A range of improvements to the application system should help avoid the delays faced by students waiting on grants last year, claims Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi).
After difficulty getting staff before start-up a year ago, the sub-unit of City of Dublin Education and Training Board came in for huge criticism over communication problems, decision errors and payment delays. More than one third of eventual grant recipients had not had payments by Christmas, and Education Minister Ruairi Quinn was forced to apologise.
Susi opened applications in mid-May, a month earlier than last year, and around 42,000 new applications and 23,000 renewals have been received. Up to 1,400 applications a day were arriving last week, but around 30,000 more are likely to be submitted by new and returning students.
One of the biggest complaints last year was the number of requests Susi sent for financial and other documents, many of which applicants said they had already submitted. However, changes to the system mean the number of documents to be returned is significantly reduced.
Of those students sent requests for documents to date, one in five had to send back no documents other than the signed declaration that their details were all correct.
“For many others, there might be just one or two outstanding, but last year it could have been 10 or 12 items we needed back,” said Susi operations manger Alan Murphy.
This arises from data-sharing arrangements which mean Susi can automatically verify or access information from Revenue Commissioners, Department of Social Protection, and the general register office, meaning P60 or P21 income statements, signed statements about social welfare claims, or birth certificates for Irish-born applicants no longer have to be posted to Susi.
In addition, delays can be avoided later in the process for students who allow Central Applications Office notify Susi if they accept a college place, and those who supply their bank details at application stage, as they were not requested until students were approved for a grant payment last year.
Susi did not provide requested information on numbers of applications progressed beyond the first stage of the process, but Mr Murphy said staff are concentrating on getting the message out about this Thursday’s closing date.
Around 30,000 further applications are expected this year, but eligible students who have applied before Aug 1 and return documents on time will be given priority for payment once they begin their courses.
It is also hoped that communications difficulties students had last year, with complaints of delayed or no responses to requests for updates on their claims, will be cut by an online tracker system allowing applicants check their status and indicating when they can expect to move to the next stage of the process.
Students who were receiving grants from councils and VECs, (called Education and Training Boards since Jul 1), must apply to those bodies for grant renewals.
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