Page last updated at 10:10 GMT, Tuesday, 23 September 2008 11:10 UK

Student grant delays to continue

Computer screen
Students on the EMA get up to 30 a week

Delays to grants aimed at keeping poorer students in school may continue for some time, the government has said.

Up to 150,000 students have had their educational maintenance allowance (EMA) delayed by computer glitches and problems with a contractor's helpline.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) said all eligible students would get the money, up to 30 weekly, backdated.

In the meantime, schools and colleges will be able to offer discretionary funds for students suffering hardship.

EMAs are in place across the UK, but only England is affected by this problem.

News of delays in students receiving their grants was revealed earlier this month when hundreds of thousands of students headed back to college for the start of the new term.

It is not yet possible to give an exact date of when all EMAs will be paid
Jim Knight
Schools minister

The EMA provides a means-tested financial incentive to keep teenagers in learning - particularly in further education colleges.

The government said it expected some 607,000 students in England to receive the payments this year.

The allowances are run on behalf of the government by the LSC which awarded an eight-year contract worth 80m to private firm Liberata.

A letter from Schools Minister Jim Knight to the chairman of the Commons children, schools and families committee, Barry Sheerman, said Liberata had invested extra resources to deal with the problem.

He wrote: "Despite the measures to improve the situation, which have led to significant and continuing improvements in processing rates, the LSC has informed us that delays will continue for some time whilst Liberata get through the backlog at what is the peak time of year for applications received."

Processed manually

He added: "It is not yet possible to give an exact date of when all EMAs will be paid but the LSC has told us that a delay will occur for many young people."

The backlog has been caused by Liberata experiencing problems with its telephone helpline and software.

A high number of calls from students and colleges were stretching the helpline beyond capacity, Mr Knight said, and some calls were not getting through.

There have also been problems with an automatic system used for processing applications and Liberata has had to resort to processing them manually.

Mr Knight added that the LSC has assured him that all eligible students who applied for their EMA within 28 days from the start of term would get them back dated.


SEE ALSO
3m fine over student allowances
15 Sep 08 |  Education
Help with college hardship money
08 Sep 08 |  Education
Students face allowance problems
02 Sep 08 |  Education

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