Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has said he will examine difficulties like this being caused for some students, and the level of proof needed from students who are estranged from their parents to be assessed independently, after hearing of two cases in the Dáil.
Sinn Féin education spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien referred to a woman who is aged under 23 and lives with her spouse.
“She is being assessed on the basis of her parents’ income because she was living with them on October 1 [the year before she started college] even though she is now living separately from them with her spouse. They have their own income stream,” he said.
He said problems are also created for under-23s who are estranged from their families by the level of proof required from grant-awarding body Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi).
“I know of a student who has provided Susi with letters from her local general practitioner, from the counselling services within her college and from other government departments stating that she is estranged from her parents. I am trying to understand why Susi has responded to this case as it has,” Mr O’Brien said.
Susi told the Irish Examiner that letters and reports from gardaí, social workers, the HSE or court orders are the standard form of evidence required, depending on the individual circumstances of a case and in the absence of any other forms of evidence indicating estrangement.
A spokesperson said 290 out of 707 applicants for this college year who indicated they were estranged were refused or had applications cancelled, but issues like income or ineligible courses were reasons as well as failing to prove estrangement. Of 33 cases appealed, 17 were successful.
Mr O’Brien suggested widening the burden of proof. The minister said he would examine the cases and the general principles involved. “If the deputy is suggesting we should revisit the definition of estrangement in the case of a person under the age of 23, with reference to the level of proof and evidence that should be supplied to Susi, I will have a look at that.”
The statutory instrument governing grant schemes operated by Susi say all applicants under 23, regardless of marital status, are classed as dependent students and assessed on their own income and that of their parents or guardians. Susi said an applicant may be exempted from having their parents’ income taken into account where it is established that the applicant is irreconcilably estranged from both parents and neither parent financially supports them.