For would-be college goers, it is important to consider whether the significant changes in financial circumstances foisted upon many families over the past few months have changed their eligibility for receiving a student grant for the coming academic year.
Usually, the assessment for entitlement to a student grant is based on the income from the previous year of assessment rather than the year at hand.
This means that SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland) assesses a person’s entitlement to a grant for the academic year starting September 2020 based on the income declared for the 2019 year of assessment.
Most importantly, where a person (or their parents, in the case of a dependent applicant), has had a change in circumstances, including a change in the amount of income they are likely to earn, as a result of losing their job, or some other non-temporary change to their position, they can apply for a review of their eligibility.
Do bear in mind though, that reassessing an application based on 2020 income rather than 2019 income will mean that the circumstances of all persons party to the application will need to be considered.
For example, where one parent of a dependent child loses their job in March 2020, this is a relevant reason to have their grant application reassessed if the student so wishes.
However, if the student’s income has been boosted as a result of receiving Covid-19 pandemic unemployment benefit, then this too will be factored in, to determine whether the applicant and their parents have exceeded the relevant household thresholds.
The priority deadline has passed for existing students hoping to continue their studies for the coming academic year, but late applications are still being processed, and those already processed can be reopened for review if requested by the applicant.
Where an applicant and the other parties to the application have reduced income for 2020, the benefit of having an application reassessed might result in a person’s application having initially been rejected changing to now being accepted, or might result in a person receiving a higher grant level than previously awarded, where their income falls below relevant thresholds.
Meanwhile, students who expect to start college for the first time in the coming academic year have until July 9 to make their application ahead of that priority deadline date.
As a starting point, students or prospective students should determine whether the student intends on taking a recognised post leaving cert course, undergraduate or postgraduate course or a European undergraduate course (certain postgraduate courses in Northern Ireland can also qualify).
Grant aid is generally not available in the case of a student repeating a year at college.
Apart from determining whether the course is recognised or not, a student must establish whether they themselves, and their parents or guardians, in the case of “dependent” applicants, meet the relevant income thresholds.
For “independent” applicants (mainly those aged 23 or older), you will be assessed under your own and your spouse, civil partner or cohabitant's income, in determining your eligibility for funding.
To aid applicants in assessing whether they (together with their parents, guardians, spouses or co-habitants) fall below the relevant thresholds, SUSI have developed a ‘grant eligibility reckoner’ which is available on their website.
It is a useful tool which an applicant can use to as a guide.
The relevant income limits and maintenance grant rates that apply to the majority of undergraduate third level students remain unchanged.
Full details of the grant application process and how to get your application reassessed are available from the susi.ie website.
Chartered tax adviser Kieran Coughlan, Belgooly, Co Cork coughlanaccounting.com