Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
242. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the procedure to be followed in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare who was advised by their local community welfare officer to sign on for job seekers allowance as a dependant of their partner who has been offered employment under the job bridge national internship scheme and satisfies the prerequisites but who has been told they can not participate as they are only a dependant on their partner’s claim; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24588/11]
Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): To be eligible to participate on the national internship scheme a person must be currently in receipt of jobseeker’s benefit, jobseeker’s allowance or jobseeker’s credits and have been unemployed for a minimum of 78 days in the preceding 6 months and be actively seeking employment. The person concerned does not satisfy the criteria to qualify for this scheme.
243. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason those in receipt of illness benefit are not entitled to be considered for the back to education top up payment even in cases where they are in receipt of equivalent payment to those in receipt of other social welfare payments; her plans to alter the rules; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24591/11]
Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): The focus of Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) scheme is to assist those who are most marginalised and distant from the labour market to acquire the necessary education to improve their chances of becoming independent of the social welfare system. The BTEA scheme can offer participation in second and third level education by enabling eligible people on social welfare to continue to receive a payment while pursuing an approved full-time education course that leads to a higher qualification than that already held.
The eligibility criteria for participation in the BTEA scheme require a person to be in receipt of Illness Benefit for at least two years prior to commencement of their approved course of study. However, if a person fails to satisfy the two year requirement on Illness Benefit, periods spent on other qualifying social welfare claims can be used to make up the two year qualifying period provided that at least 50% of the two years is spent on Illness Benefit. The 50% rule is relaxed for persons in receipt of Illness Benefit and subsequently qualifies for another qualifying illness related payment.
Additionally, a person in receipt of Illness Benefit can pursue a course of study while receiving payment without recourse to BTEA if it is medically certified that pursuit of the course will not impede his or her recovery.
At present there are no plans to change the qualifying criteria for the BTEA scheme, however all employment schemes will continue to be monitored in the context of the objectives of the scheme and the changing economic circumstances.
244. Deputy Alex White asked the Minister for Social Protection in view of the increased demand amongst unemployed persons to seek retraining and re-education, if the absolute terms of the back to education allowance second level course-78 days receipt of social welfare payment, and third level course-234 days, will be reconsidered and modified in order that a more flexible, tiered approach might be taken to qualifying candidates. [24595/11]
Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): A person wishing to pursue back to education allowance (BTEA) scheme will have to satisfy a number of conditions such as being a certain age, in receipt of a prescribed social welfare payment for a specified time period, pursuing a full time course of study leading to a recognised qualification in a recognised college and progressing in the level of education held by the client with reference to the national framework of qualifications among others.
A waiting period is considered essential given that BTEA confers entitlement to income support for an extended period and avoids establishing a pull factor to the Live Register. It is also considered necessary as it reduces unnecessary provision, for those who will leave the Live Register in any event, in the context of targeting scarce resources at those who need it most.
The qualifying period for the second level option of the scheme has remained at 3 months in recognition of the need for more urgent intervention in the case of people who have not completed formal second level education. With effect from 19th July 2010, the period for which a person is required to be on a qualifying social welfare payment before accessing third level education under the BTEA was reduced from 12 months to 9 months (a 2 year qualifying period continues to apply to participants coming from Illness Benefit). Since 2007, people who are awarded statutory redundancy may access BTEA immediately, provided an entitlement to a relevant social welfare payment is established prior to commencing an approved course of study.
However, if a person wishes to pursue a part time education course they may be able to do so while still obtaining their jobseekers payment. They must apply at their local social welfare office and verify that participation on the course does not reduce their availability for work. In the case of jobseekers benefit, participation on a course does not grant any extension to the normal period for which jobseekers benefit is paid. In May, a new fund, entitled Springboard, which is being managed by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills, provides education and training opportunities to support unemployed people. The target group for this programme of over 200 part-time courses includes unemployed people with a previous history of employment who already hold a higher level qualification at NFQ Levels 6 to 9, who may also require additional upskilling or reskilling in order to re-enter employment. By way of the part-time education option, unemployed people on jobseekers’ payments will be facilitated in retaining their payment, subject to continuing entitlement, within the broader back to education framework.
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