If you are unemployed, parenting alone or have a disability and are getting certain payments from the Department of Social Protection, you may attend a second-or third-level education course and get the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA). This weekly allowance is not means-tested and you can work part-time without affecting your BTEA payment.
If you want to do other types of courses not covered under the BTEA, for example, personal development courses or general training courses you can return to education under the Education, Training and Development option; Part-time Education option or the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS).
The Cost of Education Allowance (currently €300) payable to Back to Education Allowance participants will be discontinued for new and existing participants. (2013)
The weekly rate payable to new Back to Education Allowance participants will be equal to their previous social protection payment. (1 January 2013)
A standard maximum rate of €160 per week will apply to new Back to Education Allowance participants who were previously getting an age-related reduced rate of Jobseeker's Allowance. (1 January 2013)
Note: The weekly rate paid to participants on the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS), Youthreach and FÁS further education and training programmes who move from jobseeker’s payments will also be matched to their previous social welfare payment. However, people under 25 who were getting an age-related reduced rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance will get a standard maximum rate of €160 per week.
From the 2011/12 academic year the Student Grant Scheme is divided into 2 components – maintenance grants and fee grants. You cannot get the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) and the maintenance component of a student grant together unless you were getting BTEA in the 2009/10 academic year and are continuing your studies or progressing to a new course.
Although you are not entitled to the maintenance component of the student grant, you must still submit a student grant application form to be assessed for a fee grant to pay your Student Contribution (formerly called the student services charge), field trip costs and tuition fees (if payable).
If you are getting a One Parent Family Payment or a disability payment (Disability Allowance, Invalidity Pension or Illness Benefit) you can choose to stay on your current social welfare payment and apply for a student grant or you can choose to transfer to the BTEA.
Two study options are available under the scheme:
You can attend a second-level course of education at any secondary, community, comprehensive or vocational school. The course must be full-time and lead to a certificate recognised by the Department of Education and Skills or approved by Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), for example, Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate, Post Leaving Certificate or a City and Guilds Certificate.
You can attend a third-level course of education at any university, third-level college or institution, provided that the course is a full-time day course of study and is approved by the Department of Education and Skills for student grant purposes and/or is recognised by by Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI).
In general you must be starting your third-level course at year one. However, you may be eligible for BTEA if you:
Only postgraduate courses in Ireland are eligible for the BTEA scheme. You can get the Back to Education Allowance for a postgraduate course of study that leads to a Higher Diploma (H.Dip.) qualification in any discipline or a Graduate Diploma in Education (primary and secondary teaching).
Other types of postgraduate qualifications are not recognised for BTEA. The only exception to this is where a college has admitted a person without a primary degree to a Master’s course on the basis of relevant life experience - in these cases the person may be entitled to BTEA.
You will not get BTEA if you already have a postgraduate qualification.
You can qualify for the BTEA in different ways depending on your age and circumstances. You must always have been accepted onto a qualifying course. In general you must be over 21 or over 24 for post graduate courses (see also 'Age limits' below) and have been getting a qualifying social welfare payment.
If you have been getting Illness Benefit for 2 years or more you can also qualify for the Allowance.
For second level courses you must have been getting a qualifying social welfare payment (see above) for at least 3 months (78 days of unemployment*). You must be getting the qualifying paymentimmediately before you start the course.
For third level courses you must have been getting a qualifying social welfare payment (see above) for 9 months (234 days of unemployment*). You must be getting the qualifying payment immediately before you start the course.
*If you are getting a jobseeker's payment, each day you are unemployed, except Sunday, is counted as a day of unemployment.
You do not have to have been getting your qualifying payment continuously. Periods spent on other relevant social welfare payments (or getting credits or in short-term employment) that are not broken by more than 12 months (52 weeks) can be used to determine whether you satisfy the qualifying period criteria. You must always be getting a qualifying payment immediately before starting your course.
Time spent on the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA), Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS), full-time FÁS/Failte Ireland training courses, FIT, Community Employment schemes, Part-time Job Incentive scheme, Community Services Programme, Rural Social Scheme, TÚS, the National Internship Scheme, Workplace Placement Scheme (WPP), Back to Work Enterprise Allowance, Short Term Enterprise Allowance, FÁS Job Initiative, Revenue Job Assist and JobBridge may count towards the qualifying period.
You may go directly from one of the above schemes to Back to Education Allowance provided you were getting one of the qualifying social welfare payments listed above immediately before or after you started the scheme. If there is a break of more than 4 weeks between leaving the Scheme and starting an approved course of study you must establish an entitlement to a qualifying social welfare payment to qualify for BTEA.
Time spent on Youthreach can count towards the qualifying period provided you establish an entitlement to a qualifying social welfare payment before or after completing the Youthreach programme.
Time spent in prison can count towards the qualifying period provided you establish an entitlement to a qualifying social welfare payment.
Time spent on Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) or on direct provision can count towards the qualifying period for BTEA. This applies only if you establish an entitlement to a qualifying social welfare payment immediately before you start your approved course of study.
If you have been awarded statutory redundancy and are entitled to a qualifying social welfare payment immediately before you start the course (note that it is not necessary to actually be receiving the payment) you can get immediate access to the BTEA without any waiting period. You must take part in the BTEA scheme within one year of getting statutory redundancy.
To qualify for the Back to Education Allowance, you must be at least 21 years of age. You must be 24 for a third-level postgraduate course.
However, if you are getting Jobseeker's Allowance, Jobseeker's Benefit or One-Parent Family Payment for the required period (3 or 9 months), are aged between 18 and 20 and have been out of the formal education system for at least 2 years you may qualify.
