Social Welfare for Professional Visual Artists

updated Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Visual Artists’ Access to Jobseeker’s Allowance – Social Welfare

On Monday, 12th June 2017 a new pilot initiative which acknowledges the professional status of visual artists and writers applying for Jobseeker’s Allowance was launched as a pilot scheme. After a period of review, the pilot scheme has now been made a permanent feature of Social Welfare. The scheme is developed in partnership between the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, as part of a key commitment to artists under the Creative Ireland programme.

Visual Artists Ireland and The Irish Writers Centre assisted in providing expert knowledge for the scheme and were invited to facilitate the one-year pilot scheme. Both organisations are approved to certify the professional status of visual artists and writers through their respective professional membership schemes.

In September 2019 the pilot was established as a permanent scheme and is now open for applications from a wide range of professional artists including actors, dancers, street performers and musicians. The full list of professional art forms covered by the scheme along with the certifying organisations can be found at the following link Professional Disciplines and Certifying Organisations.

The Practical Details of the Scheme:

  • Contents:
  • Outline
  • Means Test & Self Employment
  • Types of Work
  • Activation (inc. Job Path)
  • Moving onto Pilot Scheme from another Claim
  • What the Scheme Is
  • VAI Membership
  • Artist Tax Exemption
  • Useful Links

If you are unemployed or experiencing periods of very low income, you may be paid either Jobseeker’s Allowance (JA) or Jobseeker’s Benefit (JB). Both payments are paid by the Department of Social Protection (DSP). Jobseekers Benefit offers entitlements to those who have PAYE income and have credits that can be drawn upon. Jobseekers Allowance is based on means testing.
Under this new scheme, the criteria for Jobseekers Allowance remains the same, but professional visual artists who are self-employed will be able to have as their primary profession – Visual Artist. This has not been recognised in the past and has been difficult to access for artists who are registered as self-employed. The new system now makes this easier and artists will no longer have to hide their primary profession so as to access supports.

To access the Department of Social Protection pilot scheme an artist must:
➢ Be registered as self employed
➢ Satisfy a means test with 50% earnings from work as an artist
➢ Be a professional member of VAI

Updated: September 2019: You will need to be able to give evidence that you are a professional visual artist. An up to date VAI Professional Level Membership Card AND a Stamped Certificate of Membership of VAI is the accepted way to prove that a person is a professional visual artist. The reason the VAI Professional Membership Card is accepted is because DSP have recognised that artists must give evidence of meeting professional status criteria when applying to VAI, and will accept membership of the representative body for visual artists in Ireland as proof, rather than the social welfare staff making that assessment. Front line officials for Social Welfare are not in a position to assess if an applicant is a professional artist or not and will err on the side of caution. This is the reason that they have decided to use the VAI card as valid proof. The requirement for the Certificate came into being in September 2019. New professional members and professional members renewing their membership will automatically receive their certificate when they receive their membership card. Existing Professional Members who wish to have a certificate before their renewal is due can contact VAI who will send it out in the post.  Only original certificates with the embossed stamp are accepted by Social Welfare. It is therefore important that members treat and hold this document carefully.

Please note: it may take up to 2 weeks to receive your certificate in the post.

Artists must be registered with Revenue as self-employed to avail of this scheme. If you are registered as self employed you are also eligible for Artist Tax Exemption.

Means Test and Self-Employment
Jobseeker’s Allowance is means tested and your means must be below a certain level to qualify. When being assessed for the pilot scheme for artists you will be means tested as self-employed individuals. To find your total means, your means under the various headings (for example, cash income, employment, capital, benefit and privilege) are added together. Most social welfare payments are not taken into account.

Total earnings are assessed as gross income less work-related expenses over 12 months. There is no exhaustive list of all expenses allowed because expenses vary with the nature and extent of the self-employment.

