Councils tie grants to property charge


STUDENT GRANTS AND HOUSEHOLD CHARGES:AT LEAST eight local authorities are considering following the lead of two county councils in asking third-level grant applicants to submit proof they have paid the household charge.

Another local authority said it had no such plans but would “consider the payment of household charge for other council payments”, including payments to landlords under the rental accommodation scheme (RAS).

Leitrim County Council said: “We will be seeking proof of payment of the household charge in relation to payment of housing grants.”

It added: “In a situation where we are providing public monies in relation to works to a property, we would have to ensure that the property/household in question has complied with relevant legislation, eg tax clearance, planning requirements, household charge etc. Similar provisions would apply in relation to payments to landlords under the RAS.”

South Tipperary County Council yesterday joined Clare County Council in stating it would require those seeking renewed funding to submit evidence of having paid the charge in advance of payment of the grant.

Among the others considering such a move are Cavan County Council, South Dublin County Council, Kilkenny County Council, Limerick City Council, Longford County Council and Roscommon County Council.

Two Ministers yesterday said it was “reasonable” for councils to link the household charge to student grants, although there is no provision for withholding grants over non-payment of the €100 levy.

Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton indicated he had no problem with Clare County Council’s decision. “I think it’s entirely reasonable . . . It’s entirely normal to ensure that the people that they’re giving grants to are tax compliant,” Mr Bruton said.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn also said it was a “reasonable” question to be asked.

However, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education said: “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.”

South Tipperary County Council would process grant applications but would not make payments until evidence of the household charge payment was received, a spokeswoman said.

As Clare County Council yesterday defended writing to some 800 college grant applicants, student groups staged a protest outside the council’s offices in Ennis.

In a statement, the council said it would “prioritise” payments from households which had paid the charge. It said delay was “regretted” but early payment of the charge “will ensure no unnecessary delay in the payment of grants”.

The council said “assessment and processing” of the grants cost €91,000 and it did not receive any payment for processing the grants. It stressed it had “not at any stage indicated that grant payments will be withheld” from those who had not paid the charge.

Only grant-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,” it said in a statement.