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Education Maintenance Allowance

Volume 491: debated on Thursday 30 April 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (1) what mechanism exists for the reappraisal of eligibility for education maintenance allowance as a result of changes in household income; (271203)

(2) what effect the redundancy of a family member in a household has on a young person's eligibility for education maintenance allowance if the redundancy occurs (a) at the start of the academic year and (b) later in the academic year;

(3) what mechanism is in place for the assistance of young people in households where income changes significantly in the course of an academic year as a result of (a) bereavement and (b) redundancy within the household;

(4) what recent assessment he has made of the financial needs of young people in households where income is significantly reduced because of redundancy;

(5) how many representations his Department has received on the reassessment of the eligibility for education maintenance allowance following the redundancy of a family member in the last 12 months.

For most young people, eligibility for education maintenance allowance (EMA) is subject to an assessment of their household income based on the financial year prior to the academic year in which they start their course. A successful assessment provides a young person with a guaranteed entitlement of up to three years of EMA on the same rate, plus a guaranteed minimum level of non-repayable student support should they progress into higher education within three years.

If there is a drop in income from one year to the next then a young person may apply to be reassessed for the subsequent academic year. They could be assessed as eligible for EMA where they were not previously, or an increased rate of it. They would receive the EMA guarantee based on the rate awarded following the most recent assessment.

There are a limited number of exceptional circumstances in which a young person may apply to be reassessed for EMA during the academic year. Those circumstances are:

(i) someone whose income was taken into account in determining financial eligibility has died;

(ii) a person whose income was taken into account in determining financial eligibility has experienced a reduction in income due to their own disability, or the disability of any other person for whom he or she has responsibility as primary carer (disability means as defined in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995);

(iii) Since the assessment of income was made, the young person has become estranged from their parents, guardians or someone else whose income was taken into account in determining financial eligibility;

(iv) The young person has become a parent with responsibility for their own child.

The financial needs of young people can be affected by a range of circumstances, including reductions in household income due to redundancy, or reduced working hours. EMA is not designed or intended to meet all of a learner's financial needs or to respond to in year fluctuations to household income. Other mechanisms exist to help with the costs of supporting young people aged 16 to 19 in learning. Recent increases to child benefit will provide additional support for parents regardless of income, and the increase to the child element of the child tax credit, a measure brought forward in the Budget, will provide substantial additional support to families. Tax credits are designed to tailor support to current circumstances and to be responsive to changing needs.

In addition to the support provided to families, discretionary learner support funds are made available via the Learning and Skills Council to colleges and Local Authorities. This funding is provided to enable schools and colleges, using their discretion, to help individual learners facing hardship and financial barriers to learning that are not addressed through other mechanisms. This funding can be used to respond to any hardship needs of learners that may arise through sudden changes in circumstance.

In the last 12 months the Department has responded to 21 pieces of correspondence and one telephone inquiry concerning reassessment for EMA following redundancy in the learner's household. The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) are responsible for the delivery of the scheme and estimate that, between 1 March 2008 and 1 March 2009, approximately 10 per cent. of the correspondence they have received about EMA (including that sent on via the Department) concerned income assessment policy—a proportion of these will have been in regard to in-year reassessment following a redundancy.