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Education Maintenance Allowance

Volume 496: debated on Monday 20 July 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families what measures his Department has in place to reassess a student's eligibility for the education maintenance allowance in the event of a change in the student's financial circumstances. (287046)

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 regardless of whether their income increases. 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. Other mechanisms exist to help with the costs of supporting young people aged 16 to 19 in learning. Child benefit provides support for parents regardless of income, and 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.