If you are unemployed, parenting alone or have a disability and are getting certain payments from the Department of Social Protection, you may take part in a second-or third-level education course and get a 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 may return to education under the Part-time Education option, the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) or the Education, Training and Development option.
The Department of Social Protection has published Frequently Asked Questions about the scheme.
Since 2016/17, BTEA is only paid for courses that start in Ireland or in Northern Ireland. You can be paid BTEA for a year abroad (for example, under the Erasmus scheme) if the year is an integral or mandatory part of your course. This must be verified by the Registrar or Admissions office of your college.
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. This progression rule has been relaxed for people applying for second-level courses at Levels 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 (obtained at least 3 years ago) and you have worked for at least 3 years 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 if you are getting a jobseeker's payment.
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 in an approved third level institution (university, institute of education or third level college). The course must be a full-time day course and be approved for the Student Grant Scheme or be approved by the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC). Note that not all HETAC courses are approved for BTEA.
In general you must be starting your third-level course at year one. However, you may be eligible for BTEA if you:
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 third-level qualification 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.
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 Jobseeker’s Transitional payment) or a disability payment (Disability Allowance, Invalidity Pension or Illness Benefit) you can choose to stay on your current social welfare payment (if you continue to meet the rules of the scheme) 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.
In general, to qualify for the BTEA you must be over 21, or over 24 for postgraduate 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.
Since 2015, if you are a new BTEA applicant and you were getting a jobseeker's payment, Farm Assist, a One-Parent Family Payment or a Jobseeker's Transitional payment, you must re-establish your entitlement to a primary payment to continue to be entitled to BTEA for the second or subsequent years of study.
Since 1 January 2015 you no longer qualify for BTEA when your Jobseeker’s Benefit ends – after 6 or 9 months. You must qualify for another payment to continue to get BTEA. People who qualified for BTEA from Jobseeker’s Benefit before 1 January 2015 can continue to get BTEA until the end of their course and if they are progressing to a new approved course.
For second level courses you must have been getting a qualifying social welfare payment (see above) for at least 3 months (78 paid or credited days of unemployment). You must be getting the qualifying payment immediately 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 paid or credited 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 paid or credited days 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) training courses, 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 established an 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 in the Irish State 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, Jobseeker's Transitional payment or One-Parent Family Payment for the required period (3 months/78 days, 9 months/234 days or 12 months/312 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 postgraduate 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, 9, 12 months or 2 years 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.
Since 2 June 2015, qualified adults must establish an entitlement to a qualifying payment in their own right before they can be approved for BTEA. The rate payable is based on their entitlement. You can use time spent as a qualified adult to satisfy the qualifying period.
Before 2 June 2015, a qualified adult of a person who can claim BTEA could qualify for BTEA in their own right.
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 while you are getting BTEA.
People getting a Back Education Allowance cannot work full-time and 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, Part-time Job Incentive Scheme or any other employment or training scheme or programme operated by the National Learning Network.
People getting a Back to Education Allowance are not eligible for Family Income Supplement (FIS).
Since the 2016/2017 academic year, people getting BTEA who take up work during the academic year will be assessed under the rules (including means assessment) that apply to their primary payment - the payment they qualified for BTEA from. This only applies to new applicants or people who return to BTEA after a break.
Previously, part-time work during the academic year did not affect the rate of BTEA paid.
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 were getting a One-Parent Family Payment, Jobseeker's Transitional 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 and are progressing in your education. If you work over the summer your means from work are assessed using the rules that apply to the original payment.
If you stop work or your work pattern changes you should inform your Intreo centre 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. You must always have established an entitlement to a qualifying payment immediately before starting BTEA, even if you were previously on an employment or training scheme. The BTEA rate is based on this qualifying payment.
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 (increasing to €193 from September 2017). Any means you have will be deducted from this rate.
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 Intreo Centre 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.
From September 2017, you will get an annual Cost of Education Allowance of €500 if you are getting BTEA and you have a dependent child.
If you qualify for the Back to Education Allowance, you can keep your entitlement to any extra 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 Intreo Centre. All new BTEA claims for jobseekers must be recommended by a DSP Case Officer before a decision can be made on your BTEA entitlement.
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 your course starts (or 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 within 21 days (in writing) a review by an officer of the relevant social welfare 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.
If you are getting Illness Benefit contact Back to Education Section:
Department of Social Protection
P.O. Box 1650
Tel:(01) 704 3300
Locall:1890 928 400
If you are getting Blind Pension, 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.