Written Answers - Social Welfare Schemes.

Wednesday, 6 October 2004

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 589 No. 4

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  144.  Mr. Ring  Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan   his plans to amend the back to education allowance scheme. [23347/04]

  179.  Mr. P. McGrath  Information on Paul McGrath  Zoom on Paul McGrath   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan   if he will reinstate the back to education allowance which formerly was available during summer months. [23375/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan): Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan  I propose to take Questions Nos. 144 and 179 together.

The back to education allowance is a second chance education opportunities programme designed to encourage and facilitate people on certain social welfare payments to improve their skills and qualifications and, therefore, their prospects of returning to the active work force. The scheme was always intended for the benefit of people who had difficulty finding employment and was never intended to be an alternative form of support for people entering the third level education system.

The conditions for entitlement to the third level option of back to education allowance were revised with effect from 1 September 2004. From that date, the qualifying period was increased from six months to 15 months for new applicants intending to commence third level courses of study.

One of the factors that influenced the change in the qualification conditions is the concern that some people go on the live register for short periods specifically to qualify for the back to education allowance. In the 2003-04 academic year, the majority of participants in the third level option of the scheme were in receipt of an unemployment payment for 12 months or less when they accessed the scheme.

The scheme is intended to assist people with a history of long-term dependence on social welfare. In many cases, people who have not completed second level education are held back in their efforts to find employment. Therefore, it was decided that the qualifying condition should remain at six months for people who wish to pursue a second level qualification.

Restructuring of the back to education allowance in this way has ensured that it 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.

The changes recognise the more urgent need for intervention in the case of people who have not completed formal second level education. Time spent pursuing a second level course with the assistance of the back to education scheme will count towards meeting the 15 month qualification condition for the third level option.

Payments under the scheme for the summer period have been discontinued for BTEA participants who were in receipt of an unemployment payment as many students find seasonal work at home or abroad during the summer months. Participants in the scheme who fail to find employment during the summer may be 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 — retain payment during the summer period.

[1384]There are no plans at present to change any of the existing conditions of the scheme.


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