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Backlash forces U-turn on plan to link grants with household charge

A COUNCIL last night backed down on its bid to link the student grant with payment of the household charge.

Clare County Council has confirmed that it will send no further letters to higher education grant applicants seeking confirmation that they have paid the controversial charge.

The council suffered a massive public backlash earlier this week after sending letters to grant applicants asking them to submit proof they have paid the €100 levy.

But in a dramatic U-turn yesterday the authority confirmed: "All eligible applicants, irrespective of whether they have paid the charge, will have their payments issued as expeditiously as possible."

The announcement came as a group of anti-household charge campaigners and college students marched unhindered in the front door of the council's Ennis headquarters.

The group staged a peaceful protest in the reception area of the Aras Contae an Chlair and unsuccessfully sought a meeting with the county manager, who was away.

However, a senior officer in the council's finance department met a three-person delegation and offered assurances to the group.

At the delegation's request, these assurances were subsequently provided in writing.

Anti-household charge campaigner Pamela Rochford said: "The council has confirmed that every application will treated on the basis of the three main criteria and not on the basis of whether people have paid this unjust household tax," a spokesperson said.

Accused

Meanwhile, welfare bosses last night insisted they were not "pressurising" vulnerable people by requesting a receipt of household charge payment.

The Department of Social Protection was yesterday accused of sending "deliberately ambiguous" letters to people who apply for the Public Services Card (PSC) -- which is needed to claim certain benefits.

But the department moved quickly to clarify that payment of the household charge was not a precondition to securing social welfare payments.

It insisted that the payment receipt was just one of a number of suggestions to an applicant when providing proof of address with their application.

There is a list including a property lease, tenancy agreement or receipt for payment of the household charge.

Gisela Schubert from Arklow, Co Wicklow, told the Irish Independent that she had received a letter last week which she believed meant she had to have paid the charge.

But a spokesman for the minister said it was "never the intention" that the letter should suggest this and nor had it been drafted in a deliberately ambiguous manner.

Irish Independent