Mr Patsy McGlone (Mid Ulster): To ask the Minister for Communities what support is available to students to offset rent for accommodation they are not using due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Minister for Communities: The main source of support for students facing genuine financial hardship is the Department for Economy led Student Hardship Fund which is allocated to the local Higher Education Institutions (HEI) for distribution to students who can demonstrate genuine financial hardship. Each HEI is responsible for assessing student’s need and issuing support within the guidelines of the scheme.
Any students who may be experiencing financial hardship, should contact their Higher Education Institution to determine if they are eligible to receive support.
The obligation to fulfil a contract between individuals is legally binding and it is outside the powers of my Department to change this.
Since the outbreak of this pandemic the Department has put in place a number of provisions to assist private renters. Some students may be eligible to receive Housing Benefit if they already receive certain benefits or have parental or caring responsibilities.
An increase in Local Housing Allowance rates from 1 April has provided additional financial support for private tenants including any students in receipt of Housing Benefit or the housing costs element of Universal Credit.
In addition, anyone who has lost their job and who signed on to Universal Credit can apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment to have their full rent paid for 13 weeks.
Discretionary Support is available to provide financial assistance in extreme, exceptional or crisis situations where there is significant risk to the health, safety or well-being of a person or a member of their immediate family.
A person who is in full time third level education is normally not eligible for Discretionary Support. However, a student who is experiencing financial hardship as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic may be entitled to Discretionary Support including a grant for short term living expenses if they, or any member of their immediate family, are diagnosed with COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate in accordance with the latest public health guidance.
In addition to this I also worked with local student representatives to ensure that students facing hardship were able to access food parcels.