Students facing SUSI uncertainty due to PUP payments
Labour Spokesperson on Higher and Further Education, Senator Annie Hoey, has called for Minister Harris to rectify the unfair decision to allow the Pandemic Unemployment Payments (PUP) to be counted towards students SUSI grant applications.
Senator Hoey said:
“It came to my attention last year that students who have been in receipt of PUP were going to be put at a major disadvantage when it came to their SUSI grant assessment. I asked Minister Harris to raise this at Cabinet as a matter of urgency last October. I wrote to him and raised the issue in the Seanad. And lo and behold here we are seven months later and I have students and parents alike calling my office telling me they have missed out on SUSI because the PUP pushed them out of their qualifying bracket for SUSI, often by a very small amount.
“Minster Harris needs to wake up and address this issue now. It is totally unfair that a student would lose out on a grant that is essential for their attendance at college because they accepted the PUP in lieu of work they lost because of the lockdowns. This same PUP was offered to them by this government without any warning that by accepting it it could affect their future SUSI applications.
“This was flagged by myself and others at the time, but Minister Harris has not found a solution to the problem. In response to a parliament question about it, submitted by Ged Nash TD on my behalf, the Minster restated that students who are affected could appeal through SUSI. I don’t think it is fair to put the responsibility for clearing up this mess on students, or on SUSI for that matter, who have enough to be doing managing the high volume of applications they get every year.
“In the normal course of a SUSI application, a full-time student is permitted to work for the months of June, July and August each year. They can also work for two weeks at Easter and two additional weeks at Christmas. As it stands now here is a €4500 income disregard applied to any income earned during this period for SUSI grant application assessment purposes. However, students are now being advised that income from social protection (PUP) are not included in this income disregard. This immediately puts students who were in receipt of the PUP this year at a disadvantage when it comes to their SUSI grant assessment and needs to be rectified”
To ask the Minister for Further and Higher Education; Research; Innovation and Science if student nurses who have been rejected for SUSI grants and who are unable to work outside of nursing due to Covid-19 can apply for their application to be assessed and reassessed given their changed circumstances; if this change of circumstances is being taken into account; the number of SUSI applicants who have had their application successfully reviewed on these grounds; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The principal support provided by the Department in financial terms is the Student Grant Scheme. Under the scheme, grant assistance is awarded 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 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.
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. However, if any 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, irrespective of the nature of their employment 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.
I understand from SUSI that to date in 20/21, 49 applicants who are participating in nursing courses (that is courses mentioning “nurse” in the course title and excluding veterinary nursing) have declared a change in circumstance that mentioned Covid-19 or corona virus. Please note that this change in circumstance can relate to the student or a party to their application.
Further information in relation to student grant assistance is available from SUSI’s website, www.susi.ie. The telephone number for SUSI’s Helpdesk is 0761 087 874.
All students in higher education institutions experiencing exceptional financial need can apply for support under the Student Assistance Fund, which 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 SAF allocation is €18.2 million for 2020/21, a record increase on previous years. This includes the once off exceptional €8.1 million provided as part of the Covid support package to help deal with the Covid-19 effect on students. Institutions have the autonomy to maximise the flexibility under the fund to enable them to support students during the Covid-19 pandemic. This fund is administered on a confidential, discretionary basis.
This in addition to other specific Covid supports for students which I have introduced including a Covid student fund whereby qualifying students will receive a payment or credit worth €250, €15m in IT equipment grants and €3m for wellbeing and mental health.
I should also say that 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 including approved undergraduate and postgraduate courses in EU Member States and in non-EU countries. Further information on this tax relief is available from a student’s local Tax office or from the Revenue Commissioners website www.revenue.ie