Huntingdon charity to restrict grants to students

UNIVERSITY students living in Huntingdon will no longer have half their accommodation paid by a charitable trust – because it can no longer afford it.

Huntingdon Freemen’s Trust, a charity whose investments generate income of over �350,000 a year for the benefit of the residents of Huntingdon consistent with the terms of its charter – relief in need, education, recreation and leisure – has seen such a rise in demand from students that it has had to restrict what it pays out.

Trust clerk David Kerr said yesterday (Tuesday): “For many years the trust has helped students going away to university by making grants of up to 50 per cent of their accommodation costs.

“Over six years ago we stopped taking parental income into account when assessing student grants. But increasing pressures on student finances have led to the number of student applications nearly doubling in each of the last two years.

“And the typical cost of student accommodation has also nearly doubled in recent years.

“With these changes the cost grants to students for the present numbers of students was projected to absorb all the grant money available to the trust by 2014 and trustees decided that they must act to reduce the costs.”

They decided to continue half of accommodation costs – but with a maximum grant of �1,000 per student per academic year starting this October, even for second and third year students who have been awarded more in the current year.

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“We hope this will not mean anyone will be prevented from taking up a place at university,” he told The Hunts Post. “I guess people outside Huntingdon just have to increase the amount of their loan.

“It was the number of students claiming in the current academic year that made me realise that it would get unsustainable in relation to the income available to the charity. And half the typical accommodation cost now comes to around �1,500 a year.

“The student grant element could have gone up to �240,000 a year, and there are other grants the trust wants to sustain,” he added.

Grants range from small contributions to individuals in need, such as for mobility scooters, to substantial assistance to charitable organisations and projects, such as equipping the gym at Huntingdon Gymnastics Club and the Huntingdon Almshouses refurbishment.

Education is one of the charity’s priorities, and it makes annual payments (currently �18 per pupil) to each of the local schools, helps students with their accommodation costs and supports an apprenticeship scheme at Huntingdonshire Regional College.

Mr Kerr stressed that the charity, which was established by the High Court in 1993 to administer the funds accumulated by the Freemen of Huntingdon since their formation in the Middle Ages, could support only people living within the geographical boundaries of Huntingdon Town Council.