Year-long wait for education grant cut to nine months
THE Government has finally bowed to pressure to cut the length of time people must wait on the dole before they can get a grant to go back to college.
The waiting time for the Back-to-Education Allowance had previously been one year but now it is being cut slightly to nine months today. It comes after the opposition had warned that it was pointless delaying people's return to higher education to gain badly needed skills and qualifications.
Those qualifying for the allowance can get free fees, keep their social-welfare payments and get an annual education allowance of €500 for their college course. The allowance will also be available to people who dropped out of college after only completing part of their course -- and now want to return to complete it.
The Government will save €4m this year and €35m next year from its Budget decision to scrap the annual maintenance grant of around €3,000 for people getting the allowance from September. The Department of Social Protection said this was to stop them getting a double payment -- a social welfare payment and a maintenance grant.
Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv said €169m would be available for the "more flexible" scheme in the academic year starting this September.
"This scheme enables people on welfare payments to participate in full-time education, who perhaps might otherwise not be able to do so," he said.
People who have got statutory redundancy can get the allowance straight away. But unemployed people who are not in this situation must wait for nine months. The Department of Social Protection said the allowance was preserved for the long-term unemployed.
Labour education spokesman Ruari Quinn said that while the changes were welcome, it was a still a "pitiful move".
"People who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own desperately want to do something with their lives. If they could get the allowance within one or two months, they could maintain that momentum," he said.
The funding of €169m will allow an estimated 25,000 people to return to college for the 2010-2011 academic year.