The journal of developments in social services, policy and legislation in
Volume 36: Issue 5
Supports for people facing financial difficulties
In the September issue of Relate, we described the various payments and services to
which you may be entitled if you become unemployed. You should note that a number of
changes have since been made to Jobseeker’s Benefit – these changes were described in
the November issue. Here we look at financial supports for people who are short of
money and/or are getting into debt. There are also arrangements to help you meet your
bills and make it somewhat easier for you to pay them.
Applying for benefits in December 2008
Due to the large number of new claims, the processing time for Jobseeker’s Allowance in different Social Welfare offices varied from less than one week to over 11 weeks, with an
average of over five weeks. For Jobseeker’s Benefit claims, the average processing time
was two weeks.
You can help to speed up the process by ensuring that you have all the relevant
documents with you when you first apply. The application forms are available on the
DSFA website, www.welfare.ie
In the case of Jobseeker’s Benefit, you need to have your P45 and proof of your identity
and address. So you should bring a birth certificate or passport along with a driving
licence, Child Benefit Book, or a bank card or bank book. Also bring proof of address
such as a utility bill or bank statement. If you are a foreign national, you should bring
along the documents which show your immigration status. The P60 form is the end of
year statement in which your employer sets out your tax and Pay Related Social
Insurance (PRSI) contributions paid. Bringing your P60s for recent years may help to
speed up the process. If you are claiming for a spouse or partner, you should bring details
of the other person’s Personal Public Service Number (PPSN) and work status. If you are
claiming for children you should bring their birth certificates.
In the case of Jobseeker’s Allowance, you also need proof of identity and address when
you apply for the first time. You will be visited by a social welfare officer in order to
carry out the means test so, at that stage, you should have as much detail as possible
available about your financial circumstances.
If there is a delay in processing your claim, you may be able to get Supplementary
Welfare Allowance in the interim (see page 3).
If you are self-employed and your income is reduced, you may be able to get Jobseeker’s
Allowance (JA). The qualifying conditions for JA, including the habitual residence
requirements and the means assessment, are described in detail in the September 2008
issue of Relate.
You may continue your self-employed activities while receiving JA but you must declare
any improvement in your income and continue to satisfy the conditions for the payment.
Self-employed people are not eligible for Family Income Supplement (FIS) but, if your
spouse or partner is employed and you have children, he or she may be eligible for FIS.
You may also be eligible for:
• The various supports under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme
• A medical card or GP Visit Card
• Housing supports
• Back to School Clothing And Footwear Allowance
• Fuel Allowance
In next month’s issue of Relate, we will look at the supports that are available for the self-employed.
Family Income Supplement
Family Income Supplement (FIS) is paid by the Department of Social and Family Affairs
and aims to provide support for people with families who are on low earnings. Towards
the end of 2008, there were more than 26,000 families, with over 53,500 children
receiving FIS. If you qualify for FIS you get a minimum payment of ?20 a week. The average weekly FIS payment at the end of 2008 was ?131.86. Families where one earner
loses a job may become eligible for FIS.
You may qualify for FIS if:
• You are working 19 or more hours a week (or 38 or more hours a fortnight). You may
combine your weekly hours worked with your spouse’s or partner’s to meet this
• Your employment is likely to last at least three months.
• You have at least one qualifying child and
• Your weekly income is below a certain amount which is related to your family size.
A qualifying child is a child who normally lives with you or is financially supported by
you. Your child must be under 18 years of age or between 18 and 22 years and in full-
The following are the FIS net income limits for 2009:
Family size Weekly income limit
1 child ?500
2 children ?590
3 children ?685
4 children ?800
5 children ?920
6 children ?1,030 7 children ?1,160 8 children ?1,250
If your net average weekly family income is below the income limit for your family size,
then you get 60% of the difference between the two. The minimum you get is ?20 a week.
So, if you have two children and your net weekly income is ?400, you get 60% of ?190 –
that is ?114 a week.
Income from FIS is not taken into account in the means test for a medical card.
Net average weekly income
Your net average weekly income is the combined income of you and your spouse or
partner from all sources including employment, self-employment, occupational pensions,
rental income, social welfare payments and rental income, less deductions for income tax,
PRSI contributions, health levy, income levy and superannuation contributions.
