Written answers

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Department of Social and Family Affairs

Social Welfare Code

9:00 pm

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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Question 198: To ask the Minister for Social Protection if he will review the qualifying criteria for the back to education allowance having particular regard to the nine month waiting time in receiving jobseeker's allowance before processing an application while at the same time knowing these applicants will remain on this allowance while they could be denied a placement at the start of the relevant third level academic year in September; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43060/10]

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Minister, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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The back to education allowance (BTEA) scheme is a second chance education opportunities scheme designed to remove the barriers to participation in second and third level education by enabling eligible people on social welfare to continue to receive a payment while pursuing an approved full-time education course that leads to a higher qualification than that already held.

With effect from 19th July 2010, changes have been made to the qualifying conditions of the back to education scheme to reflect the present economic situation. The period for which a person is required to be on a qualifying social welfare payment before accessing BTEA was reduced from 12 months to 9 months (a 2 year qualifying period continues to apply to participants coming from Illness Benefit). People who are awarded statutory redundancy may access the scheme immediately, provided an entitlement to a relevant social welfare payment is established prior to commencing an approved course of study.

In addition, a person can avail of BTEA to resume studies in a second or subsequent year of a third level course whereas prior to July, a person could only apply for BTEA if s/he was commencing year one of a course. This also applies to people who are granted an exemption from a period of their third level course. A person who completed earlier year(s) of his/her third level course on a part-time basis but is now getting a jobseeker's payment, may apply for BTEA to continue the course on a full-time basis.

These enhancements build on other improvements made to the scheme in recent years in response to the changing economic climate: from September 2007 the qualifying period for illness benefit was reduced from 3 years to 2 years; from September 2008, the cost of education allowance, which is an additional annual payment made to cover the cost of books and materials, was increased from €400 to €500; from September 2009, the 6 month waiting period for those pursuing second level courses was reduced to 3 months.

The requirement to be in receipt of a social welfare payment for a minimum period has always been a feature of the scheme. A waiting period is considered essential given that BTEA confers entitlement to income support for an indefinite period and is considered necessary in the context of targeting scarce resources at those who need it most. The back to education allowance has an important role to play in enhancing the employability skills of jobseekers. The conditionality of the scheme will continue to be monitored in the context of the objectives of the scheme.

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