Government urged to support lone parents after homeless mother is denied education allowance

Dublin woman Erica Fleming was refused stipend to take up place in TCD course

erica fleming

Erica Fleming

Lone parent organisation One Family has called on the government to remove barriers to education faced by people parenting alone.

It comes after a homeless Dublin woman was 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 on Friday 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.

In a statement, One Family urged policymakers to recognise the impact of education and poverty levels on family outcomes.

The charity’s CEO, Karen Kiernan, said childcare and financial supports are crucial to supporting parents wishing to increase their qualifications. 

One Family also wants the BTEA and SUSI maintenance grant to be payable together.

"An unnecessarily complex system contributes to systemic barriers still being in place," she said.

'Thoughtless cut'

Meanwhile, in an open letter to Minister Leo Varadkar, Trinity College Students' Union has called for rule changes to ensure lone parents are not excluded from accessing third-level education. 

"There is no discernible logic to this denial," the union's president, Kieran McNulty, said of Ms Fleming's case. 

"It was a thoughtless cut which harms those who are trying to access education, to make a positive change, both to their lives and for society."

Ms Fleming, who had planned to go on to study for a degree in social work after the one-year access programme, intends to appeal the Department of Social Protection's decision.

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

Ms Fleming yesterday called on Minister Varadkar to review the rules excluding some lone parents from receiving the allowance.

The Department of Social Protection said in a statement that 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."