Thursday, 25 March 2021

Ceisteanna (137, 138)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Ceist:

137. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if the widow's, widower's or surviving civil partner's (contributory) pension is included as income in SUSI assessments; if this was always the case; the reason for its inclusion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16147/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Rose Conway-Walsh

Ceist:

138. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the estimated cost to the Exchequer of including the widow's, widower's or surviving civil partner's pension in the income disregards list; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16148/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 137 and 138 together.

The Student Grant Scheme, administered by SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland), provides grant assistance to students attending an approved course in an approved institution who meet the prescribed conditions of funding, including those relating to nationality, residency, previous academic attainment and means.

The means test arrangements of the Student Grant Scheme are applied nationally. Student grant applications are means tested on gross income from all sources earned inside and outside the State within a specified reference period. In the case of both employed and self-employed applicants, gross income, before deduction of income tax or universal social charge, is assessed with certain specified social welfare and health service executive payments excluded.

Widows’s/Widower’s and Surviving Civil Partner's pension are reckonable for the purposes of the student grant means test 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.   

However, Widows’s/Widower’s and Surviving Civil Partner's pension are eligible payments to qualify for the special rate of grant, and the CDA (Child Dependent Allowance) element of these payments may be deducted from total reckonable income for the purposes of qualifying for same. Also the Widowed or Surviving Civil Partner Grant is an income disregard for student grant purposes and is not included in the means test.

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

The qualifying criteria for the special rate of maintenance grant is as follows:

(i) The student must qualify for the standard rate of grant (i.e. the 100% grant);

(ii) Total reckonable income, after income disregards and Child Dependant Increase(s) are excluded, must not exceed €24,500; and

(iii) As at 31st December 2019, the reckonable income must include one of the eligible long-term social welfare payments prescribed in the Student Grant Scheme.

The special rate of grant is payable at the non-adjacent rate of €5,915 or the adjacent rate of €2,375, depending on the distance from ordinary residence to the college attended.

The information requested in relation to the estimated cost of including the widow's, widower's or surviving civil partner's pension to the income disregards is not readily available as it is a very complex query requiring a vast amount of time to manually and digitally collate the potential data for a response in the format requested by the Deputy.   

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. Information on the fund is available through the Access Officer in the third level institution attended. The 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. Further information on this tax relief is available from a student's local Tax Office or from the Revenue Commissioners website, www.revenue.ie.