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Katherine Donnelly: This is a hardship for the families

PERHAPS lessons could have been learned from the seamless switchover to digital television this week.

The reassuring voice of Gay Byrne has for the past year been telling those who most needed to understand what was going to happen and what they had to do.

SUSI, the new centralised system for processing student grant applications, went live in June without much of an information campaign behind it.

The online system keeps 24/7 hours, and it came with a promise that it would speed up the approval and payment of grants.

Great, except that in this case online was not a paperless exercise akin to what people may be used to when buying on Amazon or paying a phone bill.

With SUSI, online is only the start of the process. Student grant applications still require supporting documentation such as the long version of the birth certificate and income-related documents.

Sometimes it may be necessary to explain to applicants exactly what documentation is required in each individual case and where to get it.

For whatever reason, overwhelmingly, applications did not come with the necessary documentation.

And even where they have been sent back, they have again been returned to SUSI, incomplete.

One explanation being put forward is that applicants are missing the personal touch -- the staff in any of 66 local VEC or county councils who did this work before SUSI was born.

Where necessary, they were on hand to talk applicants through the process and helped them sort the documentation.

SUSI was supposed to be more efficient, but staff are spending too much time assessing incomplete applications, sending them back, assessing them again and sending them back again. The only people doing well out of it are An Post.

Clearly, SUSI should have started with more education for all involved.

Irish Independent