Date Uploaded: 30/05/2016
The taxpayer was left to foot the €3.7m bill after student grants body Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi) failed to recoup the grants paid in error in 2012 to ineligible candidates.
The overpayments to more than 1,200 people happened in Susi’s first year of operation, when inadequate staffing and poor planning dogged the system. The overpayments have already been subject to examination by the Comptroller and Auditor General in a broader probe of the process to establish Susi as the centralised body to handle all college grant applications.
However, it has now been decided that, following unsuccessful efforts to recoup money from the vast majority of those who benefited, the total sum of €3.7m is being written off entirely.
The majority mistakenly paid the money were students who also received a Back to Education Allowance from the Department of Social Protection.
Last July, based on legal advice from the Attorney General’s office, the Department of Education asked City of Dublin Education and Training Board (CDETB) which operates Susi to write to those involved.
CDETB had initially sought approval to write off the overpayments. They were required instead to ask for the amounts paid in error to be repaid and submit a report on the outcome within six months.
But by February, only 99 of the 1,239 students who had received overpayments had indicated a willingness to engage in the process. By that stage, only €7,071 had been received from just 25 people . That money will now be reimbursed in accordance with approval received from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in late March.
In an explanatory note to Education Minister Richard Bruton, senior Department of Education officials said the potential reputational damage for Susi if it continued pursuing students was one of the reasons it sought the write-off. The limited prospect of repayment, the uniqueness of the case at a particular point in time, and the fact the fault lies with Susi rather than the individuals were also cited.
“The [department] is currently communicating with relevant stakeholders about the outcome of this process,” Mr Bruton was told.
Journalist: Niall Murray