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13.5.4 Special Assistance
See paragraph 5.3 of the Instruments
Part 5.3 Special Assistance
5.3.1 Where a Board or the Commission considers that exceptional circumstances, beyond the control of the student, have hindered or will hinder a student’s progress:
… (b) the Commission may approve payment of Special Assistance in respect of that student.
Where the Commission considers that exceptional circumstances, beyond the control of the student, have hindered or will hinder a student’s educational progress, the Commission may approve payment of Special Assistance.
For "exceptional circumstances" to exist there must be external factors that impact on a student’s educational progress.
Importantly, this requires that both:
a) “exceptional circumstances” exist, and
b) that a hindrance to the student’s educational progress exists, or will exist, as a result of these exceptional circumstances.
Exceptional circumstances exist
For the purposes of the Schemes, what is an “exceptional circumstance” must be understood in the context of each individual case.
Generally, “exceptional circumstances” means hardship. Some examples of hardships encountered by families would include, but not be limited to, disability, learning difficulties, effects of natural disasters, disruptions or breakdowns to the family unit, or unexpected interstate moves. Hardships can be temporary or longer-term, but must, at the time of application, be impacting the student.
The onus is on the family to demonstrate exceptional circumstances exist. However, delegates should look at a family’s situation holistically and with empathy to help determine whether a hardship is affecting the family. Many families receiving support through the Schemes are single income families, and even minor changes to their situation may be a hardship in their context.
One of the most common “exceptional circumstances” claimed is financial hardship. This can be an exceptional circumstance if the family can provide evidence that to pay for the claimed expense was, or would be, a hardship to them. This requires supporting evidence beyond a statement from the parent that the family is in financial hardship.
As a result of these circumstances, the student’s educational progress has been, or will be, hindered
Once a delegate has established that exceptional circumstances are affecting the family, the next question becomes whether these circumstances have hindered or will hinder the student’s educational progress.
The onus is on the family to demonstrate that this hindrance either has occurred or is more likely than not to occur without the removal of the hardship discussed above. This could be through school reports, but could also been shown through evidence from teachers or other educational professionals.
The test delegates should then apply is whether it is reasonable to say that what is claimed by the family would remove, or help to remove, a hindrance to the educational progress of the child.
If the answer is yes, then Special Assistance should be paid. This does not mean that what is claimed by the family must remove the hindrance completely. It is enough that the claimed intervention is working to offset, at least in part, the hindrance to the student’s educational progress.
In all cases, the need for the claimed intervention must be supported by evidence from a suitably qualified professional. Applications for this benefit should include full details of the circumstances necessitating a grant of Special Assistance.
Some common examples of where Special Assistance could be provided include (but are not limited to):
- speech therapy classes,
- cognitive assessments, such as for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,
- educational psychological assessments, and
- assistive technology devices or software.
Other useful examples
Assistance towards the cost of extra-curricular activities is generally precluded, unless the parent or student can show a direct link with supporting evidence between the student’s ability to undertake the extra-curricular activity and the student’s educational progress. For example, where a student’s extra-curricular activity is medically recognised as removing or substantially lessening a barrier (e.g. anxiety) to educational success.
Extra-curricular activities that allow a student to make progress in a field that is not related to their studies in school or a tertiary institution (for example, a student who wants to undertake an extra-curricular singing class because they have aspirations to be a singer), would not be covered as they do not relate to the student’s academic potential.
Expected, regular costs such as the cost of school fees, uniforms or general school supplies is generally precluded as this is provided for in the payment of education allowance. However, it would be appropriate to pay for these expenses where they are incurred unexpectedly. For example, where the child has had to relocate with a parent following a breakdown in the parent’s marriage.
That the parents wish to have their child attend a private school but cannot afford private school fees is not an exceptional circumstance.
School camps may be compensable under Special Assistance if the camp is tied to a learning outcome. For example, a trip to Canberra with links to the curriculum would be potentially compensable.
Laptop computers have become an educational necessity for most students above a certain age. Where there is a school requirement that a student have a laptop, and a laptop is not provided by the school, then laptops can be funded under Special Assistance, should other tests be met.
If an application is declined, the applicant must be notified, in writing, of the reasons for the decision and informed of their right of review.
Maximum amount payable
Note: Annual rates of Special Assistance (and Additional Tuition) payable under the Schemes are provided in Commission Decision (CM7346) ratified at the meeting held on 3 November 2017.
Effective from 1 January 2018, the maximum annual amount payable in relation to Special Assistance is $3,000.
The responsible Deputy Commissioner may approve a further $2,000 per annum of Special Assistance per student where required.
Any application for Special Assistance funding that exceeds the above limits, must be approved by the Commissions.
Shared care situations
The maximum amount of Special Assistance funding is payable per child. Where parents have shared care of that child, Special Assistance claims can be made by either parent, and claims can be actioned up to that combined limit from either parent, regardless of their percentage of care.
Special Assistance claims from any person eligible to make such a claim on behalf of a child are actioned on a first come, first serve basis and claimants should wherever possible seek preapproval prior to making the purchase. Importantly, the claimants must show that the criteria for the Special Assistance payment is met on every occasion.