To qualify for a social assistance payment you must satisfy a means test and a habitual residence test.
A means test is a way of checking if you have enough financial resources to support yourself and what amount of social assistance payment, if any, you may qualify for. In a means test the Department of Social Protection examines all your sources of income.
How your means is calculated and the amount of means you are allowed to have varies from payment to payment. This document gives a general overview of the means test.
Sometimes a certain amount of income or income from particular sources is not taken into account and these are often referred to as income disregards. Disregards can differ from payment to payment – we list the most important ones in the information on each payment and there is a full list in our document, Cash income not included in the means test.
How is the means test carried out?
When you apply for a means-tested social welfare payment you must fill out an application form. This form asks for information about sources of income. You must give details of all your means when completing the application form for a social welfare payment. The Department of Social Protection (DSP) can ask you for details of the bank accounts you hold, including the account numbers. The DSP does not access your bank account unless you give permission.
A Social Welfare Inspector may interview you about your income and may ask you for supporting documents, such as bank statements or accounts. This may involve a visit to your home.
All your sources of income are added together and taken into account when deciding whether you qualify for a means-tested payment. The decision on your means is made by a separate Deciding Officer. You will be told how exactly your means were assessed. If you are not satisfied, you may appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.
Once your means have been assessed as a certain amount and you have been awarded a social welfare payment you are responsible for telling the DSP about any changes in your circumstances. If you do not you may be liable for fines or asked to repay any overpayment that may have occurred.
The means test for a social assistance payment can be a complex calculation and it can differ from payment to payment. Here we look generally at the way income from different sources is assessed in the means test.
|Assessing the means of a couple
If you apply for a social assistance or means-tested payment and you are married, in a civil partnership or cohabitating, the means of your spouse, civil partner or cohabitant are also taken into account in the means test. You can read more in our document, Assessing the means of a couple for social assistance payments.
If you apply for a social insurance payment, you do not have to satisfy a means test. However, if you wish to apply for an increase in your payment for an adult dependant (also called a qualified adult) or child dependants (qualified children) your spouse's, civil partner's or cohabitant's means will be assessed. Your means are not taken into account but any means you hold jointly will be assessed.
How cash income is assessed
The means test assesses all cash income that you expect to get in the forthcoming year. In practice, this is usually assessed by calculating the income you actually received in the previous year. Cash income that is assessed includes any income from employment or self-employment, including farm income, income from a social security pension from another country and maintenance payments.
None of the payments made by the Department of Social Protection (DSP) are taken into account. You can read more about what cash income is not included in the means test in our document, Cash income not included in the means test.
Income from employment
How your income from employment or self employment is assessed depends on the payment you are applying for. When assessing your income from employment the following are always deducted from your gross earnings:
- Union dues
- Superannuation or contribution to a pension fund
In the case of self-employment:
- PRSI (Class S)
- All expenses directly related to your self-employment. However, drawings, that is money taken from the business for personal use, is assessed as means.
Income tax or the Universal Social Charge is not usually deducted from your income from employment, except in the assessment of Family Income Supplement and in the assessment of benefit and privilege for Jobseeker's Allowance and benefit and privilege for Supplementary Welfare Allowance.
There are additional income disregards for individual payments. For example: €120 per week of rehabilitative earnings is not taken into account for Disability Allowance and Blind Pension. There are also additional income disregards for Carer's Allowance, Rent Supplement, Pre-Retirement Allowance, State Pension (Non-Contributory) and One-Parent Family Payment.
The assessment of income from employment for Jobseeker's Allowance is a little more complex. More information is available in our document Work and Jobseeker's Allowance.
Income from working as a home-help is taken into account in the means test for social welfare payments from 2012.
Income from maintenance
For most social welfare payments any income from maintenance is assessed as means. This includes maintenance for you and maintenance to you for any of your children. Maintenance paid to your spouse, civil partner or cohabitant is also taken into account as means. However rent or mortgage payments of up to €95.23 per week can be offset against maintenance payments. You can read more about Maintenance and social welfare payments.
Income from farming
If you or your spouse, civil partner or cohabitant are getting income from working a farm the yearly value to you is assessed (this is gross income minus expenses). If the land is worked but is not being worked to its potential then an estimate of the potential net yearly value is made.
If you are leasing a farm you own, the rental income is assessed.
If you are not working or leasing a farm the capital value of the land is assessed.
How property personally used (your home) is assessed
The house in which you live is not included in the assessment of your means unless you are getting an income from it. If you have rented a room in the house, that income is assessed. You can deduct 5% of the gross rent you receive for wear and tear and 15% can be allowed for voids (vacant periods between lettings). However, if you are getting a State Pension (Non-Contributory) or a Widow's, Widower's or Surviving Civil Partner's (Non-Contributory) Pension and would otherwise be living alone; the income is not assessed at all.
If you use or rent a room in your home for business purposes you can deduct a proportional amount of ground rent and mortgage interest from the profits you receive.
If you sell your home, the proceeds of the sale would normally be taken into account. However, if you are getting certain payments and you sell your house in order to buy or rent more suitable alternative accommodation or to go into a nursing home or to move in with a person who is getting Carer's Allowance for you, the first €190,500 of the sale proceeds is not taken into account.
This exemption only applies if you are getting one of the following payments:
- State Pension (Non-Contributory)
- Widow's, Widower's or Surviving Civil Partner's (Non-Contributory) Pension (if you are 66 years of age or over)
- One-Parent Family Payment (if you are 66 years of age or over)
- Disability Allowance
- Blind Pension
You can read more about how proceeds from the sale of your home are treated in our document Capital and social welfare payments.
How capital and property not personally used is assessed
Capital includes property (except for your own home), savings and investments.
If you (or your spouse, civil partner or cohabitant) own property that you are not personally using or if you have investments or any other form of capital, the value is assessed, using a standard formula. You may or may not be getting an income from the property or investment. (The only exception to this is where an Increase for a Qualified Adult is being assessed for a social insurance payment. In this case, if a property is let the rental income is assessed rather than the capital value.)
The property and investments that may be assessed under this heading include savings in a bank account (or anywhere else), a house that you have let and stocks and shares. If you or your spouse, civil partner or cohabitant saves a portion of your social welfare payment each week, these savings as well as savings from most other sources will be taken into account as part of your means.
Weekly means assessed
|Next €10,000||€1 per €1,000|
|Next €10,000||€2 per €1,000|
|Balance||€4 per €1,000|
For Disability Allowance the first €50,000 of capital is not taken into account. For Supplementary Welfare Allowance the first €5,000 of capital is not taken into account. Capital is not assessed in the means test for Family Income Supplement.
More information is available in our document, Capital and social welfare payments.
Your means under the various headings (for example, cash income, employment and capital) are added together to find your total means. For most means-tested payments, the rate of social welfare payment you can get, if any, is reduced on a sliding scale according to your means.
If you are under 26 and applying for Jobseeker’s Allowance or for Supplementary Welfare Allowance your age can also determine the maximum payment for your situation.
Contact the section in the Department of Social Protection that pays the payment you are applying for.
You can also find more information in the Department's Operational guidelines about: