Written Answers. - Departmental Estimates.

Tuesday, 2 December 2003

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 576 No. 1

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  370.  Mr. Connolly  Information on Paudge Connolly  Zoom on Paudge Connolly   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan   the reason the qualifying period for the back to education allowance has been extended from six months to 15 months in the recently announced Estimates; the reason it is proposed to suspend payment of the allowance during summer months; the amount of savings this represents to the Exchequer; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29259/03]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  The back to education allowance is a second chance education opportunities programme designed to encourage and facilitate certain groups who are receiving social welfare payments to improve their skills and qualifications and, therefore, their prospects of returning to the active work force.

At present, to qualify for participation an applicant must be, inter alia, in receipt of a relevant social welfare payment for at least six months – 156 days. The qualifying period will be increased from six months – 156 days – to 15 months – 390 days – for new applicants intending to commence third level courses of study, with effect from September 2004.

The qualifying condition will remain at six months – 156 days – for people who wish to pursue a second level qualification. Time spent pursuing a second level course with the assistance of the back to education scheme will count towards meeting the 15-months qualification condition for the third level option.

Participants already pursuing third level courses of study with the assistance of the scheme will not be affected by this change. I have decided to restructure the back to education allowance in this way to ensure that this support retains its focus on the more vulnerable groups in our community, particularly people who do not have a second level education qualification and who are at risk of becoming dependent on social welfare payments on a long-term basis.

I want to ensure that available resources are aimed at those in greatest need of an intervention to prevent them from drifting into long-term unemployment. This change recognises the more urgent need for intervention in the case of people who have not completed formal second level education.

Payments under the scheme for the summer period were discontinued in 2003 for BTEA participants who were in receipt of an unemployment payment prior to participation in the scheme as many students traditionally find seasonal work at home or abroad during the summer months. Participants in the scheme who failed to find employment during the summer were entitled to unemployment assistance or benefit, subject to satisfying the usual qualifying conditions.

All other participants on the scheme – lone parents and people with disabilities – were unaffected by this decision and retained payment during the summer period. Estimated savings from the proposed changes in the eligibility criteria in 2004 is €2 million.

I believe that I have ensured, in a situation where priorities had to be set and choices made, that those in the greatest need of assistance under the BTEA scheme have been protected.

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