The National Union of Students has initiated judicial review processes over ministerial plans to scrap maintenance grants in England. Lawyers from the NUS have written to the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, to demand further consideration of the implications on equality and diversity of the move. This proposed action was announced in July by George Osborne in his summer budget. The government has so far stated that it would respond to the letter in due course.
The NUS claims it has identified a “serious and unlawful failure” on the part of the government to follow the protocols set out in the Equality Act 2010 to consider the impact of policy changes upon poorer students. The letter states that “the abolition of maintenance grants will cause a very significant increase in debt for the poorest students; from £40,500 to around £53,000”.
As the policy currently stands, students who come from a family with an income of £25,000 or less are entitled to a full, government- subsidised grant of up to £3,387 in addition to a loan of £4,047 if they live away from their family home outside of London. Partial grants are available on an income assessed basis for those whose family income in between £25,000 and £60,000. The government has announced it intends to replace these grants with loans from September 2016.
A spokeperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said students would not have to pay back anything until their earnings rose above £21,000. The NUS is represented by Salima Budhani and John Halford of legal firm Bindmans LLP who are calling upon the government on behalf of the j to reconsider its obligations “to halt plans to abolish maintenance grants and to gather information to enable him to properly consider the complex equality considerations at stake”.
Megan Dunn, President of the NUS called the government’s plan “reckless”, adding: “we know the huge damage that this change will have if it is allowed to happen. It is obvious that the government is attempting to rush through these changes with no consideration of future generations of students”.
The NUS’s biggest charge against the governement is that they have failed to maintain their obligations in terms of commitments made to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to continuously assess equality impacts of policy introductions.