Social welfare system in Ireland


The social welfare system in Ireland is divided into three main types of payments. These are:

  • Social insurance payments
  • Means-tested payments
  • Universal payments

With all social welfare payments, you must satisfy specific personal circumstances that are set out in the rules for each scheme. For example, to claim the One-Parent Family Payment, you must be parenting alone and therefore not cohabiting. As well as satisfying the necessary circumstantial criteria, other rules also apply. We briefly explain these under the headings for the different types of payments.

There is also a range of employment schemes and other supports which encourage long-term unemployed people to return to work.

You must be habitually resident to qualify for social assistance payments in Ireland. Find out more about the residency requirements for social assistance payments in Ireland.

Social insurance payments

Social insurance payments are given to people who satisfy specific social insurance contribution conditions (PRSI conditions), in addition to the necessary circumstantial conditions. These conditions vary, depending on the payment you apply for. A summary of the PRSI contribution conditions for each payment is available on the Department of Social Protection's website. Payments based on your social insurance contributions include Jobseeker's Benefit, Illness Benefit, Maternity Benefit, Invalidity Pension, Carer's Benefit and State Pension (Contributory).

Means-tested payments

Means-tested payments are designed for people who do not have enough PRSI contributions to qualify for the equivalent social insurance-based payments. An example would be a person who becomes unemployed, applies for Jobseeker's Benefit but fails to qualify because he or she does not have enough social insurance contributions. He or she can apply for Jobseeker's Allowance instead, which is the means-tested equivalent payment.

A means test is where the Department of Social Protection examines all your sources of income to see whether they fall below a certain level. How your means are tested varies from payment to payment. In some instances, you are allowed a certain amount of income or savings before your entitlement to a payment is affected. The rules that determine how much you can or cannot have depend on the payment you apply for and are often referred to as income disregards.

Universal payments

Universal payments are paid regardless of a person's income or social insurance record. They are dependent on the claimant satisfying specific personal circumstances. An example is Child Benefit. A person must simply have a child dependant living with them as defined in the social welfare legislation. (Migrant workers from EEA Member States may get Child Benefit if their dependent child is resident in another EEA Member State.)


The rules governing social welfare payments are set out in legislation and/or administrative guidelines. Most of the detailed Operational Guidelines governing social welfare payments are available from the Department of Social Protection.

For most social insurance and social assistance payments, decisions in relation to entitlement are made by Deciding Officers. Deciding Officers are social welfare officials appointed under the social welfare legislation. Other payments such as those available under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme and certain administrative schemes are made by other officials within the Department of Social Protection.

Administrative schemes are payments that are not based in legislation but are based on government decisions and administrative guidelines. Examples include the awarding of credits, the Christmas Bonus and the Fuel Allowance.

If you are not happy with a decision by the Department of Social Protection, you have a right to appeal decisions in relation to payments that are based in legislation. Appeals are made to the Social Welfare Appeals Office, an independent statutory body. Find out how to appeal a decision of the Department of Social Protection.

If you are not happy with a decision in relation to an administrative scheme, you can ask for an internal review. In this instance, you would put your case to a more senior official within the Department requesting an internal review to re-examine your application. You should try to submit as much additional information as possible to help your case.

Fraudulent claims

Penalties for false or misleading statements made to obtain a social welfare payment for you or for any other person, may result in large fines or prison for up to three years. The Department of Social Protection has a Compliance and Fraud Strategy that aims to reduce social welfare fraud.

You can report possible cases of fraud to the Department.


Rates of payment and dependants

Social welfare payments are divided into payments for the claimant, known as the personal rate of payment and payments for any adult and child dependants. The SW 19 Rates of Payment Booklet, published by the Department of Social Protection every year, details the amount of money payable for each scheme and the amount that will be awarded to dependants of the claimant.

Adult dependant

An adult dependant of a claimant is called a qualified adult. A payment for a qualified adult may be paid for a person who is wholly or mainly maintained by the claimant and is either:

  • A spouse, civil partner or cohabitant


  • A person over 16 years of age who is caring for a child dependant of the claimant

More information is available in our document about claiming for an adult dependant.

Child dependant

A child dependant is referred to as a qualified child. A qualified child must be:

  • Ordinarily resident in the State
  • Not detained in a reformatory or industrial school
  • Satisfy the age conditions

Children under 18 are regarded as qualified children. Payments for child dependants are made for children over 18 in some circumstances.

More information is available in our document about claiming for a child dependant.

How to apply

If you wish to apply for a particular social welfare payment, you should contact your Intreo Centre or Social Welfare Branch Office for an application form and an information leaflet. You can also request application forms online.

When you apply for a social welfare payment, you will be asked to supply or register for a Public Services Card. You may also need your Personal Public Service (PPS) number.

If you are not satisfied with a decision by the Department in relation to a payment you can contact the Social Welfare Appeals Office for an appeals form and details of how to appeal.

Yopu can get independent advice on how to appeal a decision from your local Citizens Information Centre.

Page edited: 25 March 2022