Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Questions (581)

Claire Kerrane


581. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will make changes to the qualifying periods for back to education courses such as back to education allowance and the vocational training opportunities scheme, VTOS, to encourage and support persons affected by Covid-19 or returning from abroad to return to education giving them a greater chance at finding employment; if consideration will be given to counting the two weeks of quarantine in cases in which a person does not receive a jobseeker’s payment but that the two weeks be counted towards the qualifying period; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38573/20]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The Department’s Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) provides income support for jobseekers and certain others in receipt of social welfare payments who pursue full-time courses of education at second or third level. The main focus of the allowance is to assist individuals in receipt of certain welfare payments to improve their educational qualifications and their prospects of gaining employment.

The BTEA was extended as part of the July Stimulus in response to Covid-19. Ordinarily a person must be in receipt of a qualifying social welfare payment for a minimum period before being eligible to apply for the BTEA when pursuing full-time education. The qualifying period has been waived for people coming from the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP). This ensures that those who have lost their employment during the pandemic have immediate access to a range of educational options, including VTOS.

In order to avail of continued financial support while pursuing a full-time course, a person in receipt of PUP should establish an entitlement to a jobseeker payment. The BTEA is payable at the jobseekers rate for the duration of someone’s course where they continue to have an entitlement to the payment.

There are no plans to further amend the waiting periods for BTEA and if the Deputy is aware of a case affected by the 2 week quarantine period they should bring the case to the Department's attention for review.

The BTEA is not intended to be an alternative form of funding for people pursuing education. The student universal support Ireland (SUSI) grant payable by the Department of Education and Skills represents the primary support for persons pursuing third level education.

Where someone in receipt of PUP wishes to pursue short term or part-time study they can continue to receive PUP while they continue to satisfy the conditions of that payment. There are many options and supports available to jobseekers wishing to pursue short-term or part-time training or education, without a qualification period. Any person seeking to return to education should engage with their local Intreo Centre to assess their options.

I trust this clarifies the issues for the Deputy.