Unemployment not free for all

Confusion reigns over who should pay fees

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) say colleges are not allowed to fully-fund unemployed learners seeking work unless they are on state benefits.

The guidance contradicts earlier advice, as reported in FE Week.

A member of a popular college email forum has shared an exchange with Nick Chomyk, funding policy development and learner eligibility manager at the SFA (see end of article).

Mr Chomyk describes how his previous advice has now changed, and the original funding requirements “need to be followed.”

Yet in September, Mr Chomyk had said to the forum member: “The individual does not have to be in receipt of a benefit, just unemployed and needs help to get back into work.”

The advice from September was in line with policy updates communicated to SFA staff, the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) in August 2011, which said any unemployed learner could be fully-funded provided they are looking for work.

Having sought clarification I was surprised to be told the rules have been changed yet again,”

The advice said: “It is recognised that this discretion is mainly for those in direct receipt of a state benefit, but could also apply to other individuals who are unemployed and need skills training to help them enter work.”

It later added: “Unemployed status and the need for skills training to help them enter work would be confirmed by the individual in the form of a self-declaration to the college or training organisation.”

FE Week has asked the SFA why the September advice has changed.

A statement from the SFA said: “The Agency’s policy on the funding of unemployed learners has been consistent throughout 2011/12 and is clearly set out in our funding documents, which are communicated to providers.”

The college email forum member says the guidance around fee remission “has been very unclear.”

“Having sought clarification I was surprised to be told the rules have been changed yet again,” they said.

“Colleges and training providers will naturally be very confused as to who should and should not be charged fees, and whether existing learners are no longer eligible for full funding”.

The AoC say they expect the SFA to clarify the guidance later this year.

Julian Gravatt, AoC assistant chief executive, said: “There was some confusion in the summer of last year when guidance was published but then swiftly altered a few short weeks later.

“We understand there are plans at the SFA to clarify these rules and hopefully make them easier to understand for everyone as early as this year.”

He added: “For colleges, fees are a difficult issue and we are keen to provide support where we can.

“However there are times when fees are unavoidable.

“BIS and the  SFA should be aware of occasions when charges must be applied for additional services, or to incentivise deadline meeting, which is normal in procedure as a way to encourage appropriate behaviour.”

Email exchange:

From: Nick Chomyk (SFA)
Sent: 02 February 2012 08:58
To: Forum member
Subject: RE: Funding Eligibility

Hi forum member

No. The rules in the Funding Requirements will need to be followed. However, where you have accepted learners on the basis of the advice below we will accept starts up to the end of December 2011. If you have had any starts based on the information below since then please let me know and I will advise.

Nick Chomyk
Funding Systems Manager

From: Forum member
Sent: 02 February 2012 08:31
To: Nick Chomyk  (SFA)
Subject: FW: Funding Eligibility

Hi Nick

Does the information you provided below still stand?

From: Nick Chomyk (SFA)
Sent: 02 September 2011 09:28
To: Forum member
Subject: RE: Funding Eligibility

The individual does not have to be in receipt of a benefit, just unemployed and needs help to get back into work.
The Funding guidance will be updated in October.

Nick Chomyk
Funding Systems Manager