding the accuracy of the costings, it is estimated that a 1% increase in the income thresholds would cost in the region of €2m and a 10% increase would cost in the region of €20m

The above figures do not include any changes to the income thresholds for the special rate of maintenance grants which are linked to long-term social welfare payments nor do they include any changes to the post-graduate income thresholds.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Ceisteanna (152)

Richard O'Donoghue

Ceist:

152. Deputy Richard O'Donoghue asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if his attention has been drawn to the obstacles facing persons of diminished industries due to Covid-19 trying to secure third-level placements; and if exemptions will be made to accommodate the persons. [23063/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

In light of Covid-19, the higher education sector has implemented and expanded a range of initiatives to assist those who may be working in a sector that has been impacted by the global pandemic and who with to upskill or reskill.

On 24 July 2020 as part of the Government’s announcement on the July stimulus package an additional funding allocation of €47.5m was provided for Higher Education skills-related programmes.

A total allocation of €22.5m will be provided to create an additional 2,650 places across the full range of existing part-time and full-time postgraduate taught programmes in a number of specified skills areas. The skill areas identified will serve not only the requirements of the new economic model envisaged by the Programme for Government but also specific economic and social needs arising from COVID19.

A total of €15m was provided for Modular Skills provision which are shorter, more focused courses/modules that can be offered in a flexible manner and allow people to gain important skills without taking a considerable period away from the labour market. The modular courses will be accredited in such a way as to provide building blocks to a full qualification should the student so wish. Each module will also be stand-alone so that participants can acquire skills and put them into practice immediately in the workplace. It is expected to fill c2,500 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) places under this initiative.

Over 15,000 places are also available as part of Springboard+ 2020 and the graduate conversion courses under HCI Pillar 1. Places are available on courses in a wide range of skills areas, including artificial intelligence, smart factory technology, sustainable energy, medical device technology and cybersecurity. Courses begin from autumn 2020 through to early 2021.

Springboard+ courses provide opportunities to up and reskill to people who are unemployed, those looking to return to the workforce after a period away and those in employment. Courses are offered across the National Qualification Framework from Level 6 to 9 and are delivered by public and private higher education providers across the country. The majority of courses are delivered in a flexible format making them accessible regardless of the learner’s physical location. All courses provide job-readiness modules and most offer the opportunity for work placement, project-based learning or industry site visits were appropriate.

In relation to undergraduate courses, the CAO process applications for undergraduate courses on behalf of the Higher Education Institutions. Decisions on admissions, including deadlines for submission of applications, are made by the HEIs who then instruct the CAO to make offers to successful candidates. As such, neither I nor my Department have a role in the operation of the CAO, and it is not with my remit to extend CAO deadlines.