However the following are the main allowable expenses in most cases:
➢ Materials (supplies costs)
➢ Motor running costs (portion applicable to practice)
➢ Insurance relating to the practice
➢ Telephone (portion applicable to practice)
➢ Bank charges
➢ Any other costs associated practice

Your expected annual earnings from self-employment is divided by 52 to find your weekly means from self-employment. For the pilot scheme, 50% or more of an artists’ earnings must be from their work as a professional visual artist.

Updated September 2019: This includes income from all forms of work that a professional visual artist undertakes, for example: Sales of Artworks; Sales of Artistic Editions; Artists Fees on Commissioned Works; Artists Fees on Exhibitions; Artists Fees on Education & Outreach Programmes; Visual Arts Consultancy; Artists Fees for Selection Panels; Artists Fees for Artistic Advisory Panels; Artist Technical & Installation Support; Art Awards & Prizes; Artist residencies; Artist Short List Development Fees; Exhibition Invigilation; Street Art; Visual Artist Fees on Design Consultations (eg paid development phase of art commission); Artist as Curator Fees; Art Consultant; Art Teaching as part of on-going learning, or ad hoc non-PAYE services; Art Therapy; Visual Arts documentation (photography, writing) and archiving; Art Writing; Licensing of Artistic Works; Artists Resale Right Income; Artists as Mentors; Artist Studio Assistance.

For more details on means testing visit Citizens Information:
➢ Means Testing:
➢ Self-Employment:

Types of Work

Like all Jobseekers, artists must be available for work and actively seeking work. You must also be genuinely seeking work to qualify for Jobseeker’s Allowance – and you must be able to show evidence of this to the Department of Social Protection. This new scheme now allows visual artists to include as evidence the following activities that form the everyday life of a visual artist: applications for exhibitions, funding, curator visits, education and outreach opportunities and any other examples you have of actively pursing opportunities related to your practice that could potentially generate income. This being available for work now takes into allowance the range of work that visual artists undertake.

Arts Council policy states that all of their funded organisations must pay artists, this income qualifies as being paid for work. We have to also understand that some artists volunteer. It is clear that such voluntary work may become difficult if it is placed before Social Welfare as a block to being available for work. There is no easy answer here and it will depend on each individual’s interaction with Social Welfare to understand how and what volunteering can be done.

Examples of work that is counted:

• Sales of Artworks
• Sale of Books
• Royalties
• Bursaries and grant arising from status as an artist
• Book readings
• Appearance fees
• Lecture fees
• Sales of Artistic Editions
• Artist Fee on Commissioned Works
• Artist Fee on Exhibitions
• Artist Fee on Education & Outreach Programme
• Artistic Consultancy
• Artist Fee for Selection Panels
• Artists Fee for Artistic Advisory Panels
• Artistic Technical & Installation Support
• Art Awards & Prizes
• Artistic residencies
• Artist Fee on Design Consultants

Activation (including Job Path)
Activation will not be expected in the first 12 months. this means that visual artists will not be required to attend training courses in other occupations during that period. VAI is continuing our conversations so that we can have them consider changes to the activation period that begins after 12 months so that it is more relevant to visual artists. We would like that visual artists who are actively seeking work and also undertaking professional on-going learning to enhance their income opportunities can be taken into consideration if it comes to the activation process.

Moving onto Pilot Scheme from other Social Welfare Payments
You may get Jobseeker’s Allowance if you don’t qualify for Jobseeker’s Benefit or if you have used up your entitlement to Jobseeker’s Benefit.
Citizens Information have stated that individuals can move from an existing Jobseekers Allowance claim to the pilot scheme if they meet the eligibility criteria. They will need to be means tested as a self employed individual.

For any questions on your personal situation and moving from a different claim to the pilot scheme contact Citizens Information in your local office or on their call their nationwide service that can be reached on 0761 07 4000, Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm.

