Social welfare payments and the student grant


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Introduction

If you are returning to education and have been getting a social welfare payment you may qualify for the Back to Education Allowance or the student grant depending on your circumstances. You cannot get the Back to Education Allowance and a full student grant at the same time.

If you are getting One-Parent Family Payment, Disability Allowance, Invalidity Pension or Illness Benefit, you will need to assess whether it is more beneficial for you to transfer to the BTEA when you go back to education or to remain on your current payment and apply for a student grant. If you are receiving Jobseeker's Benefit or Jobseeker's Allowance, you must transfer to the BTEA if you wish to keep a social welfare payment when you go back to education.

This document outlines your options.

Back to Education Allowance

The Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) allows people getting certain social welfare payments to get a social welfare payment while participating in approved full-time courses in further and higher education. People taking part in the BTEA scheme are paid a weekly allowance equivalent to the social welfare payment they were getting before starting their course.

Student Grant Scheme

Students doing full-time higher education undergraduate/postgraduate courses and full-time Post Leaving Certificate Courses (PLCs) may get financial support through the means-tested Student Grant Scheme. Grant rates for qualifying students vary according to a number of factors, including household income, family size and whether the student's college is close to their permanent residence. From 2012 onwards, new postgraduate students do not qualify for a full student grant but they may qualify for a partial grant (see below) if they pass particular means tests.

The scheme is made up of 3 components - a maintenance grant, a fee grant and a postgraduate contribution. The maintenance grant is a contribution towards the student's living costs. The fee grant can cover any of the following 3 elements: tuition fees, students contribution and cost of essential field trips. The postgraduate contribution of €2,000 may be payable to a postgraduate who passes a special means test.

In general if you qualify for a maintenance grant you will also qualify for whatever elements of a fee grant apply to your situation.

Read more in our document on the Student Grant Scheme.

Maintenance grant and BTEA

Since the 2010/2011 academic year you cannot get a maintenance grant and a BTEA or a VTOS allowance together.

Exceptions: If you were getting the Back to Education Allowance and the student maintenance grant at the start of the 2010 academic year, you continue to be eligible for both payments for the entire duration of your current course.

If you have completed a course and now wish to progress to a course at a higher level, you can continue to retain your BTEA payment (generally up to and including level 8 on the National Framework of Qualifications). However, you will no longer be entitled to the maintenance component of the student grant. You can apply under the grant scheme to have the student contribution and any tuition fees/field trip costs paid on your behalf under the fee component of the student grant (if you qualify) and for a postgraduate fee contribution (if relevant).

There is one exception to the general approach: if you are getting both BTEA and maintenance and wish to progress, without a break in studies, from a Level 7 Ordinary Degree to a one-year ‘add-on' Level 8 Honours Degree, you can continue to avail of both BTEA and a maintenance grant for the ‘add-on'year.

Fee grant

If you are getting the BTEA you do not qualify for the maintenance component of the student grant but you can apply for a fee grant to cover the student contribution and any course tuition fees not already covered by the Free Fees Scheme. Essential field trip costs may also be covered under a fee grant.

Please note, however, that people getting BTEA may not qualify for payment of a fee grant – unless they meet the terms and conditions of the student grant scheme. If you are getting the BTEA and wish to apply for these charges to be covered by a fee grant you should apply for a grant as soon as possible.

If you are doing a Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) course and getting the BTEA or a VTOS allowance you are exempt from the student participant charge (€200). You may have to pay a course charge for books, exam fees and other costs.

Social welfare payments and the BTEA

If you are getting a One-Parent Family Payment or a disability payment (Disability Allowance, Invalidity Pensionor 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. You will need to assess whether it is more beneficial for you to transfer to the BTEA when you go back to education or to remain on your current payment and apply for a student grant. Further information on these two options is set out below.

If you are getting Jobseeker's Benefit or Jobseeker's Allowance, you will no longer meet the conditions of your payment if you go back to education (since you must be available for and seeking work). This means that you must transfer to the BTEA if you wish to keep a social welfare payment when you go back to education – see ‘People getting Jobseeker's Allowance or Benefit' below.

People getting One-Parent Family Payment, Disability Allowance, Invalidity Pension or Illness Benefit

Option 1: Transfer to BTEA

If you transfer to BTEA, you will:

  • Receive a payment equivalent to your current payment
  • Not be eligible for maintenance under the student grant scheme
  • Be able to apply under the student grant scheme for a fee grant to cover the student contribution and course fees/field trip costs (where appropriate)
  • Be able to work part-time without affecting your BTEA payment
  • In general, retain secondary benefits like Rent Supplement. Note: If you are in receipt of Rent Supplement and your income increases, you will be re-assessed for Rent Supplement.

If you have a medical card, you are entitled to keep it while you are receiving BTEA.

