How does the Social Welfare System in Ireland work?

Social welfare is an important part of a functional society, no matter how small. But who is responsible for the social welfare system in Ireland and who is eligible for social welfare payments?

Social welfare schemes are organised public or private social services to assist disadvantaged groups of people, for example, single parents or the unemployed. The social welfare system in Ireland is mainly divided into three major types of payment: social insurance payments, means-tested payments and universal payments. Each payment scheme has a specific set of rules that need to be followed to get that payment. There are also specific personal circumstances you must satisfy. For all social welfare payments you must be ordinarily resident in Ireland.

Social insurance payments

Most people (over 16 and under 66 years) pay social insurance contributions (Pay-related Social Insurance, PRSI) into the national Social Insurance Fund. The amount you pay depends on your income and the type of work you do. In general, the payment is compulsory. If you have paid social insurance at some point in your life, you are entitled to a number of benefits. The range of these benefits depends on a number of different conditions as well as the social insurance contribution requirement. Payments based on your social insurance contributions include Jobseeker’s Benefit, Illness Benefit, Maternity Benefit, Invalidity Pension, Carer’s Benefit and State Pension. Generally, the following will be examined when you apply for a social insurance payment:

  • what class(es) of social insurance you have paid
  • at what age did you start making social insurance contributions (applies for state pensions)
  • the number of contributions paid and/or credited in the relevant tax year before the benefit year in which you make a claim
  • the yearly average number of contributions (for some pensions)

Means-tested payments

Means-tested payments are designed for people who have not made enough PRSI contributions to qualify for social insurance payments. For example, a person becomes unemployed and applies for Jobseeker’s Benefit but fails to qualify because they do not have enough social insurance contributions. Then they can apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance instead, which would be the means-tested equivalent to Jobseeker’s Benefit. In Ireland, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) is responsible for the means test. The department examines all your sources of income to see whether they fall below a certain level. This level can vary from payment to payment. In some instances, you are allowed a certain amount of income or savings before your payment is affected.

Universal payments

As their name suggests, universal payments are paid regardless of a person’s income or social insurance contribution. They are paid when the person claiming the universal payment satisfies specific personal conditions. An example for universal payment would be Child Benefit. The person claiming the payment must simply have a child dependant living with them as defined by the social welfare legislation.


The rules regarding social welfare payments are set out in legislation and/or administrative guidelines. Most of these detailed guidelines are available at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Normally, decisions regarding who is eligible for social welfare payment and who is not are made by so-called Deciding Officers. They are social welfare officials appointed under the social welfare legislation.

Penalties for fraud

False or misleading statements made to obtain a social welfare payment for you or for any other person may result in large fines or prison for up to three years. You can report possible cases of fraud to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

Payment rates and dependants

Social welfare payments can be divided into payments for the claimant (the person claiming the payment) and payments for any adult and child dependants, like their spouse/partner or children. The DEASP publishes a booklet every year that details the amount of money payable for each scheme and the amount that will be given to dependants of the claimant.

How to apply for social welfare payments 

If you want to apply for a social welfare payment, you should contact the closest Intreo Centre or Social Welfare Branch Office for an application form and any further information you may need. When you apply for a payment, you will be asked to supply or register for a Public Services Card. You may also be asked for your Personal Public Service number (PPSN).

Jacqueline Russe
Jacqueline Russe

Jacqueline is a German journalist and editor for Babylon Radio who likes comics, manga and video games. She is a state-certified translator for both English and German, currently working on her Bachelor's in Technical Translation.

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