Written Answers - Higher Education Grants.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 695 No. 3

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  559.  Deputy Pádraic McCormack  Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack   asked the Minister for Education and Science  Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe   if he has proposals to amend the processing of higher education grants and the grants appeals process administered through the local authorities (details supplied) whereby some students are having difficulty in obtaining sufficient information regarding proof of residential address; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42901/09]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  For student grants purposes, students are categorised according to their circumstances either as students dependent on parents or guardians, dependent mature students or as independent mature students. An independent mature student is defined as a mature student who was not ordinarily resident with his or her parents from the October preceding entry to an approved course.

When assessing the means of students other than independent mature students, the schemes specify that parental income must be taken into account. Independent mature students, on the other hand, are assessed without reference to their parents’ income. The reckonable income of an independent mature student is that of the candidate only and of his or her spouse where appropriate.

In order to establish a candidate’s status as an independent mature student, documentary evidence is required as proof of a candidate’s address from 1st October of the year preceding entry to college. In considering whether a mature student meets the conditions to be assessed independently of his or her parents, awarding authorities are obliged to satisfy themselves beyond doubt that an acceptable degree of proof of independent living in the relevant period has been submitted by the grant applicant.

The documentary evidence normally required by a local authority or VEC to establish independent residence includes utility bills, such as telephone, gas or ESB bill, evidence of registration with the Private Residential Tenancies Board or official documentation received at the address, for example, from a Government Department. In exceptional circumstances, where it is not possible to produce such proofs of residence in the relevant period for demonstrable reasons, the awarding authority may, at its discretion, agree to accept other documentary proofs. While an affidavit, if accompanied by other supporting documentation, may be considered as evidence of independent living, an affidavit in isolation is not considered acceptable as sole proof of residency.

The Deputy will be aware that, in witnessing an affidavit, the role of a Commissioner for Oaths or practising solicitor is to witness the signature of the person making the affidavit. They do not verify the contents of the affidavit. An affidavit is generally confined to such facts as the person swearing it is able of his or her own knowledge to prove. It is considered that it is likely to be of little value where a candidate is unable to provide any form of documentary evidence to support his or her assertions in this regard.

My Department has reviewed the use of affidavits in the context of proof of independent living and is satisfied that the current practice in this regard is both reasonable and appropriate.

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