Your capital is generally not taken into account. The following payments are not taken
• Child Benefit
• Early Childcare Supplement • Domiciliary Care Allowance • Carer’s Allowance • Guardian’s payments • Supplementary Welfare Allowance
• Foster Child Allowance • In certain circumstances, income from casual employment by the HSE as a home help
• Income from a charitable organisation
• Income as a bean an tí (providing accommodation to students studying Irish in
In the case of parents who are separated, a parent who is paying maintenance of at least
?26 per child per week can qualify for FIS. If you are paying maintenance as a result of a
court order or legally binding agreement for a second family, the amount of that
maintenance payment may be deducted from the income to be assessed for FIS. A parent
who is getting maintenance for a qualified child does not have that maintenance assessed
Only one FIS payment can be made in respect of any family.
If you are paid weekly or fortnightly, your weekly income is taken as your average
weekly earnings over four weeks. If you are paid monthly, your average weekly income
is based on your average weekly earnings in a set two-month period. If your spouse or
partner is self-employed, his or her income over the 12-month period before you lodge
your claim is used to work out his or her average weekly income.
Once you qualify, FIS generally remains in payment for a year. This is the case even if
your income improves during the year. However, the amount you receive is not increased
during the year even if your income declines. You do not continue to be eligible for FIS if
your hours of work go below the minimum 19 hours a week or 38 hours a fortnight.
You may get the Back to Work Allowance and also receive FIS but you may not receive
FIS while you are on a Community Employment scheme.
When applying for FIS, you should include
• Your latest P60 form
• Two recent payslips
• A copy of your Certificate of Tax Credits for the current tax year
Family Income Supplement Section
Department of Social and Family Affairs
Social Welfare Services Office
Tel: (043) 45211 or (01) 704 3000
Supplementary Welfare Allowance
The Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) scheme aims to provide immediate and
flexible help for people who need help and who do not qualify for payment under other
schemes. The detailed rules on SWA are contained in the Social Welfare (Consolidated
Supplementary Welfare Allowance) Regulations 2007, SI 412/2007. The scheme is
operated by Community Welfare Officers who are employed by the Health Service
Executive (HSE). Plans are in place for transferring the scheme to the DSFA – see
Relate, October 2008.
The scheme includes a weekly payment and a number of other arrangements for meeting
You may qualify for SWA if you:
• Are living in Ireland
• Satisfy the means test
• Have applied for another benefit/allowance you may be entitled to
• Satisfy the habitual residence test (but this is not a condition for exceptional or urgent
• Have registered for work with FÁS if you are of working age and are capable of
You do not normally qualify for SWA if you are:
• In full-time work, that is, working for more than 30 hours per week
• In full-time education
• Involved in a trade dispute; however, you may claim SWA for your dependants
If you are a European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) citizen or are
Swiss and have been working in Ireland, you are eligible for SWA. If you are an EU/EEA
citizen or Swiss and are looking for work here, you have to satisfy the habitual residence
condition. If you are a foreign national of a country other than Switzerland or the
EU/EEA, you always have to satisfy the habitual residence condition.
Income from virtually all sources is taken into account. The following are not:
• Child Benefit, Domiciliary Care Allowance, Blind Welfare Allowance, Guardian’s
Payments and the Respite Care Grant
• Certain compensation and redress payments including payments to certain Hepatitis C sufferers, payments from the Residential Institutions Redress Board and payments to
people affected by Thalidomide
• Up to ?120 from rehabilitative employment is disregarded The value of any benefit and
privilege is taken into account if you are 24 years of age or under and you are living with
a parent in the family home.
Your capital and investments, but not the value of the family home, are taken into
account. The first ?5,000 is not taken into account and any amount greater than that is assessed as follows:
Next ?10,000 ?1 for each ?1,000 Next ?25,000 ?2 for each ?1,000 Balance ?4 for each ?1,000
Applying for SWA
You should apply for SWA to the Community Welfare Officer (CWO) at your local
health centre as soon as the need arises.
You should bring along the following:
• Proof of identity such as passport and drivers licence
• Personal Public Service Numbers for yourself and your family
• Evidence of any income you are getting • A note from your local social welfare office and your last wages slip if you have just applied for Jobseeker’s Benefit/Assistance • Your rent book if you are applying for help with your rent
• A statement giving details of your mortgage interest payments if you are applying for
help with your mortgage interest
If your weekly income is below the SWA rate for your family size, a payment may be
made to bring your income up to the appropriate SWA rate. If you have claimed a social
welfare benefit or pension but it has not yet been paid and you have no other income, you
may qualify for weekly SWA while you are awaiting payment. Generally, if you are
subsequently awarded a social welfare payment, the amount you have received in weekly
SWA is deducted from the arrears of that payment.
