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).
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 Department of Social Protection has published Frequently Asked Questions about the scheme.
Changes have been announced to the scheme which will take effect from 1 June 2014 for the following academic year. From June 2014 all new BTEA claims must be recommended and approved by a DSP Case Officer before you start the course.
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.
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, depending on which option benefits you most. In general, people who are studying full-time are not entitled to Rent Supplement unless they are getting BTEA.
Two study options are available under the scheme:
All courses must lead to a Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) accreditation (these include FETAC or HETAC awards) or equivalent. You must also progress in educational qualifications. For example, if you already have a Level 6 qualification on the National Framework of Qualifications, the course you attend must be for at least a Level 7 qualification. Since June 2014 this progression rule has been relaxed for people applying for second level courses at Level 5 and 6 in certain limited circumstances. If you already hold a Level 5 or 6 qualification in an area that is no longer growing, you have worked for at least 3 years in Ireland and you satisfy all the other BTEA criteria, you may be allowed to do further courses at either of these levels - provided the course is at second level, will enable you to progress your career, lasts no more than 2 years (24 months) and meets future skills needs or local demand. Your DSP Case Officer must also recommend the course.
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. An Access or Foundation course is considered to be a second-level course for BTEA purposes.
You can attend any third-level course of education that is approved for the Student Grant Scheme. The course must be a full-time day course.
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 Professional Masters in Education.
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 diploma or 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.
In general, to qualify for the BTEA 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. You must always have been accepted onto a qualifying course.
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. For the Professional Masters in Education, you must have been getting a qualifying social welfare payment for 12 months (312 days).
*If you are getting a jobseeker's payment, Sunday is not counted as a day of unemployment.
You do not have to have been getting your qualifying payment continuously. Periods spent on other qualifying social welfare payments (or getting credits) 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 FET (formerly FÁS) or Failte Ireland training courses, FIT, Community Employment schemes, Part-time Job Incentive scheme, Gateway, Community Services Programme, Rural Social Scheme, TÚS, Workplace Placement Scheme (WPP), Back to Work Enterprise Allowance, Short Term Enterprise Allowance, Job Initiative, Job Assist and JobBridge may count towards the qualifying period for BTEA purposes. This provision only applies where you have an underlying entitlement to a qualifying social welfare payment immediately before you start your course of study.
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 course of study and satisfy the linking rules (see above).
If you have been awarded statutory redundancy and are entitled to a qualifying social welfare payment immediately before you start the course 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 and satisfy all the other conditions.
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 months/78 days or 9 months/234 days), 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 months/78 days or 9 months/234 days) you may qualify.
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 both 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. You must have been a qualified adult for the required period.
If you qualify for BTEA because you are an adult dependant, your allowance is equivalent to the Increase for a Qualified Adult paid with 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. If the circumstances of a couple change, then the total amount paid may be revised. However BTEA participants may do part-time work without affecting their 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.
People getting a Back Education Allowance are not eligible for Community Employment, Social Economy Programme, Tús, Rural Social Scheme, any other FET (formerly FÁS) or Fáilte Ireland training programmes, Work Placement Programme, JobBridge or Part-time Job Incentive Scheme.
People getting a Back to Education Allowance are not eligible for Family Income Supplement (FIS).
Academic year: If you start part-time work during the academic year your Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) is not affected. However, you should write to your Intreo centre or local social welfare office to tell them when you start work. The part-time work must not affect your studies and college attendance. Your additional income may affect your Rent Supplement, Fuel Allowance or your partner’s payment if they are getting a means-tested payment.
Summer months: If you were getting a One-Parent Family Payment or a disability payment before going back to education your BTEA will continue to be paid over the summer provided you are returning to an approved course. Your earnings from part-time work are not assessed.
If you were getting a jobseeker’s payment before going back to education your BTEA is not paid over the summer months period between academic years. (It will be paid from the start of the new academic year provided you continue to satisfy the eligibility criteria).
If you are not able to find work during the summer period, you may be entitled to Jobseeker's Benefit or Jobseeker's Allowance. You must meet all the conditions including being capable of work, available for work and genuinely looking for work. If you claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JA) and work part-time your earnings are assessed against your JA.
If you return to your course in the autumn, and if your part-time job is the one you started the previous academic year (with the same employer), your earnings will not be assessed against your BTEA. However, if you started a different part-time job during the summer your earnings will be assessed against your BTEA.
If you stop work or your work pattern changes you should inform your Intreo centre or local social welfare office so your case can be reassessed.
If you are a new BTEA participant aged over 26 your weekly BTEA rate will be equal to your previous social protection payment (the payment that qualified you for participation in the scheme). You may also qualify for increases for a qualified adult and qualified children.
If you are a new participant aged under 26 and you were getting a reduced age-related Jobseeker's Allowance payment, you will get a new personal maximum BTEA rate of €160 (any means you have will be deducted from this rate).
The Cost of Education Allowance was discontinued for existing and new participants from 1 January 2013.
You can get your Back to Education Allowance paid directly to your bank account. 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. Your local social welfare office will contact you in March or April to ask the date of last attendance for the current academic year and you will not be paid BTEA beyond this date. You may get BTEA during the summer if you are on work placement or work experience that is an essential part of your course.
If you defer a year of study you are treated as a new entrant when you return to your course.
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 or Rent Supplement. However, any increase in income may affect your entitlement to Rent Supplement or the amount of supplement you get. For example, this can happen if you have additional income from part-time work.
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. From June 2014 all new BTEA claims must be recommended and approved by a DSP Case Officer before you start the course.
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, Farm Assist or a One-Parent Family payment you should return your application form to your Intreo centre or 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 Blind Pension, One-Parent Family Payment (paid by Social Welfare Services Office, Sligo), , 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, 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.