100,000 teenagers still waiting for grants

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The Independent Online

More than 100,000 teenagers are still awaiting grants almost three months after they were due to be paid, it was disclosed today.

The true extent of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) fiasco was revealed in figures obtained by the Conservatives through a parliamentary question.

The EMA is a means-tested grant of £30 a week, paid to England's poorest students, aged 16-19, to help them stay in education.

The official data reveals that 381,647 students had received at least one EMA payment by the end of last month, this is down from 484,777 for the same time last year, a difference of 103,130.

Student numbers have not changed since last year.

The EMA has been beset by problems this year, with thousands of students facing delays to their grants after government contractor Liberata encountered computer glitches and problems with their telephone helpline.

Liberata was axed by the Learning and Skills Council, which has overall responsibility for the EMA, last month and Capita took over.

Last week, schools minister Jim Knight told MPs that 26,000 teenagers have still not had the claims processed, but the Tories say this figure only refers to teenagers who have not yet been told they are entitled to a payment.

The new figures reveal the numbers who have not yet received any money, they say.

Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb has called for an independent inquiry.

He said: "The abject failure of Ed Balls' department to deliver the EMAs scheme has let down thousands of the most deprived teenagers in the country and the effects of the fiasco look to be far more serious than we had previously been led to believe.

"These figures show that the number of teenagers who have still not received payments runs into tens of thousands, far more than ministers have previously been willing to admit to.

"The reluctance of Ed Balls' department to come clean about the real effects of the chaos surrounding this year's EMA payments is unsurprising, given that potentially more than one in five teenagers are missing out on the payments they're entitled to three months after term began."

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "As Jim Knight made clear to the Commons Select Committee for Children, Schools and Families in October, the delay in processing applications for EMAs was not restricted to just the initial processing.

"There was and remains a gap between the numbers of young people being issued with Notice of Entitlements, which enable them to collect payments, and those actually receiving payments.

This can occur for a number of reasons and every year many young people misplace their NoE code or delay handing it in.

"Of course the numbers actually receiving payments has been further hampered by the recent problems which have been completely unacceptable."