Rural Social Scheme
The Rural Social Scheme (RSS) is aimed at low-income farmers and fishermen/women. To qualify for the RSS you must be getting a social welfare payment. In return, people participating in the RSS provide services that benefit rural communities.
The Department of Social Protection (DSP) has overall responsibility for policy in relation to the Rural Social Scheme, including eligibility criteria. The Department monitors the implementation of the RSS and supports the various bodies that manage the RSS locally. The Department may also inspect any Scheme and visit projects. At a local level, the Scheme is managed by implementing bodies such as local development companies and in the Gaeltacht areas, by Údarás na Gaeltachta.
The Rural Social Scheme top up payment will increase by €5 from €22.50 to €27.50 from January 2023. All weekly qualifying payments will increase by €12 from January 2023.
What type of work is carried out by people participating in the Scheme?
The type of work carried out by RSS participants includes:
- Maintaining and enhancing various walking routes (that is, waymarked ways, agreed walks) and bog roads
- Energy conservation work for older people and those at risk of poverty
- Village and countryside enhancement projects
- Social care and care of older people
- Community care for pre-school and after-school groups
- Environmental maintenance work - maintenance and caretaking of community and sporting facilities
- Projects relating to not-for-profit cultural and heritage centres
- Community administration or clerical work
- Any other appropriate community-based project
How many hours' work is involved and how long does the Scheme last?
You work 19.5 hours per week. These hours are based on a farmer/fisher-friendly schedule. This is to ensure participation on the scheme does not affect your farming/fishing activities. If you get a place on the Scheme, you are offered a contract from your start date up to the following 31 March. You may be considered for a further term following the initial contract, if you continue to meet all the criteria for the Scheme.
The local management decides on your application. On 29 June 2022, the 6-year time limit for participants on the scheme was removed.
If you are eligible for the Scheme but don’t wish to participate, your dependent spouse, civil partner or cohabitant may take the available place. However, this is only if neither of you are participating in any other similar scheme, (for example, the Community Employment Scheme.) The Rural Social Scheme operates independently of the Community Employment Scheme (CE).
The Rural Social Scheme provides a supplementary income for low-income farmers and fishermen/women who are unable to earn an adequate living.
To participate in the scheme, you must be 25 years or over and getting:
- Farm Assist
If you are actively farming or fishing (this means that you must meet the criteria set out below), you may qualify for the scheme if you are getting one of the following social welfare payments:
- Jobseeker's Allowance
- Jobseeker's Transitional payment
- Disability Allowance
- One-Parent Family Payment
- Widow's, Widower's or Surviving Civil Partner's Contributory Pension or Widow's,Widower's or Surviving Civil Partner's Non-Contributory Pension
- Increase for a Qualified Adult under 66 years of age as part of your spouse, cohabitant or civil partner's State Pension (Non-Contributory)
Note that since 1 January 2016, Jobseeker's Benefit (if you had previously been on Community Employment or the Rural Social Scheme within the last 12 months) is no longer a qualifying payment for RSS. If you are getting JB you can apply for Farm Assist or Jobseeker's Allowance, which are qualifying payments for RSS.
Actively farming/fishing criteria
Criteria for a farmer
You must provide proof that you are actively farming. To do this, you must provide a copy of your application for the Basic Payment Scheme for the current year, including a valid herd number. If you are actively farming and have not applied for the Basic Payment Scheme, you should contact your local RSS implementing body for advice.
Criteria for a child/sibling of a farmer
If you are a child/sibling of a herd number owner and you can certify that you are resident and/or working on the farm and you are getting one of the qualifying social welfare payments, you may be eligible to participate in the RSS on the basis of your parent’s/sibling’s herd number.
Criteria for a spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of a farmer
If you are eligible but do not wish to participate in the RSS, your dependent spouse, civil partner or cohabitant can take the available place.
Alternatively, if your spouse, civil partner or cohabitant is getting one of the qualifying social welfare payments and is actively farming, they can use your herd number to qualify for the scheme.
Your spouse, civil partner or cohabitant can participate in the RSS, if he/she is under 66 and you are getting a State Pension (Non-Contributory) which includes an Increase for Qualified Adult for him or her.
Criteria for a fisherman/woman
To be considered eligible to participate on the RSS a fisherman/woman must meet one of the following categories:
Self-employed fisherman/woman on a fishing boat that has been entered in the Register of Fishing Boats.
Self-employed fisherman/woman whose boat has been issued with a pot fishing licence.
Self-employed fisherman/woman who has been issued with a commercial salmon fishing licence from Inland Fisheries Ireland.
Self-employed fisherman/woman who has been issued with a commercial eel fishing licence from Inland Fisheries Ireland.
Self-employed fisherman/woman who has been issued with a dredging licence for shellfish from Inland Fisheries Ireland.
Holders of an aquaculture licence.
Permit holders for shell fishing issued by a registered cooperative.
Criteria for a spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of a
Your spouse, civil partner or cohabitant can participate in the RSS, if he/she is under 66 and you are getting a State Pension (Non-Contributory) which includes an Increase for Qualified Adult for him/her.
The rates of payment for new participants on the RSS depends on your qualifying DSP payment. The minimum weekly payment increased to €230.50 in January 2022.
If the actual social welfare payment (including dependants) you were getting is €203 a week or less, then you will get the minimum RSS weekly rate of €230.50 (that is €208 plus €22.50). If your actual weekly social welfare payment (including dependants) was €208.01 or more, then you will get the equivalent rate plus €22.50.
If you were getting an age-related reduced rate of payment your payment is increased to the minimum weekly rate of €230.50.
|Qualifying payment||Rate of payment on RSS in 2022|
|Jobseeker's Allowance or Farm Assist||Equal to your current rate of payment plus €22.50 top-up. Minimum weekly payment of €230.50.|
|One-Parent Family Payment||Equal to your current rate of payment plus €22.50 top-up. Minimum weekly payment of €230.50.|
|Disability Allowance||Equal to your current rate of payment plus €22.50 top-up. Minimum weekly payment of €230.50.|
|Widow's, Widower's or Surviving Civil Partner's Contributory Pension||You continue to get your pension with a top-up of €22.50.|
|Widow's, Widower's or Surviving Civil Partner's Non-Contributory Pension||You continue to get your pension with a top-up of €22.50 (The minimum combined payment is €230.50).|
|Qualified Adult on a State Pension (Non-Contributory)||Your spouse will continue to get the Increase for a Qualified Adult (IQA). Your rate on the RSS will be the difference between your IQA payment and €230.50.|
A Class A PRSI contribution is paid on behalf of all RSS participants. You are not liable for the Universal Social Charge (USC) on your RSS payment.
Your income is liable for tax although it is likely you will pay little or no tax. Find out more about tax.
Other social welfare payments
If you are getting other social welfare payments you should check with your Intreo Centre or Social Welfare Branch Office to find out whether they will be affected. You can retain your medical card while you are taking part in the Rural Social Scheme.
Changes to your circumstances
The rules that apply to your original social welfare payment also apply to your RSS payment. This means that, if your dependant gets a job, their income will be assessed as means and your RSS payment may be reduced. Your RSS payment cannot be reduced below the minimum rate of €230.50. To avoid any possible overpayments, if there is any change in your circumstances, you should inform your local RSS implementing body.
How to apply
As this scheme is administered locally, you should contact your local RSS implementing body for further information or an application form.
You can also read the Department of Social Protection's guidelines on the Rural Social Scheme.