So, finally, what the scheme is:

  • This recognises visual artists as professionals who may go through periods of low income;
  • The scheme is for artists, registered self-employed, with accounts for the previous 12 months;
  • This scheme is designed to support artists during times when their incomes are low and to provide support to develop income opportunities.
  • It is designed for visual artists who have no other means of approaching Social Welfare, ie Credits etc.

What this scheme is not:

  • This scheme is not a replacement for disability allowances, carer’s allowance, or other specialist social welfare supports.
  • This scheme is not a state pension.
  • This scheme is not a replacement for gaining visual arts specific supports from funding bodies.
  • In keeping with other forms of Job Seekers Allowance, the scheme should not be seen as a long-term benefit. However, artists may come off the scheme during times when income exceeds the Job Seekers threshold and re-enter the scheme during times when income remains low;
  • The scheme is not a form of Basic Income.

VAI Membership

VAI members who are registered as Professional Level can use their card as a form of proof of their status.

We deliver a lot of our services for free, but with membership you will find that there are additional supports that we offer.  As well as contributing to the development of our services for individual professional artists, you will also be contributing to the on-going work that we undertake on the behalf of artists.

Annual Professional and Associate Membership Fee:

  • €25 Concession Rate for Unwaged/ Student / OAP
  • €50 with secondary income to support their practice

Read about Membership benefits including discounts, VAN, equipment hire, workshops and more HERE.

In order to qualify for Professional Membership you need to meet 3 of the following 7 criteria.

  • Degree or Diploma from a recognised third level college in Fine Art or an Associated Visual Arts Discipline.
  • One-person visual arts show(s) (including time based events) in a publically funded (Arts Council, Local Authority, Government funded) visual arts space. Non-visual arts spaces do not qualify unless the exhibition is part of an acknowledged visual arts programme.
  • Your visual arts practice had caused your participation in a visual art’s exhibition/event which was selected by a jury in which professional artists or recognised curators participated.
  • Your visual art work has been purchased by Government, local authority, museum or corporate client for inclusion in a recognised collection.
  • Your visual art work has been commissioned by Government, local authority, museum or corporate client for inclusion in a recognised collection.
  • You have been awarded a bursary, residency, materials grant or otherwise grant aided by the Arts Council/Arts Council of Northern Ireland or other funding body based on your visual arts practice..
  • Have been awarded tax-exempt status by the Revenue Commissioners, or are on schedule D as a self-employed artist in Northern Ireland.

For more information and to join/renew click HERE.

Artist Tax Exemption
In order to get Artist Tax Exempt status – to be exempt from paying Income Tax on creative income up to a threshold of 50,000 Euro, you will need to be registered as self-employed. Once you become self-employed you fall within the provisions of self-assessment for tax purposes. This means that you are personally responsible for ensuring that your tax affairs are kept up to date. From a financial view point the primary advantage of being self-employed is that you are given greater flexibility in the expenses you can claim for tax purposes.

To apply for Artists Exemption, you should submit a claim form to the Revenue Commissioners, together with samples of your work and any supporting documentation that you consider appropriate. You will not be able to make a joint application for this exemption.

You will need the following samples and supporting documents for the following categories:

• Books or other writing – 1 published copy of the book
• Plays – a copy of the play, together with a production contract
• Musical compositions – CDs or cassettes
• Paintings or other similar pictures- 8/10 photographs or slides, invoices and your CV, if available
• Sculptures – 8/10 photographs or slides, invoices and your CV, if available.

Revenue Application Form can be downloaded online: and

There is an annual cap on Artist Exemption of €50,000. Any artist exempt profits above this threshold are taxed as normal. If you are under this threshold of 50,000 but earning higher than usual it will affect your USC and PRSI.

Useful Links

Information on the scheme on

More info on Jobseekers Allowance from Citizens Information here:

Tax & Self Employment for Artists

VAI Membership

Department of Social Protection:

Creative Ireland:

Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs:

VAI Artist Payment Guideline Calculator

VAI Help-Desk: , 01 6729488

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