The current weekly rates of SWA are:
Single person ?204.30
Qualified adult ?135.60
Qualified child ?26 for each child
Exceptional needs payments
Under the SWA scheme you may get a once-off payment to meet an exceptional or
unforeseen need. You have to show that you cannot meet this need from your basic
income. For example, the payments can be for special clothing for a person who has a
serious illness or for bedding or cooking utensils for someone setting up a home for the
first time. Other examples could include the costs of a funeral or of visiting relatives in
hospital or prison.
You may get help with the cost of your electricity or gas bill but only in exceptional
Urgent Needs Payment
You may get an Urgent Needs Payment even if you do not meet the general criteria to
qualify for SWA. This can happen, for example, in cases where your belongings have
been destroyed by fire or flood. There is no automatic entitlement to such a payment;
each case is assessed on its merits.
If you are paid an Urgent Needs Payment, you may have to pay back all or part of what
you have been paid if you are working or once an insurance claim is settled.
Local authority rent
If you are in local authority rented accommodation, you should immediately tell your local authority of any change in your circumstances and your differential rent may then be changed to reflect your new circumstances. You may arrange to have your local authority rent paid through the Household Budget Scheme – see page 7.
If you are living in private rented accommodation and your circumstances change you may become eligible for Rent Supplement under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) scheme.
The aim of the Rent Supplement scheme is to provide shortterm income support to people living in private rented accommodation who do not have enough income to meet their accommodation needs. In practice, Rent Supplement is frequently a long-term support. There were over 74,000 people receiving Rent Supplement at the end of 2008; of these, over 32,000 were receiving it for 18 months or more.
Since 2005, the government has been aiming to move people from Rent Supplement to the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS). This scheme gives local authorities responsibility for meeting the longer-term housing needs of people receiving Rent Supplement for 18 months or more. Since then, over 8,000 Rent Supplement recipients have been transferred to RAS units and a further 7,500 have transferred to other social housing options.
You may be eligible for Rent Supplement if you meet the general conditions for SWA payments and if you are:
• Assessed by the local authority as having a housing need or regarded by it as being
• A tenant of accommodation provided under one of the social housing schemes or
• Aged over 65 years or
• A recipient of certain disability payments (Disability Allowance, Blind Pension,
Invalidity Pension and the equivalent payments from other EU countries or countries that Ireland has a bilateral social security agreement with)
The accommodation for which you are claiming the supplement must be suitable for your needs and the rent must be below the maximum rent level set for your county or area.
If you do not fit into one of the four categories above, you are not eligible for Rent Supplement unless you are currently renting accommodation and have experienced a substantial change in circumstances beyond your control leading to you being unable to afford the rent, for example, you have become unemployed. You must have been able to afford the rent from your own resources when you started to rent and you should have
had a reasonable expectation that you would continue to be able to afford the rent into the
You may not qualify for Rent Supplement if you:
• Have refused a third offer of local authority accommodation in an 18-month period; in
this case, you are not eligible to claim Rent Supplement for 12 months
• Are leaving local authority housing without reasonable cause
• Are in full-time employment or your spouse is
If you are accepted as being in need of accommodation under the RAS and you have been
unemployed or not in full-time employment for at least 12 months you may be entitled to
retain Rent Supplement if you start work and satisfy a means test and conditions. You
may also be entitled to retain Rent Supplement if you have been participating in a
Community Employment Scheme, Area Allowance Enterprise Scheme, or getting Back
to Work Allowance immediately before you start work.
Amount of supplement
Rent Supplement is calculated to ensure that, after the payment of your rent, you have an
income that is not below the weekly rate of SWA appropriate to your family
circumstances, less ?18.
