Second Level Option

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The Department of Social Protection (DSP) operates a range of employment support measures designed to encourage and support Social Welfare recipients of working age to reduce their dependency on welfare payments. 

Amongst the supports available for the Unemployed, One Parent Family recipients and persons in receipt of a Disability related payment are Back to Education Allowance (BTEA), Part-time Education Option (PTEO) and Education, Training and Development option (E,T&D) .


If you are unemployed, parenting alone or have a disability and are getting certain payments from the Department of Social Protection, you may attend a second or third level education course and get the BTEA subject to satisfying certain eligibility criteria. From June 2014 all new  BTEA claims must be recommended  and  approved by a Case Officer in advance of commencing the course of fulltime study. 



The Part-Time Education option enables unemployed persons to attend part-time courses and retain their jobseekers provided they continue to satisfy the conditions of being available for and genuinely seeking work on an on-going basis.  In the case of Jobseekers Benefit, participation on a course does not extend the period for which the benefit is paid.


Under this option a person in receipt of a Jobseekers payment may continue to receive the jobseekers payment while attending certain courses of short duration e.g. personal development or general training, provided specific conditions are satisfied. E,T&D courses are generally courses not covered under the BTEA scheme,  it must be clear that the courses will enhance the persons employment prospects and must be approved by the Case Manager.

Study options

Two study options are available under the scheme:

Second-level option

You can attend a second-level course of education at any secondary, community, comprehensive or vocational school. The course must be full-time and lead to a certificate recognised by the Department of Education and Skills or approved by the Further Education and Training Awards Council,(FETAC) for example, Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate, Post Leaving Certificate or a City and Guilds Certificate. An Access/Foundation course is regarded as a Second Level course for BTEA purposes.


Qualifying for BTEA

You can qualify for the BTEA depending on your age and circumstances. You must always have been accepted onto a qualifying course. In general you must be over 21 (see also 'Age limits' below) and have been getting a qualifying social welfare payment and commencing a full-time course leading to a recognised qualification in a recognised college and progressing in the level of education held by you with reference to the National Framework of Qualifications. ( .

From June 2014 there has been a relaxation of the progression rule for level 5 and level 6 BTEA applicants in certain limited circumstances. Applicants who already hold a Level 5 or 6 qualification under the National Framework of Qualifications and who satisfy all the other scheme eligibility criteria may be allowed undertake further courses at either of these levels. Such cases must be referred to a Case Officer for their recommendation.

Qualifying social welfare payments

Qualifying period

For second level courses you must have been getting a qualifying social welfare payment (see above) for at least 3 months (78 days of unemployment*) immediately before you start the course.

*Number of unemployment days which are paid or credited in accordance with jobseekers legislation.

Periods spent on the BTEA, Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS), Full-time FÁS/Fáilte Ireland Training Course, FIT, Community Employment Scheme, Part-time Job Incentive Scheme, Community Services Programme, Rural Social Scheme, Tus, National Internship, WPP, Back to Work Enterprise Allowance, Short-term Enterprise Allowance, FÁS Job Initiative or Job Assist may count towards the qualifying period for BTEA purposes. This provision applies only in cases where the applicant has established an entitlement to a qualifying social welfare payment immediately prior to commencement of their course.

NOTE: Qualified Adults on these schemes are not eligible for BTEA.

  • Period spent on Youth Reach can count towards the qualifying period for BTEA provided the person establishes an entitlement to a relevant social welfare payment prior to, or after completion of Youth Reach programme.
  • Periods spent in prison can be taken as, or count towards the qualifying period for BTEA once an entitlement to a relevant Social Welfare Payment has been established.
  • Time spent on Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) or Direct Provision from the Health Service Executive can count towards the qualifying period for BTEA. This applies only in circumstances where the person establishes an entitlement to a relevant Social Welfare payment immediately prior to commencing an approved course of study and satisfies the linking rules.

If you have been awarded statutory redundancy under Irish legislation and are entitled to a qualifying social welfare payment immediately before you start the course you can get immediate access to the BTEA without any waiting period. You must take part in the BTEA scheme within one year of getting statutory redundancy.

Age limits

To qualify for the Back to Education Allowance, you must be at least 21 years of age. 

However, if you are getting Jobseeker's Allowance, Jobseeker's Benefit or One-Parent Family Payment for the required period (3 months/78 days or 9 months/234 days for third level), are aged between 18 and under 21 and have been out of the formal education system for at least 2 years you may qualify.

If you are aged 18 or over and getting Blind Pension, Disability Allowance, Invalidity Pension or Incapacity Supplement for the required period (3 months) you may qualify for BTEA. In the case of Illness Benefit the qualifying period is 2 years. 

