Councils link charge to grants
A second council has joined Clare County Council in asking college grant applicants for proof of household charge payments to process applications.
South Tipperary County Council has decided to ask applicants to "submit evidence of having paid the charge in advance of payment of the grant", a spokeswoman said.
The council will process grant applications but will not make payments until evidence of the household charge payment is received, she said. The council may review the decision in light of local and national developments, she added.
Meanwhile, Clare County Council has defended writing to some 800 college grant applicants asking for proof of household charge payments. Student groups staged a protest outside the council's offices in Ennis today over the move.
In a statement, the council said it would “prioritise” the processing of payments from households which have paid the charge. It said delay was “regretted” but said early payment of the charge "will ensure no unnecessary delay in the payment of grants”.
The council said the “assessment and processing” of the grants was done at “a cost” of €91,000 to the council which did not receive any budgetary payment for processing the grants.
It said 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 was “policy” to ensure that benefactors of services such as higher education grants pay the household charge. It said it has not made a decision regarding withholding grants from such applicants.
The council said it has "not at any stage indicated that grant payments will be withheld" from those who have not paid the charge.
Only renewal applications are being processed by county councils. All new grant applications for 2012/2013 are processed completely by the central grant authority Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI).
"SUSI is not seeking proof of payment of the household charge from applicants. SUSI, unlike local authorities, does not have any responsibility for collecting such charges," it said in a statement.
Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton this afternoon described the move as entirely reasonable. “I think if my department or any other enterprise agency is giving out grants its entirely normal to ensure the people they are giving grants to are tax compliant,” he said.
This morning, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn also said it was “reasonable” for councils to ask college grant applicants for proof of household charge payments. Mr Quinn said it was a reasonable question to be asked if a person is seeking additional taxpayers' money when they “haven’t paid a legally due tax”.
The council had undertaken the issue itself and the Department of Education had “no involvement”, he said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said it was neither consulted nor informed of the move by Clare County Council. "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," she said.
She said there are 66 grant awarding authorities who administer student grants on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills. These include 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.