Means test for Rent Supplement
Virtually all income is taken into account when assessing your income for Rent
Supplement. The following are not:
• Child Benefit, including equivalent payments from other EU countries
• Earnings from employment as a home help • Mobility Allowance
• Guardian’s Payment
• Payments received from the HSE for foster children
• Payments for accommodating children under the Child Care Act
• Income from Gaeltacht students
• Domiciliary Care Allowance
• Grants or allowances arising in pursuance of a scheme promoting the welfare of blind people
• Money received from charitable organisations • Compensation awarded to certain sufferers from Hepatitis C, compensation paid to those who have disabilities caused by Thalidomide and redress awards from the
Residential Institutions Redress Board
• Higher education maintenance grants
• Respite Care Grant
The first ?95.23 of maintenance payment received each week is assessable in full. Any amount over this is included with additional household income under the Household
Income Disregard (see below). If your only additional income is maintenance, this means
that all of your maintenance payment up to ?95.23 a week is assessed in full but any
maintenance between ?95.23 and ?170.23 is not taken into account and 25% of all maintenance over ?170.23 is also not taken into account.
A certain amount of income may be disregarded in particular cases as follows:
Pensioners: there is a special income disregard for people aged 65 and over. This is any
additional income equal to the difference between the maximum rate of State
(Contributory) Pension and the rate of weekly SWA. The effect of this is that, if your
only income is a State (Contributory) Pension, then you must be left with the amount of
your pension less ?18.
Recipients of Carer’s Allowance: where one spouse is receiving Carer’s Allowance, the amount to be disregarded is the rate of Carer’s Allowance in payment less the rate of
SWA increase for a qualified adult.
In the case of a single person or a lone parent in receipt of Carer’s Allowance, the amount disregarded is the rate of Carer’s Allowance in payment less the personal rate of SWA.
Half-rate Carer’s Allowance is disregarded in full.
Earnings from rehabilitative employment: up to ?120 of earnings from rehabilitative employment can be disregarded. However, this disregard cannot be applied together with
the Household Income Disregard. The disregard that is most beneficial is applied.
Household Income Disregard: if you have income which is above the standard weekly
rate of SWA, the first ?75 of such additional income together with 25% of any additional
income above ?75 is disregarded.
Additional income includes income from part-time employment or self-employment
(under 30 hours a week), any employment or training scheme (for example, Community
Employment or FÁS course), Family Income Supplement and maintenance payments
over ?95.23 per week.
This disregard for additional income allows for Rent Supplement to be gradually
withdrawn as your earnings increase.
Mortgage Interest Supplement
You may be able to get help with paying your mortgage interest under the Supplementary
Welfare Allowance scheme. You do not get any help towards paying off the capital. The
aim of the Mortgage Interest Supplement is to provide shortterm income support for
people who are unable to meet their mortgage interest repayments in respect of a house
which is their only residence.
You may be entitled to Mortgage Interest Supplement if you meet the general conditions
for getting SWA payments and
• The mortgage was entered into at a time when, in the opinion of the HSE, you were in a
position to meet the repayments and
• The residence to which the mortgage applies is not offered for sale and
• The mortgage interest payable is not greater that the amount which the HSE considers
reasonable to meet your residential needs
In exceptional circumstances, a supplement may be awarded where the mortgage interest
is greater than that considered to be reasonable by the HSE but such a supplement is
payable for a maximum of 12 months.
The means test and the amount of the supplement is assessed in the same way as Rent
Supplement. It is calculated in order to ensure that, after you have paid the mortgage
interest, you have means that are not below the current rate of SWA less ?18.
When you apply for a Mortgage Interest Supplement, the Community Welfare Officer
may examine the original loan application, supporting documentation and records of
repayments in order to assess whether or not you had the capacity to meet the repayments
at the time you took out the loan.
There are currently over 8,500 people receiving Mortgage Interest Supplement – this is
more than double the numbers at the end of 2007.
If two or more people have a joint mortgage on a property, each of them has a
responsibility to repay the mortgage. So, even if one of them is not living in the house, he
or she is still liable for his/her part of the mortgage repayments. In such cases, the person
living in the house may qualify for Mortgage Interest Supplement only in respect of his
or her share of the house. So, in the case of a separated couple, the person living in the
house may qualify for half of the usual supplement. The Community Welfare Officer
may grant the full amount if the person living in the house is in the process of taking over
the full mortgage.
If you have a mortgage and you are having difficulty meeting the repayments, you may
be able to re-negotiate the repayment arrangements with your mortgage provider – we
will look at this in more detail in next month’s issue.