Monday 20 November 2017

Most college grant refusals are overturned on appeal

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

THE college grants debacle has worsened as it emerged three out of five grant refusals are being overturned on appeal.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn's new grant application system, SUSI, has suffered a baptism of fire with severe criticism over the delay in processing applications.

News of the high number of successful appeals will heap further pressure on the minister.

Officials say a "flag" has been raised over the rate of decisions being overturned on appeal, and TDs claim the refusal rate should never be that high in the first place – which they say points to substantial administrative blunders.

The development comes as Mr Quinn is backing down in his plans to include farm and business assets valued at over €750,000 in the means test for college grants.

The proposals ran up against opposition in Fine Gael, especially amongst rural TDs.

Department of Education secretary general Sean O Foghlu was questioned at the Dail Public Accounts Committee yesterday, and said 5,275 applications under the SUSI system were rejected, of which 3,246 were overturned on appeal.

TDs said it was bad enough that students were waiting months to get their grants, only to have them delayed further by being refused – and then granted upon appeal.

Mr O Foghlu said a "flag is up" on this. "The appeals-to-rate-of-success issue is something that will have to be looked at," he said.

Committee member, Louth Labour TD Ged Nash, pressed Mr O Foghlu on the issue.

"It is extremely rare for a government department or State agency to have such a high levels of refusals in the first instance, which suggests there are serious errors on the administrative side," he said.

Around 69,000 applications were received for the SUSI grants, with 55,000 of these now dealt with, and a further 14,000 outstanding.

Of the completed applications, 16,000 have been refused and of those awarded grants, 2,164 are still waiting to receive the money.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said: "The department has asked SUSI for an analysis of appeals.

"This analysis should demonstrate the principal areas where the original decisions have not been upheld and where further action may be necessary."

SUSI was introduced as a centralised system to deal with college grants and replace the existing scheme whereby grants are administered by local authorities. It was introduced for mostly first-year students for this academic year, ahead of a complete roll out next year.

"These students are under pressure as it is from the college registrars to pay their fees," Mr Nash added. "As soon as the lessons are learned from the introduction of SUSI, changes must be made if it is to be successfully rolled out for all college students next year."

Irish Independent

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