Concerns emerge providers are claiming 24+ funding they’re not entitled to

Concerns have emerged at the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) that FE and skills providers may have been claiming funding they weren’t entitled to.

Una Bennett, SFA deputy director for funding systems, has written to providers about the ILR funding codes used for learners aged 24 and above after a review uncovered full funding claims below level three, where most provision is co-funded.

An SFA spokesperson told FE Week: “Following the review of data submitted to us for provision at entry level, level one and level two for learners aged 24 and over, we have identified a number of cases where providers are claiming full funding for a learner, but it is not clear from the data that the learner has an entitlement to full funding.

“There may be a number of reasons for this and the learner may in fact be entitled to full funding. We have asked providers to review their data and ensure it reflects the information held in learning agreements, correcting where necessary, and asking them to contact us if they need further advice and support.”

Full funding can be claimed for a 24+ learner in several circumstances below level three and they are outlined in the SFA’s Funding Rules 2013/14, page 109, points 41.4 to 41.7.

The SFA spokesperson said these circumstances were where the full funding entitlement applied to any eligible learner aged 19 or older (usually in a particular identified group), rather than being a rule specifically for a 24+ learner.

The circumstances include learners who need help to move into work, progress in work or remove a barrier to getting into work and who are receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA); receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and are in the work-related activity group (WRAG); receiving Universal Credit because they are unemployed, and who are mandated (required) to undertake skills training; or, in custody who are released on temporary licence (RoTL) following learning outside a prison environment and not funded through Olass (Offender Learning and Skills Service).

It also includes individuals who are unemployed and receiving any state benefits not listed above but who want to enter employment and believe skills training will help them to do so. This includes individuals receiving Universal Credit who are not mandated (required) to undertake skills training.

Outside of these, 24+ learners can be only be co-funded for other listed learning aims up to and including level two.

Stephen Hewitt, Morley College’s strategic funding, enrolments and examinations manager, said: “It seems odd the SFA is contacting individual providers about this when no clear rule-breaking is taking place.

“There are, as the SFA states, a large number of reasons where learners over 24 should be in receipt of full funding and all the providers I’ve been in touch with have had to exert additional effort to prove they are doing the right thing over and above any other data requests or their own data checks.

“Everyone I’ve discussed this with has understood the rules and applied them to their learners correctly. I’ve heard of no great outcry from auditors about this issue.  Of course, the reason SFA can’t tell why this cohort of learners are being fully funded is because they removed the field ‘Reason for Fee Remission’ from the ILR four or five years ago because they claimed they didn’t need to know, so it’s rather ironic that they’re now asking providers to check this status in particular.”

The SFA spokesperson said:  “We do not have any plans to bring back the ‘Reason for Fee Remission’ field. This field was removed as it was not required for funding processes.

“Providers should review their data to ensure it reflects the information held in their learning agreements and that their learners are eligible for all funding, as per the agency’s Funding Rules.  Providers can contact the agency directly should they require any further support or guidance.”