Option 2: Continue to get your One-Parent Family Payment, Disability Allowance, Invalidity Pension or Illness Benefit

If you continue to get your One-Parent Family Payment, Disability Allowance, Invalidity Pension or Illness Benefit, you will:

  • Keep your existing payment
  • Be entitled to apply for both the maintenance and fee components of the student grant and a postgraduate fee contribution (if relevant). (Note: applicants on social welfare payments do not automatically qualify for a grant)
  • In general, lose your Rent Supplement or Mortgage Interest Supplement, because you are in full-time education

If you have a medical card, you are entitled to retain it for a period of 3 years from the date of entry to full-time education, after which you will be re-assessed.

If you are currently getting the One-Parent Family Payment, changes in your family circumstances while you are in full-time education might affect your eligibility for the payment (for example, if a child no longer lives with you or goes over the age limit). If you transfer to BTEA, your payment is guaranteed for the duration of your course. You should factor any such changes into your planning for income support during your course.

From 4 July 2013, if you had opted to stay on your OFP and go back to education but no longer qualify for OFP due to recent changes in the ages limits you may be admitted to BTEA ‘mid course'. However you cannot get BTEA and a student grant together.

People getting Jobseeker's Allowance or Jobseeker's Benefit

If you are getting Jobseeker's Allowance (JA) or Jobseeker's Benefit (JB), you must transfer to BTEA to keep a social welfare payment (including secondary benefits) during full-time education. The reason for this is that you cannot be genuinely available for and seeking employment when participating in full-time education.

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. Paid work will not affect your BTEA payment but any extra income could affect your secondary benefits.

Once you transfer from JA or JB to the BTEA, you are not eligible for the maintenance component of the student grant but you can apply for a fee grant– covering the student contribution, field trip costs and fees (if payable) under the student grant scheme. You should do this as soon as possible.

Signing on for credits only and the student grant

If you are signing on for credits only, and you meet the qualifying period, you can take part in the BTEA. You continue to get your credits. You can also apply for both the fee and maintenance components of the student grant and a postgraduate fee contribution (if relevant).

Case studies

The following case studies show the options available to people on different types of social welfare payments and the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

A: I'm getting a Jobseeker's Allowance and starting a full-time course in further or higher education:

You cannot get Jobseeker's Allowance (JA) and attend full-time education. If you are getting Jobseeker's Allowance you should apply for the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA). If you qualify, your rate of payment on BTEA will be the same as the payment you were getting (if you were getting an age-related reduced rate of JA you get a standard BTEA rate of €160) and you will keep any secondary benefits you are getting. You do not get the maintenance component of the student grant with BTEA, but you will be financially better off on BTEA than you would be on the maintenance grant alone.

Income from paid employment will not affect your BTEA or your secondary benefits, except for Rent Supplement or Mortgage Interest Supplement.

You must still apply to be assessed for the fee component of the student grant, covering the student contribution and any tuition fees or essential field trip costs and for a postgraduate fee contribution (if relevant). . You should submit your application immediately.

B: I'm getting a One-Parent Family Payment and starting a full-time course in further or higher education:

If you are getting a One-Parent Family Payment you have two options and you need to work out which will give you the higher income.

1. You can stay on your One-Parent Family Payment and apply for a student grant. If you choose this option you will continue to get your One-Parent Family Payment at your current rate and may qualify for the student grant. However, you will lose any secondary benefits you are getting such as Rent Supplement or Mortgage Interest Supplement.

If you are nearing the end of your entitlement to One-Parent Family Payment, the BTEA may be of greater benefit to you because it is paid for the duration of your course.

2. You can transfer from your One-Parent Family Payment to the BTEA. If you choose this option and qualify for BTEA, you will not get the maintenance component of the student grant. Your rate of payment on BTEA will be the same as the rate of One-Parent Family Payment you were getting and you can keep any secondary benefits you may be getting. Income from paid employment will not affect your BTEA or secondary benefits except for Rent Supplement or Mortgage Interest Supplement.

You must still apply to be assessed for the fee component of the student grant, covering the student contribution and any tuition fees/essential field trip costs and for a postgraduate fee contribution (if relevant). You should submit your application immediately.

C: I'm getting a Disability Allowance and starting a full-time course in further or higher education:

If you are getting a Disability Allowance (DA) you have 2 options and you need to work out which will give you the higher income.

1. You can stay on your Disability Allowance and apply for a student grant. If you choose this option you will continue to get your Disability Allowance at your current rate. However, you will lose secondary benefits such as Rent Supplement or Mortgage Interest Supplement. If you are living at home, your parents' income could affect the amount of grant you get. It may mean you get a reduced amount of maintenance grant, or just the fee component of the student grant, or neither.

2. You can transfer from your Disability Allowance to the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA). If you choose this option and qualify for BTEA you will not get the maintenance component of the student grant. Your rate of payment on BTEA will be the same as the rate of Disability Allowance you were getting and you can keep any secondary benefits you may be getting.

Income from paid employment will not affect your BTEA or your secondary benefits except for Rent Supplement or Mortgage Interest Supplement.

You must still apply to be assessed for the fee component of the student grant, covering the student contribution and any tuition fees/essential field trip costs and for a postgraduate fee contribution (if relevant). You should submit your application immediately.

Last modified:05/03/2014
 

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