My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (John Denham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
On 7 February, I informed Parliament that I had identified a long-established but unjustifiable provision in the student support regulations that allowed prisoners on full-time courses in higher education to receive financial support in the form of loans and grants for maintenance.
Following my Statement, revised Education (Student Support) Regulations came into effect on 28 February and prevent anyone who is, or has been, a prisoner during the 2007-08 academic year receiving further payments of maintenance loans or grants. We are working to ensure that, from the 2008-09 academic year, maintenance support for any student who has spent part of a year in prison is reduced pro rata.
At my request, the Student Loans Company and officials have now identified and reviewed cases where maintenance payments were made to prisoners. This investigation has shown that, in many of the cases provisionally identified in my Statement, the individuals in question did not receive any student support payments while in custody. Our assessment of the number of prisoners who have received support, and the sums of money involved, have therefore been revised downwards significantly.
Based on a search of the SLC’s database using prison postcodes, and a survey of prison governors, we have identified that 154 individual prisoners received some form of maintenance payment while a full-time student since 1998. In total, these prisoners received £570,000 in maintenance loans. They also received £160,000 in maintenance grants. By comparison at the time that I made my Statement on 7 February, preliminary investigations suggested that approximately 250 prisoners had received up to £250,000 in maintenance grants since 1998. There is also evidence of some maintenance payments made to prisoners between 1990 and 1998.
In the current academic year, the review has identified 44 prisoners who have received some form of maintenance payment while in prison. All further maintenance payments to these individuals have been stopped. Where appropriate, payment of tuition fees to higher education institutions have been reinstated.
The review has shown that assessments for student support were carried out in accordance with the rules that applied at the time.
I will be considering the future management of financial support for offenders in higher education, based on recommendations from my department and the Ministry of Justice.