Friday 24 November 2017

Varadkar hits back at claims by homeless campaigner

Erica Fleming. Photo: Tony Gavin
Erica Fleming. Photo: Tony Gavin

Patrick Kelleher and Kevin Doyle

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has hit back at what he sees as the "misinformation" being spread in the wake of claims by a homeless campaigner that she can't get State aid to go back to college.

The minister has taken the highly unusual step of publicly addressing concerns raised by Erica Fleming, who has been living in a hotel with her daughter.

Ms Fleming was recently offered a place in Trinity College Dublin but said she will be unable it accept it as her Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) application was denied. She publicly appealed to Mr Varadkar to intervene.

Mr Varadkar has now said he is "delighted" for the single mother that she "has been accepted to the Trinity Access Programme and given the opportunity to study where I did".

"She can be assured of my department's support while she is on the programme and in the years ahead."

However, in a separate statement, which did not name Ms Fleming, he expressed concerns about "a lot of inaccurate information" that has "recently entered the public domain [relating] to a high-profile individual case that might cause lone parents to pass up educational opportunities in the mistaken belief that there are no supports available to them".

When Ms Fleming was accepted to Trinity's Access Programme, she applied for the BTEA allowance - but it was refused because she works part-time.

Mr Varadkar said that this allowance existed for those whose main income came from social welfare.

He said that those on family income supplement did not qualify as the system would be "wide open to abuse".

"It would not be possible to allow anyone who wanted to give up their job to attend college and immediately receive a social welfare payment of €188 per week from the State," he said.

The minister clarified that lone parents can receive support from the Jobseeker's Transition Payment, which allows lone parents to receive €188 per week while attending college.

They also receive an extra €29.80 per week per child under this payment, as well as child benefit.

He said that after nine months of being on that payment, the lone parent can qualify for the Back To Education Allowance.

"I think any fair-minded person will agree that this is a considerable level of support from the taxpayer. It is much more than is available to the average student or family."

Erica Fleming met with social welfare officials yesterday in what sources said was a "constructive and co-operative meeting".

She declined to comment on Minister Varadkar's statement when she was contacted by the Irish Independent.

Irish Independent

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