Page last updated at 09:41 GMT, Thursday, 9 October 2008 10:41 UK

Wait goes on for pupil allowances

Computer screen
The Educational Maintenance Allowance is worth up to 30 a week

Hundreds of thousands of England's teenagers are still awaiting payments of their educational maintenance allowances, the government says.

Schools Minister Jim Knight said there was a backlog of 111,000 applications for the EMAs, intended to encourage poorer youngsters to stay in education.

In total 556,829 applications have been processed and 283,880 youngsters told they qualify for up to 30 a week.

Delays stemmed from contractor Liberata which has now taken on extra staff.

The National Union of Students are calling for a full investigation into the problems.

The new figures are in a letter Mr Knight has written to the chairman of the House of Commons children, schools and families committee, Barry Sheerman.

A student's concerns about EMA problems

They chime with estimates from the Association of Colleges, whose members are having to deal with the chaos.

Earlier this week it suggested three-quarters of those who had applied still had not had their money through.

Of the applications that have been processed, 272,949 (49%) have been rejected initially for various reasons such as having used the wrong form, not having signed the form or supplying insufficient information.

Processing 'priority'

Officials at the Department for Children, Schools and Families say most applicants eventually receive something.

In his letter, Mr Knight says that the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), which employed Liberata, has reassured ministers "that this is currently their absolute priority".

Applications are being processed at the rate of about 15,000 a day.

HAVE YOUR SAY
It shows you that the Government really cant run anything and EMA is flawed
Andrew Webb, Nuneaton

The cash - either 10, 20 or 30 a week - is available to youngsters from households with a total income of less than 30,810 in England. The ceilings are more generous elsewhere in the UK.

Although the scheme is UK-wide, only England is affected by the problems arising from its administration being contracted out to private firm Liberata.

The LSC has said Liberata would be facing fines amounting to 3m but it is unclear whether these have been paid.

Mr Knight told BBC Radio 5 Live he felt that the firm's willingness to employ extra staff at their own expense was enough for the time being.

The LSC has now written to college principals thanking them for their forbearance over the past two months and efforts to support those students facing hardship as a result of the delays.

It also said: "Please be assured that we are working very hard to ensure that Liberata continue to improve their performance."

Shadow children's secretary Michael Gove laid the blame at the government's door, saying the problems followed the late delivery of results for this year's national curriculum tests.

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