Unemployment or illness credits

If you are signing on for unemployment credits or submitting medical certificates for illness credits, for the required period of time (either 3 or 9 months depending on your course), you may qualify to participate in the BTEA scheme on a non-payment basis. This means that you do not get a weekly Back to Education Allowance. You continue to be awarded credited contributions while you are taking part in the BTEA scheme. See paragraph "How to Apply" below.

If you are participating in the BTEA scheme on a non-payment basis, you can also apply for a student grant to be assessed for the fee and maintenance component of the grant.

Other people who can qualify for BTEA

If you are the qualified adult of a person in receipt of a qualifying Social Welfare payment, you may qualify for BTEA in your own right, provided you satisfy scheme conditions.

Exceptions to study while on a DSP payment.

If you are in receipt of One Parent Family payment and Illness/Disability related payments from DSP you are allowed to undertake a course of study in Ireland provided you continue to satisfy the rules and conditions of the relevant scheme.You have to notify the scheme area of their intention to pursue a course of study.

Student grants

The Student Grant Scheme is divided into 2 components – maintenance grants and fee grants. You cannot get the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) and the maintenance component of a student grant together.

Although you are not entitled to the maintenance component of the student grant, you must still submit a student grant application form to be assessed for a fee grant to pay your Student Contribution (also known as Registration fee), field trip costs and tuition fees (if payable).

If you are getting a One Parent Family Payment or a disability payment (Disability Allowance, Invalidity Pension or Illness Benefit) you can choose to stay on your current social welfare payment and apply for a student grant or you can choose to transfer to the BTEA, whichever benefits you most.  In general, you do not have an entitlement to Rent Allowance while engaging in full-time study except you are in receipt of BTEA or VTOS.   You should notify the scheme area of your intentions.  For further information log on to

Monitoring arrangements

You must provide a certificate from the school/college confirming your registration, commencement and finish date of the course. You must supply this information before payment can begin. During the course of the academic year, you may be asked to provide confirmation that you are still taking part in the course.

If you change from a jobseeker's payment to BTEA, you do not need to sign on at your Social Welfare Local Office while you are getting BTEA.

BTEA participants may commence part-time employment while on BTEA without affecting the rate of payment. Employment must not affect your attendance on the course.  


If you are a new entrant on a Social Protection payment, other than an age related jobseekers payment, who qualifies for the Back to Education Allowance, the weekly rate payable will be equivalent to the value of the qualifying payment and subject to the provisions of the means test (where applicable) to the qualifying payment.

Where applicable, you may also qualify for increases in respect of a qualified adult and each qualified child.

From 1 January 2014, if you are a new entrant under 26 years of age on an age related jobseekers payment, a new personal maximum rate of €160 applies. In cases where means exist, they will be assessed against the €160 rate.

Keeping your secondary benefits

If you qualify for the Back to Education Allowance, you can keep your entitlement to any secondary benefits you already have, for example, Fuel Allowance, Rent Supplement and Mortgage Interest Supplement. However, any increase in income may affect your entitlement to these allowances.

How to apply

When you are accepted on a course, you should notify the Department of Social Protection by filling in the Back to Education Allowance application form (pdf), which is also available from your Social Welfare Local Office.

In all cases, applications should be made in advance and no later than 30 days of the commencement of the course of study to enable scheduling of assessment processes and interviews with applicants, if deemed necessary and the establishment of eligibility and provisional award of payment by the Determining Officer.

Applications received more than 30 days after commencement of a course of study are considered to be late applications.

Send your application to the section in the Department of Social Protection that deals with your payments.

Review and appeals

The Back to Education Allowance is a non-statutory scheme. This means that decisions cannot be appealed to the Social Welfare Appeals Office. If you are not satisfied with a decision you may request (in writing) a review by a higher officer of the relevant Social Welfare Local Office or Department Section, enclosing any new evidence in support of the review.

Where to apply

If you are getting a jobseeker's payment, Farm Assist or One Parent Family payment (paid by your local Social Welfare office) you should return your application form to your Social Welfare Local/Intreo Office.

If you are getting Illness Benefit contact:

Back to Education Section

Illness Benefit Section
Aras Mhic Dhiarmada
Store Street
Dublin 1

Tel: 01 7043294 or 01 7043696

If you are getting a Blind Pension, One-Parent Family Payment (paid from Social Welfare Services Office, Sligo), a deserted wife's payment, Widow's, Widower's or Surviving Partner's (Non-Contributory) Pension, or Widow's, Widower's or Surviving Partner's (Contributory) Pension contact: 


Department of Social Protection

Social Welfare Services
College Road

Tel:(071) 915 7100
Locall:1890 500 000

If you are getting Disability Allowance, Invalidity Pension, Incapacity Supplement or Carer's Allowance contact:


Department of Social Protection

Social Welfare Services Office
Government Buildings
Ballinalee Road

Tel:(043) 334 0000
Locall:1890 927 770


Last modified:20/06/2014

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