Fine Gael Party Chairman Charlie Flanagan has said he is perturbed at reports suggesting that capital assets are to be taken into consideration for the assessment of income for third level students. Deputy Flanagan raised the matter in the Dail on Wednesday with the Minister of State at Department of Education, Sean Sherlock.
“As someone who represents a rural constituency in Laois and Offaly, I hope that the Minister will allay my fears and the fears of many farmers and self-employed people and ensure that this poorly timed and ill-advised move will not take effect. I represent a constituency with low participation rates in third level education. Such a proposal will only have the effect of disbarring many low income families from entering third level education”
“In many respects, the capital asset- the agricultural land, is only material when land is being sold. I have no doubt that Minister Sherlock is aware of the fact that we do not have a high level of land transfer in this country. Land is a volatile asset in any event and particularly in recessionary times when there is little market for such land. If the self -employed assessment is to change, will the shop and residence of a shopkeeper be taken into account. I wholeheartedly reject this proposal.”
“As it stands there is a perception of discrimination against rural Ireland and Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, has an opportunity in his reply to kill off that perception and to confirm that the current review group which will report shortly will not take into consideration farm land, the asset of farm buildings and the farmhouse in the assessment for third level educational grant purposes”
In reply Minister Sherlock outlined that a number of reports over the years have strongly recommended the introduction of a capital test for student grants.
“While the introduction of a capital asset test for student grants may have traditionally been perceived as likely to impact on farming communities, I assure Deputy Flanagan that this is not the object of the proposal. The means test will be applied fairly to all applicants. A dedicated capital asset test implementation group has been established and charged with bringing forward detailed implementation proposals for new means testing arrangements for student grants, to include the value of assets, for new applicants beginning in the 2013-2014 academic year.
“I anticipate the group will report to the Minister by the summer and make recommendations on the inclusion or exclusion of various classes of assets. Any proposal will necessitate legislative amendment and therefore be agreed at Cabinet level. The Minister has met with ICMSA representatives and he has regard to the position espoused by them”
In conclusion, Deputy Flanagan urged the Minister to ensure that justice and fair play will form the basis of the review and asked that income rather than assets be taken into consideration”