€2.8m in overpaid college grants outstanding at end of 2016

More than €2.8m in overpayments of grants for college students were outstanding at the end of 2016.

The figures include €1.6m paid incorrectly during that year arising from ongoing assessments by Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi) in relation to eligibility for grants or students withdrawing from courses.

The 2016 amount takes account of refunds by colleges up to June 2017 of fees that Susi had paid them on behalf of qualifying students who were subsequently deemed ineligible or who dropped out.

According to figures in the 2016 financial statement of City of Dublin Education and Training Board (CDETB), which operates Susi on behalf of the Department of Education, refunds from students and colleges amounted to €432,000.

The Irish Examiner reported two years ago that €3.7m that was wrongly paid to more than 1,200 students in Susi’s disastrous first year of operation in 2012 was written off after less than 100 indicated a willingness to make repayment arrangements.

The amounts, averaging nearly €3,000 each, had been paid in error, mostly to students who were also receiving a back to education allowance from the Department of Social Protection.

The latest update on overpayments states that the amounts reported overpaid for the period to the end of 2016 is around 0.4% of Susi’s grant spend for the 2016/2017 academic year.

The remaining balance of grant overpayments not recovered up to the end of 2016 was €2.814m.

CDETB’s statement of internal control systems said the majority of amounts overpaid in 2016 are “low-value sums”, although the number of recipients is not indicated. Susi seeks to recover overpayments from students through flexible repayment arrangements.

It said they were mostly in respect of one or more monthly payments made after students had withdrawn from college.

“These overpayments arise for reasons external to Susi while the incidence of internal error identified through ongoing reassessment continues to decline,” it said.

“The incidence of college fee refunds has also declined following the introduction of revised procedures for the direct payment of fee grants to colleges,” it said.

CDETB said enabling students and colleges to notify Susi earlier about dropping out of courses was among the additional controls that have been introduced to minimise the value of overpayments arising externally.

In a report to the Oireachtas included in the CDETB financial statement, Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy notes that it was December 2017 before the ETB performed its review of the effectiveness of internal controls for 2016.

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