Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Ceisteanna (683)

Michael Ring

Ceist:

683. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the way in which the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, will be assessed by SUSI for the coming academic year in relation to third-level students; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13432/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

Under the Student Grant Scheme, grant assistance is available to eligible students attending an approved course in an approved institution who meet the terms and conditions of funding, including those relating to residency, means, nationality and previous academic attainment.

The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter, in the first instance, for SUSI to determine. For the 2020/21 academic year, student grant applications will be assessed based on gross income from all sources for the period 1st January 2019 to 31st December 2019.

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

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 2020. 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.

All applications are assessed nationally with reference to the terms and conditions of the relevant student grant scheme. The terms and conditions of funding are applied impartially to all applicants. However, 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 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 the current year (2020) and they may also be asked to provide evidence of the current year’s (2020) income.

The Student Grant Scheme and Student Support Regulations for the 2021/22 academic year will be published towards the end of March/early April 2021. The opening of SUSI's online grant application system will coincide with the publication of the scheme. Grant applications are submitted online via www.susi.ie. Further information in relation to student grant assistance is also available from this website. The telephone number for SUSI’s Helpdesk is 0761 087 874.

A review of the Student Grant Scheme in 2020 (following the impact of COVID-19) was committed to as part of the Programme for Government. This Review is currently being undertaken. It will document the impact of Covid-19 on the Scheme and outline a number of recommendations for consideration by the end of Quarter 1, 2021.

Apart from the Student Grant Scheme, the Deputy will be aware of the €168m funding package of for the return to education. This package includes a €10m access support package for higher education students. I have approved the allocation of €8.1m of this funding to top up the Student Assistance Fund (SAF). The SAF 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 situation. 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.

Question No. 684 answered with Question No. 671.