No obligation to refund €1,500 school grant if student drops out - Robert Abela

Students will retain the €500-a-year grant proposed by the Labour party even if they drop out or switch course

There will be no obligation for students who drop out of their post-secondary course to refund the €1,500 grant proposed by the Labour Party, Robert Abela said on Monday.

During a political activity on Monday, Abela clarified that students who drop out of post-secondary education will not need to refund the €1,500 school grant handed to them.

This measure was announced on Monday morning, whereby all parents will be given €1,500 over three years if their children continue to study beyond the age of 16.

“If you spend only two years in post-secondary education you can keep the money without refunding it. If you change the course midway, you will still continue receiving the money,” he explained.

He added that the course taken can be vocational so long as it is with an accredited institution. The measure will take the form of a tax credit or direct grant depending on the employment status of the child’s parents.

If the child is not living with their parents, the cash will be given directly to the child.

Abela went on to speak about the government-run Scheme 9, available for low-income families. The scheme currently caters to 3,000 children, offering free lunches, photocopies, and uniforms to parents who can’t afford them.

“But parents must choose from one of the several initiatives,” Abela pointed out.

Instead, Abela pledged that the Labour government would add more initiatives to the scheme, and will allow parents to benefit fromm all initiatives instead of picking from the mix.

One of the initiatives would see the state fund any eyeglasses needed by the children in the scheme.

Abela announced several measures aimed at young children during a press conference on Monday. He pledged that a Labour Party government would increase children’s allowance by €90 a year for five years, as well as the birth and adoption bonus.

For parents, the in-work benefit will increase by €50 a year four different times, while more tax credits will be given on extracurricular activities taken up by their children.

Among the measures announced were on in-vitro fertilisation, or IVF. The ferilisation process is offered in Malta for free, but couples still end up paying thousands on the medicines required throughout.

Abela recalled one couple who told him they paid €3,600 to cover the medicinal expenses.

“We believe that the process should take place in Malta with the utmost support around you,” he said.

Abela went on to note a range of factors that limit opportunities for a couple to undergo IVF. For example, the service is limited for hopeful mothers above 42 years, while parents who already have a child can’t undergo IVF if they want a second child.

“Wherever we can facilitate the gift of life, and allow couples the privilege to become parents, we will incentivise them,” he said.

Abela also touched on a rental reform undertaken last year concerning properties bound under the pre-1995 leases. Through the reform, landlords owning such properties will be able to claim up to two per cent of the property’s market value in rent.

Government would pay the additional rental costs of the families affected by the reform.

Abela said this reform cost the state millions, “but I believe it was essential”. He said some tenants were forced to live with their childrem or in cars because they were evicted as a result of constitutional challenges to the rent laws.

“We did this reform during a pandemic, when we already had budgetary pressures from the wage supplement and a closed economy. You might ask why we carried out a reform like this during the pandemic - we still wanted to improve quality of life.”