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Department "neither consulted nor informed" on council grant request

Clare County Council has said that it will prioritise grant payments to people who have paid the Household Charge, a move which has been condemned by the Union of Students in Ireland.

THE DEPARTMENT OF Education and Skills has said it “was neither consulted nor informed of” the move by Clare County Council to ask grant holders to prove they have paid the household charge.

The news comes as Socialist Party/ULA TD for Dublin West, Joe Higgins, said he is seeking a debate in the Dáil today on the council’s decision to prioritise the payment of grants to people who have paid the household charge.

Deputy Higgins said:

This morning I have applied to the Ceann Comhairle for a topical issue debate this afternoon on the Dáil on this outrageous development. I want to put it directly to Minister Quinn that the vast majority of third level students are not homeowners and therefore have no personal liability for the household tax.

Department of Education

The Irish Times reports that Education Minister Ruairi Quinn described the action of a council asking grant applicants for proof of paying the household charge as “reasonable”.

It said that South Tipperary County Council has also asked for evidence of household charge payment in advance of the grant being paid.

The Department of Education and Skills, meanwhile, told TheJournal.ie it was:

neither consulted nor informed of this move by Clare County Council.

It explained that there are 66 grant awarding authorities who administer student grants on behalf of the department, including both local authorities and VECs.

These 66 authorities process grants to existing grant holders; this is because as of this year, Student Universal Services Ireland or SUSI is now the single grant awarding authority for all students. All new applicants for a student grant now apply for their grants on-line through SUSI.

The grant-awarding bodies do not receive an administration fee for processing student grants. However, the grant moneys are paid in advance to these organisations by the Department.

The Student Support Act 2011 does not provide for withholding of the payment of a student grant on foot of non-payment of the household charge.

Clare County Council

Clare County Council said that assessment and processing of Higher Education Grants is done at a cost. It said these include IT, staff, and processing costs.

The Household Charge was introduced to cover the cost of providing local services such as the assessing and processing grants, for which there is no charge to the customer in terms of a grant application fee.

The Council said it is its policy:

to ensure that benefactors of services such as Higher Education Grants pay the Household Charge as required by law under the Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 / Local Government (Household charge) Regulations 2012.

The council said that “while any delay in relation to the processing of grant payments is regretted, early payment of the charge will ensure no unnecessary delay in the payment of grants”.

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The council has not made a decision yet in relation to applicants that have not paid the Household Charge, beyond saying that applications from those who have paid the charge are being prioritised in relation to the processing of payments. It added that it has “not at any stage indicated that grant payments will be withheld from applicants that have not paid the Household Charge.”

Union of Students

The Union of Students in Ireland has severely criticised Clare County Council’s decision, saying that young people “must not be penalised for their parents’ decisions”.

USI President John Logue said that the action “must be condemned in the strongest terms”.

He added:

If the councillors do not come out against this measure then USI will mobilise its membership and we will protest until the council backs down. If other councils follow the example of Clare, then they too will see protests. Students will not accept this.”

The Local Government Management Agency, which is responsible for collecting the charge, has said that in total, it is estimated that 1,045, 499 households in Ireland have registered for the Household Charge. It has received €103, 525, 581 in total from paid registrations.

Read: Householders ‘continuing to pay charge in significant numbers’, says agency head>

Read: Household charge: Second batch of reminder letters set to be issued>

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