If you are aged 18 or over (over 24 for the post graduate option) and getting Blind Pension, Disability Allowance, Invalidity Pension or Incapacity Supplement for the required period (3 or 9 months) you may qualify. The Allowance has also been extended to people with disabilities who have left Community Employment schemes and who, when beginning the scheme, were not getting a qualifying social welfare payment. In this case, you must begin the course within 4 weeks of finishing the scheme.
Unemployment or illness credits
If you are signing on for unemployment credits or submitting medical certificates for illness credits, for the required period of time (either 3 or 9 months depending on your course), you may qualify to participate in the BTEA scheme on a non-payment basis. This means that you do not get a weekly Back to Education Allowance. You continue to be awarded credited contributions while you are taking part in the BTEA scheme.
If you are participating in the BTEA scheme on a non-payment basis, you can also apply for a student grant to be assessed for the fee and maintenance component of the grant.
If you are the qualified adult of a person who can claim BTEA, you can qualify for BTEA in your own right. Your spouse, civil partner or cohabitant must have an entitlement to BTEA and must also be getting an Increase for a Qualified Adult in his/her social welfare payment for you for the required period - see 'Qualifying for BTEA' above.
If you qualify for BTEA because you are an adult dependant, your allowance is equivalent to the standard personal rate of the social welfare payment your spouse, civil partner or cohabitant is getting. Your spouse or partner keeps his or her entitlement to his or her personal rate of payment. Both partners can get BTEA while taking an approved course.
You must provide a certificate from the school/college confirming your registration, commencement and attendance at the course. You must supply this information before payment can begin. During the course of the academic year, you may be asked to provide confirmation that you are still taking part in the course.
If you change from a jobseeker's payment to BTEA, you do not need to sign on at your Social Welfare Local Office while you are getting BTEA.
Since 1 January 2013, if you are a new BTEA participant aged over 25 your weekly BTEA rate will be equal to your previous social protection payment (the payment that qualified you for participation in the scheme). If you are a new participant aged under 25 and you were getting a reduced age-related payment jobseeker's payment, you will get a new personal maximum BTEA rate of €160. You may also qualify for increases for a qualified adult and qualified children (see 'Qualified adult' below). People who were getting a Back to Education Allowance before 1 January 2013 are not affected by the Budget 2013 changes and continue to be paid at the same rate.
The Cost of Education Allowance has been discontinued for existing and new participants from 1 January 2013.
Back to Education Allowance is paid in the same way as your current social welfare payment. It is paid for the duration of the course. If you were previously getting a jobseeker's payment, you do not get the Back to Education Allowance during the summer period between academic years. However, you can apply for Jobseeker's Benefit or Jobseeker's Allowance if you meet the qualifying conditions. You may get BTEA during the summer if you are on work placement or work experience that is an essential part of your course.
Even though your BTEA is not means-tested, any increase for a qualified adult may be means-tested if your spouse or partner has earnings or income in their own right.
If you are coming to the BTEA from Jobseeker's Allowance or Disability Allowance and if your qualified adult is earning you qualify for the full Increase for a Qualified Adult if your qualified adult has earnings of under €100, a tapered rate if they earn between €100 and €310 and no increase if they earn more than €310. This is similar to the way an Increase for a Qualified Adult for Jobseeker’s Benefit is calculated. The disregards that normally apply to earnings in the means test for Jobseeker’s Allowance do not apply. However a 'saver' clause operates to prevent a participant being made worse off by this arrangement.
If you qualify for the Back to Education Allowance, you can keep your entitlement to any secondary benefits you already have, for example, Fuel Allowance, Rent Supplement and Mortgage Interest Supplement. However, any increase in income may affect your entitlement to Rent or Mortgage Interest Supplement or the amount of supplement you get. For example, this can happen if you have additional income from part-time work.
Contact your local second- or third-level school or college to get details of the courses available. They will also advise you on how to get a place on the course of your choice.
When you are accepted on a course, you should notify the Department of Social Protection by filling in the Back to Education Allowance application form (pdf), which is also available from your social welfare local office.
You must get written confirmation that you are registered as a full-time day student from the college registrar or admission officer. You will not get payment of BTEA until you give this confirmation letter to the Department of Social Protection.
You must apply for BTEA before starting an approved course. A late application will be accepted if there is a good reason for it being late and it is received by the relevant section in the Department within 30 days of the course starting.
Send your application to the section in the Department of Social Protection that deals with your payments – see ‘Where to apply’ below.
The Back to Education Allowance is a non-statutory scheme. This means that decisions cannot be appealed to the Social Welfare Appeals Office. If you are not satisfied with a decision you may request (in writing) a review by an officer of the relevant social welfare local office or section, enclosing any new evidence in support of the review.
If you are getting a jobseeker's payment, you should return your application form to your social welfare local office.
If you are getting Illness Benefit contact:
Department of Social Protection
Social Welfare Services Office
Tel:(071) 967 2616
Locall:1890 927 999
If you are getting One-Parent Family Payment, a deserted wife's payment, Widow's, Widower's or Surviving Partner's (Non-Contributory) Pension, or Widow's, Widower's or Surviving Partner's (Contributory) Pension contact:
Social Welfare Services
Opening Hours:This office does not offer a service to personal callers. All queries must be made using the online enquiry form, by telephone or in writing.
Tel:(071) 915 7100
Locall:1890 500 000
If you are getting Disability Allowance, Invalidity Pension, Blind Pension, Incapacity Supplement or Carer's Allowance contact:
Social Welfare Services Office
Tel:(043) 334 0000
Locall:1890 927 770
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.