Written answers

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Department of Education and Skills

Education Schemes

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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379. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will give consideration to reviewing the way the pandemic unemployment payment is assessed as income earned outside of term time for the purposes of the SUSI grant.; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49887/21]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The Student Grant Scheme is a critical financial support for students participating in further and higher education. As in any statutory scheme, a core principle of the scheme is that there is consistency of approach and an equitable treatment for applicants as part of the 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.

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 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.

However, 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 would clearly include 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.

An applicant can request a review by contacting the SUSI Support Desk at 0761 087 874 or emailing support@susi.ie.

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. I am confident that the application of this provision will continue to allow the scheme to be flexible and responsive to people's circumstances.

Any student who believes his/her student grant application has been assessed incorrectly may also avail of the opportunities to appeal to SUSI and subsequently to the independent Student Grants Appeals Board.

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.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
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380. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will allow persons who become disabled after finishing their degree, masters or PhD, to access a SUSI grant again in order to allow them to change to careers that are more in keeping with their new medical situation and in order to encourage more people who are disabled to return to third-level education and the workforce; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49168/21]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Progression is a key tenet of the Student Grant Scheme and section 2 of the Student Support Act 2011 defines progression as "the process by which learners may transfer from one course to another course where the award that may be made on the successful completion of the second mentioned course is of a higher level..."

Generally speaking, a grant will not be paid to a student for a repeat period of study on the same course, or for a different course at the same level, irrespective of whether or not a grant was paid previously. However, once an equivalent period of study has been completed on the new course, the student may be eligible for student grant assistance for the remainder of the course.

Notwithstanding this, under Article 15(8) of the Student Grant Scheme 2021, the awarding authority SUSI has discretion to award a grant for a repeat period of study in exceptional circumstances, such as serious certified illness, which impacted on a student completing a particular period of study or undertaking exams in line with guidelines drawn up by the Minister.

SUSI treats each application for repeat funding on a case-by-case basis, and it is it is a matter for the individual student to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the awarding authority that there were exceptional circumstances.

Apart from the Student Grant Scheme, the Fund for Students with Disabilities (FSD) supports participation by students with a disability in further and higher education. The FSD is one of the main funding sources supporting participation by students with disabilities in approved further and higher education courses in Ireland. It also supports students from Ireland to study on approved courses in Northern Ireland, the UK and other EU countries. The actual level of support to be provided to individual students is decided by each institution who carry out a needs assessment to determine the types of supports and accommodations needed. Further information on the Fund is available at or from the Access Office of any higher education institution.

The SAF also 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.

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