Homeless woman denied back-to-education allowance after being accepted into Trinity

Erica Fleming says she was told her part-time job excludes her from receiving the payment

erica fleming

Erica Fleming and daughter Emily (10)

A homeless Dublin woman has been denied the back-to-education allowance (BTEA) she says she needs to take up a place in Trinity College Dublin.

Erica Fleming was due to begin a course through the university’s access programme in September.

She and her young daughter have been living in a hotel since June 2015

The 30-year-old told Newstalk.com that she received a letter from the Department of Social Protection yesterday informing that she is ineligible for the weekly allowance of €217.

The reason given was that she is not in receipt of a qualifying payment.

Ms Fleming, who works part-time, said she was told she would have to be unemployed for nine months to qualify for the stipend.

She lost her one-parent family payment and was transferred to the family income supplement following cuts brought in by the then minister for social protection, Joan Burton.

“I was devastated to get the letter yesterday. I was heartbroken,” she told Newstalk.com.

Ms Fleming intends to appeal the decision and discuss her options with staff in the Trinity Access Programme next week.

If no solution can be found, she said, her educations plans will have to be put on hold.

And while she has since received a number of “very generous” offers from members of the public, Ms Fleming said she won’t accept donations.

“The issue isn’t about me getting to go to college. It’s about all the other lone parents in similar situations.”

She had planned to go on to study a degree in social work after the one-year access programme.

Why social work? “I believe every child deserves a chance. I’ve heard so many heartbreaking stories from people who’ve grown up in foster care and haven’t had opportunities.

“I just want to be able to do the best I can to help other people.”

Barriers

Louise Bayliss of Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids said the case highlights the human impact of changes to the one-parent family payment.

“Erica is trying to make a better life for her and her daughter but is constantly facing barriers because of an ill-thought  activation policy,” she said.

“Before Burton's reforms, Erica would have been able to access the BTEA and now she is being punished because she worked.”

The Department of Social Protection said it does not comment on individual cases.

It added, however: "The student support grant payable by the Department of Education and Skills and administered by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) represents the primary support for people pursuing education in Ireland. 

"The Department of Social Protection does not offer specific supports for students pursuing third level qualifications outside of the BTEA.

The BTEA is a scheme that allows people in receipt of long-term social welfare payments the opportunity to pursue a course of study, while still maintaining their income support, subject to satisfying a number of conditions.  

"These conditions include age and being in receipt of a qualifying social welfare payment for a specific period of time.

"Family Income Supplement (FIS) is a weekly tax-free payment available to employees with children.  It gives extra financial support to people on low pay. FIS is not a qualifying payment for BTEA."