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Mean-spirited Labour pinching pennies

17 May 2005

Mean-spirited Labour pinching pennies from students

Green Party Tertiary Education Spokesperson Nandor Tanczos today accused the Government of robbing students by pursuing debts that they did not owe.

Students who earn more than $135.13 a week are not eligible for a student allowance. While the Student Allowance Appeal Authority has repeatedly ruled that this income limit should be applied as an average over a student's period of study, the Ministry of Social Development has attempted to enforce the limit on a week-by-week basis.

"In essence, the Government is trying to get 'back' money that is not even owed them," Nandor said. "They are penny-pinching from students who struggling to make ends meet.

"The Ministry believes that students earning even a cent over the limit during a particular week should lose their whole allowance for that week, even if on average their income is well below the limit. Now the Government is considering going all the way to the High Court to get this money back from students.

"This is extraordinary mean-spiritedness from a government that claimed it wanted to make tertiary education more affordable."

In December, the Student Allowance Appeals Authority said that the Ministry of Social Development was wrong in the way it was applying the allowable income limit in relation to student allowances, and called. the Ministry's approach "flawed" and leading to "irrational outcomes".

"The Government has been considering whether to appeal against the decision of the Student Allowance Appeals Authority in the High Court," Nandor said. "We're urging it not to do so and to recognise that trying to recover money from students struggling to make ends meet is unbecoming of an administration that says it cares about tertiary education.

"The Government doesn't seem to understand that students doing casual work have variable incomes because their hours are variable. Demanding a repayment because it exceeds $135.13 in a particular week simply doesn't make sense when their average weekly income falls well below that."

Nandor today asked Social Development Minister Steve Maharey during Parliamentary Question Time why the Government was continuing to pursue an approach that led to a person who was earning $2,000 over their period of study paying back around the same amount of their allowance as a person earning $11,000 over the same period, simply because of how their payments were timed.

"The Government must urgently make clear that it intends to abide by the Student Allowance Appeal Authority's decision and refund any money wrongly recovered from students."


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