Quinn to proceed with asset tax

 

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn is set to press ahead with a new Capital Asset Test for student grants which could be make it more difficult for children of farmers and the self employed to gain funding.

The president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) John Comer, has promised a ‘teeth and nail’ campaign of resistance against the changes to current means testing arrangements.

Reform of the student grant scheme has been on the education agenda for over two decades but successive ministers have been reluctant to overhaul it. Reform has been demanded since the 1997 de Buitleir report concluded that the current means test is “is defective in that it fails to take full account of ability to pay - particularly since it ignores the accumulated wealth of individuals. Some people with clearly expensive lifestyles obtain grants while others, who are very hard-pressed, lose out."

Last December. Mr Quinn announced that amended to take account of the value of certain capital assets as well as income for the 2013/14 academic year.

Since then, a dedicated Capital Asset Test implementation group has been established, charged with bringing forward detailed implementation proposals on new means testing arrangements for student grants, to include the value of assets, for new applicants from the 2013/14 academic year.

The department said it is not possible to say at this time what assets may be included. It continued: “Contrary to the assertions made in the ICMSA statement, no decision has been taken on the treatment of farm or other business assets.

However, any proposals will require further Government agreement and necessitate legislative amendment."

Mr Comer said that there could be little doubt that the Group was set up with the intention of changing the criteria measuring eligibility for third level grants in a manner that would effectively discriminate against the children of farm families and he added that ICMSA would contact every rural TD in the state and alert them to the obvious implications of such a move.

Mr Comer pointed to “urban myths” about student grants which were contradicted by the latest figures from the Higher Education Authority. These show that 8.9 per cent of new students were from farming backgrounds and of that figure 8.3 per cent were the children of farmers and 0.6 per cent were the children of agricultural workers. Of the children of farmers, 39.7 per cent were in receipt of higher education grants with that figure climbing to 63.6 per cent for the children of the agricultural workers.

Farming families should be under no illusion whatsoever: if this proposal goes ahead then the children of the typical full-time farmer will never qualify for a higher education grant, he said.

The de Buitleir report reported how one farmer had 122 acres and net assets of £215,000, but his annual income for grant purposes was only £15,000.

The PAYE sector was treated harshly as a disproportionate number of grants flowed to the self-employed and farmers, it concluded.