Written answers

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Department of Education and Skills

Grant Payments

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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591. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if the pandemic unemployment payment will be considered as a social welfare payment for those seeking to attain the special rate of the SUSI grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22682/22]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter for the centralised student grant awarding authority SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland) to determine.

In assessing an application for the 2022/23 academic year, SUSI will have regard to the following qualifying criteria for the special rate of maintenance grant:

1. The student must qualify for the standard rate of grant;

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

3. As at 31st December 2021, the reckonable income must include one of the eligible long-term social welfare payments prescribed in Schedule 2 of the Student Grant Scheme 2022.

Particular priority is afforded to those on the lowest incomes and social welfare dependents through the special rate of grant, which is payable at the higher non-adjacent rate of €6,115 or the adjacent rate of €2,575, depending on the distance travelled to the college attended. 

As in any statutory scheme, a core principle of the student grant 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 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's Allowance and Jobseeker's 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 Jobseeker's Benefit/Allowance, thus ensuring a consistency of approach and an equitable treatment of students and their families in the SUSI means assessment process.

However, the Student Grant Scheme also makes provision for combining periods of Pandemic Unemployment Payment, Jobseeker's Allowance, Jobseeker's Benefit and other eligible payments for the purposes of meeting the 391 days eligibility requirement for the special rate of grant.

Furthermore, 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 includes no longer being in receipt of a pandemic unemployment payment. Since September 2021, students have not been eligible for the pandemic unemployment payment , in line with normal circumstances where students do not qualify for unemployment payments while at college.

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.

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.

On Wednesday 11 May 2022 at 1pm, the Student Grant Scheme Office will provide a virtual briefing for all Oireachtas members. 

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