More prospective college students’ families are reporting reduced incomes than last year in their grant applications.
More than 53,000 potential applicants have registered for a new online grant system for first-time applicants.
Existing grant holders must continue to apply to their local council or VEC unless they are changing courses.
However, the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) system will also handle renewal applications within a few years.
A spokesperson said the numbers who have begun the application process are already ahead of expectations, as 80% of all first- time applicants normally only submit claims in the final weeks of August after Leaving Certificate results are issued and college places are offered.
Rather than necessarily being a sign of a spike in applications, with about 65,000 first-time applications received last year, SUSI puts the early registrations down to a strong publicity campaign.
However, the SUSI spokesperson said there has been a noticeable rise in applicants using the change-of-circumstance form. The means test to determine eligibility for a grant is normally based on the previous year’s household income, but a family can ask to be assessed on more recent figures.
“We’re seeing a lot more people looking to be assessed on their current income. There might have been cuts, for example, in overtime people might have been getting in 2011, allowances not being paid any more and general reductions in salaries,” the SUSI spokesperson said.
About 35,000 full applications have been made online and those who have already registered with SUSI but not completed the process are being urged to do so.
It is not necessary to have been offered or to have accepted a college place to apply, and any supporting documents do not have to be submitted initially. However, copies of income documents must be sent through the website if a student is deemed eligible before an application can be finalised and a grant awarded.
The plan is that SUSI will make on-time and regular monthly payments direct to students’ bank accounts, eliminating the delays faced by thousands every year from some of the 66 councils and VECs which have traditionally operated the system.
Grant rates have been cut by 12% in recent years, including a 3% cut this year, and grants will no longer be paid to new postgraduate students.
Despite increasing numbers of eligible students, these and other cuts have seen the Department of Education’s third-level student support budget fall to €336m, a 5% drop on last year’s spend.
The Central Applications Office will begin making most college place offers on Monday, Aug 20, the week after Leaving Certificate students get their results.
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