Additional Background Information

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Additional Background Information


1. Mission Statement

“Our mission is to promote a caring society through ensuring access to income support and related services, enabling active participation, promoting social inclusion and supporting families”. The Department is responsible for the administration of social insurance and social assistance schemes within the state system of social security, and the delivery of other forms of social policy support in line with its mission. The Department is divided into three main parts:

  • Aireacht
    Responsible for the formulation of appropriate social protection policies and general administration.
  • Social Welfare Services (SWS)
    Responsible for the administration, management and delivery of social security payments and services.
  • Social Welfare Appeals Office
    An independent office responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

2. Statutory Agencies

There are five statutory agencies under the aegis of the Department; Combat Poverty Agency, Citizens Information Board (formerly Comhairle), the Family Support Agency, the Pensions Board and the Office of the Pensions Ombudsman.

3. Location of Services

The Department’s services are provided through a network of headquarter, regional and local offices throughout the country.

Over 4,700 staff are employed in the Department. More than 2,000 staff are employed in Regional and Local Offices which includes 400 Investigative staff and 40 Facilitators (field staff) working off site across eight Regions. Services are provided from over 140 locations throughout the State, including a network of 67 Branch Offices on contract to the Department and managed by Personnel Branch. The remaining staff are employed in 13 headquarter buildings, 7 of which are in Dublin with the others in Sligo, Letterkenny, Carrick-on-Shannon, Longford, Dundalk and Waterford.

It is proposed to decentralise staff in the Dublin headquarter buildings to five locations as follows: - Carrick-on-Shannon, Carrickmacross, Drogheda, Buncrana and Donegal Town. Staff will move to these locations over the course of the next few years.

Further details of where the Department’s offices are located is available at

4. The Social Welfare System

The Irish social welfare system comprises three types of income maintenance payments - social insurance payments, social assistance or means tested payments, including Supplementary Welfare Allowance, and a Child Benefit payment. There are also a number of non-statutory schemes and secondary benefits. Delivery of income support services impacts on the lives of almost every person in the State and remains the largest element of the Department’s business. Payments are made to more than 900,000 people each week. The Department also supports people in returning to work and provides support for activities to combat poverty.

A list of all the schemes operated by the Department can be viewed at

5. Social Insurance

The central feature of social insurance schemes is that eligibility is in part determined by contributions paid or credited 1. Entitlement to social insurance benefits are based on a record of social insurance contributions and depends on the occurrence of certain contingencies related to loss of employment, e.g. unemployment, disability, old age. The contingencies covered by the system are old age/retirement, widowhood, maternity 2, orphanhood, disability, invalidity, occupational injury, caring and unemployment. Social insurance also provides for a Death Grant and certain Treatment Benefits e.g. dental, optical and aural benefits. The Irish social insurance system is based on the 'pay as you go’ principle whereby current contributors fund the pensions and benefits of present recipients, while also building up entitlement to their own future benefits. Contributions are made by employees, the self-employed and employers and are paid into the Social Insurance Fund which, in turn, finances the payment of benefits and pensions when and if a particular contingency arises. The system is not strictly actuarially based in so far as there is no direct link at an individual level between contributions paid and potential benefits. Eligibility for payment is primarily determined by the number of contributions paid since first starting work and, depending on whether the contingency is long term or short term, the number of contributions paid or credited over a working lifetime or in recent contribution years 3. Once the conditions relating to a given contingency are satisfied and the relevant contribution conditions are satisfied all claimants, regardless of marital status, household situation or means are entitled to receive a personal rate of payment. Payments are flat rate with additions paid for adult and child dependents 4.

6. Social Assistance

Social assistance payments are based on need as established by a means test. The social assistance system is also contingency based. The contingencies covered by the system are old age, pre-retirement, widowhood, lone parenthood, orphanhood, long-term disability, blindness, caring, unemployment, and farming. In general, claimants of social assistance will have no social insurance record or an exhausted or broken record which disqualifies them from a social insurance payment. Both the personal rate of payment and additions for qualified adults and children are affected by the couple’s means. The full rate is paid where there is no other assessable income (subject to rules governing means to be disregarded) and assistance is reduced according to means including the value of property and capital and cash income received. The claimant is first categorised as experiencing a particular contingency and then if their means are below the threshold calculated for their circumstances within that particular contingency the claimant is entitled to payment. Means tested payments are financed from the Exchequer. Payments are flat rate with additions for qualified adults and children

7. Supplementary Welfare Allowance

Alongside the social assistance system is a residual, means tested payment - the Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA). The scheme contains a number of different strands. First, there is a residual, means tested payment – the Basic Supplementary Welfare Allowance payment. Secondly, there are a number of supplements, principally Rent and Mortgage Interest Supplements which are payable, subject to a means test where a person has a housing need or where they experience short-term need for assistance with the cost of accommodation. SWA payments can be made to persons in receipt of either social insurance or social assistance payments, once the SWA means tests are satisfied.

The SWA basic payment provides a minimum weekly allowance, to eligible people whose means are insufficient to meet their needs. Those applying for assistance under the SWA scheme are required to apply for any social welfare or health board payment that they may be entitled to and must satisfy a means test. Eligibility for the payment is normally from age 18, although there is no age criteria. A feature of SWA is that it is a household payment, i.e. only one spouse/ co-habitant can make a claim.

8. Universal Payments

Under universal schemes there are neither social insurance contribution conditions nor a means test; payment is made without respect to income and financed from general taxation. Child Benefit is the main universal scheme in Ireland. It is payable to all families with dependent children, regardless of household income, contribution record or category 5. Other universal schemes include a range of non-cash benefits which include the Household Benefits package (Electricity/Gas Allowance, Free Television Licence, Telephone Allowance) and Free Travel, to which persons who have attained a certain age are automatically entitled regardless of social welfare status.

9. Other Payments

The Household Benefits Package and Free Travel are also available to certain other persons who are in receipt of certain social insurance or social assistance payments but subject to household composition tests. 'Secondary benefits’ e.g. school books scheme, fuel allowance are provided for those in receipt of a range of payments and generally dependent on a test of means. There are also a range of employment support payments/active labour market programmes – Back to Work Allowance, Family Income Support (an in-work payment payable to families whose income falls below certain limits) and educational support payments e.g. Back to Education Allowance, Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance and School Meals Schemes.


  1. Credited contributions are awarded to protect the social insurance entitlements of workers by covering gaps in insurance arising from inability to pay and provide for the needs of those who are outside the labour force due to family or caring commitments.
  2. Including adoption and health and safety leave pre and post-partum.
  3. In the case of Widow/er’s Contributory Pension entitlement can be based on the contributions of a (married) spouse.
  4. An exception is the rate of Maternity/Adoptive Benefit which is payable as a percentage of "reckonable weekly earnings".
  5. Subject to fulfilling the Habitual Residence Condition.
Last modified:13/10/2008

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