VTOS is a program designed to help the long-term unemployed return to full time education without losing their social welfare benefits. VTOS will help the participants make the transition back into paid employment or back to further education eventually leading to paid employment.
If you are over 21 years of age, unemployed and have been getting certain social welfare payments for at least 6 months you can apply for the Vocational Training and Opportunities Scheme (VTOS). The VTOS scheme provides a range of courses to meet the education and training needs of unemployed people. It gives participants opportunities to improve their general level of education, gain certification, develop their skills and prepare for employment, self-employment and further education and training. VTOS is operated through local Education and Training Boards and is aimed in particular at unemployed people who are early school-leavers.
Education and Training Boards
Since 1 July 2013, Education and Training Boards (ETBs) replaced Vocational Educational Committees (VECs). All services provided by VECs will continue to be provided by ETBs.
What kinds of courses are available?
The courses range from basic education and training to advanced vocational training and there is a wide choice of subjects. The courses are full-time, about 30 hours a week (for example, 6 hours a day for 5 days) and can last up to 2 years. Many courses lead to qualifications such as the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate and awards at Levels 3, 4, 5 and 6 on the National Framework of Qualifications. You can find a list of VTOS courses on the Qualifax website.
You may qualify for the VTOS scheme if you are aged 21 years or over and you are:
- Getting, Jobseeker’s Benefit or Jobseeker’s Allowance or signing for credits for at least 6 months or
- Getting One-Parent Family Payment, Disability Allowance, Illness Benefit* or Invalidity Pension for at least 6 months or
- Getting Blind Pension, Deserted Wife’s Allowance/Benefit, Widow’s, Widower’s or Surviving Civil Partner’s Contributory Pension, Widow’s, Widower’s or Surviving Civil Partner’s Non-Contributory Pension or Prisoner’s Wife’s Allowance for at least 6 months (conditions may apply in the case of these payments) or
- A dependent spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of an eligible person
- A person who received statutory redundancy but who has not been in receipt of a qualifying payment for the required period.
* If you are claiming Illness Benefit, you should contact your local social welfare office about exemption/entitlement to continuation of your Illness Benefit payment.
If you started VTOS before January 2013 and you are getting Jobseeker’s Allowance or Jobseeker’s Benefit, you will get a training allowance at a rate equivalent to the maximum rate of Jobseeker’s Benefit instead of your jobseeker’s payment.
From January 2013, VTOS participants who move from jobseeker’s payments will no longer have their new payments increased to the maximum €188 per week, in cases where their jobseeker’s payment is less than this. However, people under 25 will continue to receive a top-up rate of up to €160 per week (any means you have will be deducted from this rate). This will apply to new participants only.
Since January 2014, VTOS participants under 26 who move from an age-related reduced rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance will get a top-up rate of €160 per week – this will apply to new participants only.
Generally, your entitlement to a VTOS training allowance will not be reassessed if there is a change to your circumstances (including means).
VTOS training allowance and work: If you are returning to your course for a second year, you will continue to get your VTOS allowance during the summer months. You can also take up full-time work during the summer months and your VTOS payment is not affected.
VTOS training allowance and dependants: If you want a dependant adult or child added to your payment you must notify the Department of Social Protection (DSP). DSP will then notify the ETB of any changes to your VTOS training allowance.
Other social welfare payments
If you are getting one of the other eligible social welfare payments you will continue to get your payment in the normal way. You must continue to meet the conditions of your payment. If you are on a reduced means-tested payment it will be increased to the maximum amount for your situation while you are participating on VTOS. You will also continue to get your social welfare secondary benefits.
Since 2010, people on PLC courses who are getting VTOS allowances are no longer eligible for student support grants. However, this does not affect any entitlement they may have to exemption from college fees or student contributions.
There are no fees for VTOS courses and you will get free books and materials at the start of the course. Depending on your individual circumstances you may be eligible for the following:
- Meal allowance
- Travel allowance
- Free childcare place for your child under the Childcare Employment and Training Support (CETS) scheme,
- A training bonus payment, if you have been getting an eligible social welfare payment for at least 12 months before starting the VTOS scheme. It was announced in Budget 2014, from 1 January 2014, the €20 bonus payment to long-term unemployed VTOS participants will end. This only applies to new participants.
More detailed information about the rates of payment for VTOS participants is on the Department of Social Protection website.
VTOS training allowances are not taxable.
How to apply
You can participate in the VTOS scheme in one of the following ways; you can be either:
- A core VTOS student attending a VTOS centre or adult education centre or
- A dispersed VTOS student, usually attending a Post-Leaving Certificate course in a further education college.
There is a list of frequently asked questions about VTOS on the Qualifax website.
Contact the VTOS co-ordinator at your local VTOS centre to find out more about the VTOS courses available.