Volunteer development workers and social insurance
If you are living in Ireland and have spent time working in a developing country, you may qualify for credited social insurance contributions under the Volunteer Development Worker Scheme.
These credited social insurance contributions are called VDW credits. VDW credits are normally fully reckonable, that is, they are treated the same as paid social insurance contributions. Therefore, when you come back to Ireland, VDW credits can help you qualify for social welfare benefits and pensions.
In addition, some of the qualifying conditions for payments have been relaxed for returned volunteer development workers. See ‘How do VDW credits help me qualify for social welfare payments’ below.
Comhlámh administers the VDW Scheme on behalf of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Comhlámh is a charity that is mainly funded by Irish Aid. It works to promote global development.
Who is a volunteer development worker?
Volunteer development workers are people who:
- Are working temporarily outside Ireland in a developing country
- On volunteer terms (this means that the salary or wage you get is consistent with local rates of pay in the developing country)
- Whose work has been arranged by or through Irish Aid, or through another organisation validated by Comhlámh
The development work must be approved before you leave Ireland.
Members of religious orders whose work involves pastoral duties are not considered to be volunteer development workers under the scheme.
How do I qualify for volunteer development worker credits?
To qualify for VDW credits, you must be a volunteer development worker. You must also:
- Be over 16 years of age
- Have been resident in Ireland immediately before taking up employment abroad
- Be employed under conditions of pay that are similar to the local conditions in the developing country
PRSI contributions – paid and credited
How the scheme operates depends on the social insurance (PRSI) contributions you paid before you go abroad:
- If you have 104 weeks or more of PRSI contributions paid or credited since the start of your working life, you get VDW credits for the period you spend as a volunteer development worker (up to 5 years).
- If you have less than 104 weeks of PRSI contributions paid or credited, then Comhlámh will make contributions on your behalf until you have 104 weeks contributions. After that, you get VDW credits in the normal way (for up to 5 years).
- If you had 2 consecutive tax years with no paid or credited contributions immediately before you went abroad as a volunteer development worker, Comhlámh will pay Class A contributions for the first 26 weeks of your
Comhlámh also administers the Public Service Pension Scheme for Volunteer Development Workers on behalf of Irish Aid. This scheme allows public servants to get their pension contributions paid while serving overseas for six consecutive months or more and up to a maximum of two years. You can contact Comhlámh for more information about the scheme for public sector workers.
VDW credits can only be awarded for a maximum of 5 years. Different periods of work as a volunteer development worker (VDW) are added together to calculate the 5 years. For example, if you were a VDW for 3 years, and wish to go abroad as a VDW for another 3 years, you will only qualify for VDW credits for 2 years of your second assignment.
If your assignment abroad is more than 5 years, you are, where possible, awarded VDW credits for the period that is most beneficial to you.
Career breaks and social insurance contributions
If you took a career break from your normal employment to work abroad and you are not re-employed immediately when you come back to Ireland you should contact your local social welfare office or Intreo centre.
The general rule is that returned volunteer development workers can claim Jobseeker's Benefit if the period of their career break has expired and there is no work available from their previous employer. However, if your career break has not expired, you are not entitled to claim.
How do VDW credits help me qualify for social welfare payments?
VDW credits can help you qualify for payments by:
- Treating the time you spend abroad the same as if it was spent working in Ireland and
- Removing some of the conditions for PRSI-based social welfare payments
Meeting the PRSI conditions for payments
If you return to Ireland following your volunteer development work, and apply for a social welfare payment, the time you spent abroad as a volunteer development worker can be used to satisfy the PRSI requirements for the payment as if you had been working in Ireland during that time. This applies to:
- Adoptive Benefit
- Carer’s Benefit
- Health and Safety Benefit
- Illness Benefit
- Jobseeker's Benefit
- Maternity Benefit
- Parent’s Benefit
- Paternity Benefit
- Treatment Benefit Scheme (optical, aural and dental benefits)
Other qualifying conditions
The VDW scheme also makes it easier to qualify for payments, by removing some of the conditions you normally need to meet.
Illness Benefit, Jobseeker’s Benefit and Health and Safety Benefit
You get the full rate of payment, regardless of how much you earned in the relevant tax year. This means that for claims made in the year of your return, and in the 2 years following your return, you get the full rate of payment. You must satisfy all the other rules to qualify.
Volunteer development workers do not have to have contributions paid in the relevant tax year, or to have been in employment for 8 weeks in the previous 26 weeks before starting their Carer’s Benefit. You must take up Carer’s Benefit immediately at the end of your volunteer development work to qualify.
Paternity Benefit, Maternity Benefit, Adoptive Benefit and Parent’s Benefit
You can qualify for these payments in the year you return to Ireland from the developing country or the year after you return.
You must have 39 weeks of contributions paid or credited since the start of your working life.
You can apply for Treatment Benefit the year you return, or the following year, if you have 26 weeks of paid contributions since the start of your working life, and you have 26 weeks paid or credited contributions in the relevant tax year.
How to apply for VDW credits
You can apply for credited contributions by completing Form VOL DEV 1 (pdf). Completed forms should be returned to your sending agency, which will in turn forward it to Comhlámh. Ensure that you quote your correct Personal Public Service (PPS) number) when you complete the form.
Comhlámh then validates the credentials of the sending agency and verifies that you are working overseas on volunteer terms.
Following validation, Comhlámh contacts the Special Collection Section of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the period of your assignment is noted by this office.
Where to apply