Department must pay €5k to disabled student over grant

The Department of Education has been ordered to pay €5,000 compensation to a University College Cork student over its refusal to pay her annual grants after her disability forced her to take a three-year degree course over six years.

The Equality Tribunal ruled the department had discriminated against the student on grounds of her disability and had not provided her with reasonable accommodation under the Equal Status Acts.

It also directed the department to review its grants schemes to allow for applicants to meet and engage with decision makers.

The tribunal heard the student, who suffered from dyslexia, migraine, and obsessional compulsive disorders, began a three-year degree course in social science at UCC in 2010.

In 2011 she agreed with UCC she would be allowed to complete the course over a six-year period, taking each course year over two years. She was charged a full registration fee in each year.

However, when she applied for the continuation of her maintenance grant from Cork City Council, she was informed the grant would not be paid for years two, four, and six of her studies.

In December 2012, the Department of Education rejected the student’s appeal to the council’s decision on the basis the grant scheme did not allow for a one-year course to be pursued over two years.

The student told the Equality Tribunal she had to seek funding from the UCC Student Union’s hardship fund to help pay her registration fees, which required her to disclose sensitive matters about her condition which had caused her embarrassment. She complained that the Department of Education’s refusal was both arbitrary and unfair.

The department denied discrimination, stating the terms of the Higher Education Grants Scheme did not allow her to obtain grant funding over a six-year period. It also pointed out the student had benefitted from a number of supportive financial arrangements made available to her by UCC which ultimately were paid by the department.

It would have cost the department an extra €20,000 in grants to pay for the extra three years of her studies.

The tribunal said it was “somewhat perplexed” by the department’s lack of response to numerous medical submissions made by the student.

It found the department had not engaged in an in-depth examination of the student’s circumstances in her appeal. It also noted that department officials had never met the student to tease out her views.

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