If you’re over 21 and either unemployed, parenting alone, or you have a disability, and you receive certain payments from the Department of Social Protection, then you could be eligible for the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA). This could give you the opportunity to take part in a third-level education course.
What is the Back to Education Allowance?
Back to Education Allowance are payments that can help you to advance your education. BTEA is only paid for courses that start in Ireland or Northern Ireland. You can get paid BTEA for a year abroad (Erasmus) if the year is a mandatory part of your course. This must be verified by the admissions office of your college.
What type of third level courses are covered by the Back to Education Allowance?
You can attend any third-level course in an approved third level institution. The course must be a full-time day course and be approved for the Student Grant Scheme or be approved by Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI). Not all QQI courses are approved for BTEA.
You must be starting your third-level course at year one, generally. But you may be eligible for BTEA if you:
- Are exempt from part of your course because of a qualification you received in a previous course
- Completed at least a year of your course as a part-time student.
- Completed earlier years before becoming unemployed or receiving statutory redundancy
- Are permitted by your school or college to proceed to the next year of a course having dropped out or deferred a year
- Were getting a One-Parent Family Payment (OFP) while in full-time education and were affected by age-related changes to OFP
How do I qualify for Back to Education Allowance?
In general, to qualify for the BTEA you must be over 21 and have been getting a qualifying social welfare payment listed below for nine months or more. You must have been accepted onto a qualifying course.
The qualifying social welfare payments for BTEA are:
- Jobseeker’s Allowance or Jobseeker’s Benefit
- Jobseeker’s Transitional Payment
- Farm Assist
- One-Parent Family Payment
- Carer’s Allowance
- Blind Pension
- Disability Allowance
- Invalidity Pension
- Incapacity Supplement (based on a life Disablement Pension)
- Illness Benefit for 2 years or more. (However periods spent on Illness Benefit can count towards the qualifying period if you qualify from another payment. Half of the qualifying period must relate to the qualifying payment.)
- Deserted Wife’s Benefit or Allowance
- Widow’s, Widower’s or Surviving Civil Partner’s (Contributory) Pension
- Widow’s, Widower’s or Surviving Civil Partner’s (Non-contributory) Pension
- Prisoner’s Wife’s Allowance
There are some exceptions to the age condition for BTEA. If you meet the following criteria, you may also qualify:
- You are aged between 18 and 20
- You are getting Jobseeker’s Allowance, Jobseeker’s Benefit, Jobseeker’s Transitional payment or One-Parent Family Payment for the required period
- You have been out of the formal education system for at least 2 years
If you are aged 18 or over and getting Blind Pension, Disability Allowance, Invalidity Pension, One-Parent Family Payment or Incapacity Supplement for the required period, you may also qualify.
Getting the BTEA and other payments
It’s important to be aware of the other payments you can and cannot receive while on BTEA.
You cannot get the maintenance component of the student grant and the Back to Education Allowance together. However, you can apply for a fee grant. This covers 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.
If you are getting a One-Parent Family Payment (or Jobseeker’s Transitional Payment) or a disability payment, you can choose to stay on your current social welfare payment and apply for a student grant. Alternatively, you can choose to transfer to the BTEA (but you will not longer qualify for the maintenance grant). You can make the choice depending on which option benefits you most.
Normally, if you are studying full-time you are not entitled to Rent Supplement unless you are getting BTEA.
How long do I have to be receiving payments before I qualify for BTEA?
For third level courses, you have to have been getting a qualifying social welfare payment for 9 months. You must be getting the qualifying payment immediately before you start the course.
You do not have to have been getting your qualifying payment continuously. If you’ve been on other qualifying social welfare payments or getting credits over a period of time that was not broken up by up to 12 months, this can be used towards determining if you qualify for BTEA.
Other payments that can count towards you qualifying for the BTEA include time spent on:
- Back to Education Allowance (BTEA)
- Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS)
- Full-time FET (formerly FÁS) training courses
- Community Employment schemes
- Part-time Job Incentive scheme
- Community Services Programme
- Rural Social Scheme
- Workplace Placement Scheme (WPP)
- Back to Work Enterprise Allowance
- Short Term Enterprise Allowance
- Job Initiative, Job Assist and JobBridge may count towards the qualifying period for BTEA purposes
- Time spent on Youthreach can count towards the qualifying period provided you establish an entitlement to a qualifying social welfare payment before or after completing the Youthreach programme
- If you spent time in prison in the Irish State, this can count towards the qualifying period provided you establish an entitlement to a qualifying social welfare payment
- Time spent on Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA), the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) or in Direct Provision can count towards the qualifying period for BTEA
- If you have been awarded statutory redundancy and are entitled to a qualifying social welfare payment immediately before you start the course, you can get immediate access to the BTEA. You must take part in the BTEA scheme within one year of getting statutory redundancy and satisfy all the other conditions
This provision only applies where you have established an entitlement to a qualifying social welfare payment immediately before you start your course of study.
Can I work while receiving BTEA?
People getting BTEA who start work during the academic year will be assessed under the rules (including means assessment) that apply to their primary payment. You will not get BTEA during the summer months if you are returning to college for the next academic year.
You might receive Jobseeker’s Allowance or Jobseeker’s Benefit during the summer period if you meet all the conditions associated to the payments. If you are getting a One-Parent Family Payment, Jobseeker’s Transitional Payment or a disability payment before getting BTEA, you will continue to receive BTEA during the summer once you are returning to an approved course.
How do I apply for BTEA?
It is up to you to choose, apply to and get accepted to a course. Here are some steps to start:
Contact a college or university
Contact colleges and ask for details of the courses available.
Apply for the course of your choice
Try to get your application in well in advance to avoid any last-minute panic, and to be sure you’re making the right decision. If you want to start a course in September of any given year, it is a good idea to begin planning in January.
You must apply for BTEA before your course starts (or within 30 days of the course starting).
Visit your local Intreo Office
You must get written confirmation that you are registered as a full-time day student from the college registrar or admission officer. You will not get payment of BTEA until you give this confirmation letter to the Department of Social Protection.
For more information about the rates of payment, and where to apply, check out the Citizens Information Website.
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