Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014-2020

The European Social Fund (ESF) Programme 2014-2020 in Northern Ireland (NI) operated from 2014 until 2023. The strategic aim of the ESF Programme was to combat poverty and enhance social inclusion by reducing economic inactivity and to increase the skills base of those currently in work and future potential participants in the workforce.

European Social Fund Northern Ireland logo
European Social Fund Northern Ireland logo

ESF participants' video

This video features interviews with people who have been on programmes funded by ESF.

(Subtitles are available in the playbar)

ESF Programme priorities

The aim of the ESF Programme was realised through the implementation of four investment priorities:

Priority 1: Access to Employment - promoting sustainable and quality employment and supporting labour mobility

Projects supporting unemployed including long term unemployed participants to access employment and supporting economically inactive participants to access employment, education and training.

Projects supporting young people aged 16-24 not in employment, education or training to integrate into the labour market.

Priority 2: Social Inclusion - promoting social inclusion and combating poverty and any discrimination

Projects supporting people with a disability to access employment, education and training.

Projects supporting participants not in employment, education or training aged 16 and over within families receiving community family support to access employment, education and training.

Priority 3: Skills for Growth - investing in education, training and vocational training for skills and life-long learning

The ApprenticeshipsNI programme aims to provide apprentices with the knowledge, understanding, and competence to work at a high level in their chosen occupation; offer quality training to fulfil the requirements of an appropriate apprenticeship framework; contribute to raising the skills level of the NI workforce; provide opportunities for progression to further and higher education and training; support the direct involvement of employers in training key personnel.

A Higher Level Apprenticeship offers people, who have A levels or equivalent, the opportunity to gain quality training and a recognised higher qualification while in paid employment.

Further information on Priority 3 provision can be found at:

Priority 4: Technical Assistance - the Technical Assistance (TA) allocation for the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014 – 2020 was €7.7m

The TA Budget was determined on the basis of experience gained by DfE (formerly DEL) in managing and implementing the 2007 - 2013 ESF programme and also an analysis of the support required to efficiently and effectively implement the 2014 - 2020 Programme. The TA budget was allocated to the relevant bodies to cover costs associated with Programme administration ie staffing, audit and verification, communications, mandatory training costs and to the development and maintenance of the Programme website.

Call 3 Operating Manual

The Call 3 Operating Manual was produced by the Northern Ireland ESF Managing Authority, and was intended as a general reference guide for the implementation of the Programme. Further guidance was provided through the ESF Information Memos: 

Call 3 Projects

65 projects were operational under Call 3. Lists of these projects by constituency and council area are available:

Call 3 Promoter Guidance on Participant Eligibility, Data Collection and Validation

These documents were produced by the Northern Ireland ESF Project Delivery Branch to provide guidance to Projects on claims, data collection and validation of participant eligibility and performance.

Project documents

Documents used by ESF Projects to provide information and returns relating to ESF monthly claims are available at:

Unique Learner Number (ULN)

The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) has produced an ULN Guidance Manual for Voluntary and Community organisations, which contains advice and guidance on dealing with some of the technical issues on the allocation of ULNs and making examinations entries. 

Information on the projects funded by the NI ESF Programme 2014 – 2020 can be found at:

European Social Fund (ESF) Operational Programme 2014-2020

This is the Operational Programme document for the NI European Social Fund (ESF) Programme 2014 – 2020:

Managing Authority Operating Manual – for Priorities 1,2,3 & 4

The Operating Manual was produced by the European Social Fund (ESF) Managing Authority as a general reference guide for the implementation of the programme.

Background to Call 3

Call 3 Application for Funding competition

On 19 May 2021 the Minister for the Economy, Diane Dodds MLA, announced a third call under Priorities 1 and 2 of the 2014-2020 NI ESF Programme.

Third call for funding

A third call for funding by way of a competitive grant process to support Priority Axes 1 and 2 opened for a four week period on 14 June 2021. The Call 3 application process closed to applications at 12 noon on 9 July 2021. 

Call 3 stakeholder event presentation slides

This presentation was delivered at a stakeholder information event on 8 June 2021 ahead of the launch of the third call for applications for the NI ESF Programme 2014 - 2020, Priorities 1 and 2.

Call 3 frequently asked questions

Applicants had the opportunity to seek clarification in relation to the application process where they considered any part of the documentation or any other aspect of the process unclear.

To ensure all applicants received the same information, clarification requests were not responded to on an individual basis. Clarification requests were answered by way of a published Call 3 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page located on the department’s website at ESF Call 3 - frequently asked questions. The Call 3 FAQ page was regularly reviewed and updated by the Call 3 Team during the application process.

Published clarifications formed part of the application guidance and were to be treated as such by all applicants. It was the responsibility of applicants to review this document at regular intervals and before the submission of their application to check for updated information.

European Commission publicity requirements

All projects awarded funding from the NI European Social Fund Programme 2014-2020 were required to acknowledge the funding received in communication and publicity materials. The requirements are outlined in the document below.

ESF Evaluation Plan 

Annual Implementation Reports 

Joint Qualifications in Vocational Education and Training (VET)

A new call on Joint Qualifications on Vocational Education and Training closed for applications on 31 January 2018.  More details at:

European Social Fund Case Studies

Contact details

Useful links



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