If you are over 21 years of age, unemployed and have been getting certain social welfare payments for at least 6 months you can apply for the Vocational Training and Opportunities Scheme (VTOS). The VTOS scheme provides a range of courses to meet the education and training needs of unemployed people. It gives participants opportunities to improve their general level of education, gain certification, develop their skills and prepare for employment, self-employment and further education and training. VTOS is operated through local Education and Training Boards and is aimed in particular at unemployed people who are early school-leavers.
Education and Training Boards
Since 1 July 2013, Education and Training Boards (ETBs) replaced Vocational Educational Committees (VECs). All services provided by VECs will continue to be provided by ETBs.
The courses range from basic education and training to advanced vocational training and there is a wide choice of subjects. The courses are full-time, about 30 hours a week (for example, 6 hours a day for 5 days) and can last up to 2 years. Many courses lead to qualifications such as the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate and awards at Levels 3, 4, 5 and 6 on the National Framework of Qualifications. You can find a list of VTOS courses on the Qualifax website.
You may qualify for the VTOS scheme if you are aged 21 years or over and you are:
* If you are claiming Illness Benefit, you should contact your local social welfare office about exemption/entitlement to continuation of your Illness Benefit payment.
If you started VTOS before January 2013 and you are getting Jobseeker’s Allowance or Jobseeker’s Benefit, you will get a training allowance at a rate equivalent to the maximum rate of Jobseeker’s Benefit instead of your jobseeker's payment.
From January 2013, VTOS participants who move from jobseeker's payments will no longer have their new payments increased to the maximum €188 per week, in cases where their jobseeker's payment is less than this. However, people under 25 will continue to receive a top-up rate of up to €160 per week (any means you have will be deducted from this rate). This will apply to new participants only.
Since January 2014, VTOS participants aged 25 who move from an age-related reduced rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance will get a top-up rate of €160 per week - this will apply to new participants only.
Other social welfare payments
If you are getting one of the other eligible social welfare payments you will continue to get your payment in the normal way. You must continue to meet the conditions of your payment. If you are on a reduced means-tested payment it will be increased to the maximum amount for your situation while you are participating on VTOS. You will also continue to get your social welfare secondary benefits.
Since 2010, people on PLC courses who are getting VTOS allowances are no longer eligible for student support grants. However, this does not affect any entitlement they may have to exemption from college fees or student contributions.
There are no fees for VTOS courses and you will get free books and materials at the start of the course. Depending on your individual circumstances you may be eligible for the following:
More detailed information about the rates of payment for VTOS participants is on the Department of Social Protection website.
VTOS training allowances are not taxable.
A Christmas Bonus will be paid to all trainees who have been unemployed for more than 15 months (you must have been getting your jobseeker’s payment and/or your training allowance for 15 months). You will also get a Christmas Bonus if you were getting a long-term social welfare payment and are now getting a training allowance. For those on the standard rate allowance it will result in an additional payment of €47.
You can participate in the VTOS scheme in one of the following ways; you can be either:
There is a list
of frequently asked questions about VTOS on the Qualifax website.
Contact the VTOS co-ordinator at your local VTOS centre to find out more about the VTOS courses available.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.