To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families pursuant to the Answer of 20 March 2008, Official Report, column 141W, on the education maintenance allowance, if he will investigate whether households are shrinking their incomes in order to claim education maintenance allowances.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) has no evidence to suggest that any household has chosen to reduce their income in order that their children become eligible for education maintenance allowance (EMA). Where people have made choices which have reduced income, such as moving from full time to part time work, it seems unlikely that such choices would have been made solely on the basis that their child may, in the following financial year, be able to claim EMA for up to one year. Parents are entitled to make decisions about their lifestyle and career, and it is not for the administrators of the EMA scheme to challenge those personal choices.
For EMA purposes, the majority of successful applicants have their household income assessed on the basis of a tax credit award notice (TCAN) awarded by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) or through a benefits check verified with the Department for Work and Pensions. Both Departments make detailed investigations to assess the evidence presented for establishing income for tax and benefit purposes. Our strategy for protecting the EMA scheme against potential abuse through the incomplete or false declaration of household income includes a data sharing protocol with both of those Departments. We currently investigate evidence we assess as high risk. We plan to strengthen this by building on our data sharing protocol to verify all EMA income assessments.