Applying for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs)
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Disability Rights UK Factsheet F18
- Who can get DSAs?
- Which courses are designated for DSAs?
- What are the four allowances?
- How much DSA can I get?
- How do I apply?
- Further questions
- Administration of DSAs
- Other funding
- Further information
If you have a disability or specific learning difficulty and are studying in higher education, you may be eligible for Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs). These allowances cover extra disability-related costs or expenses you have while studying which are over and above those provided as reasonable adjustments by the college or university.
There are four allowances to cover different areas of need.
- Specialist equipment allowance
- Non-medical helper’s allowance
- General and other expenditure allowance
- Travel costs.
DSAs are not paid in set amounts because they depend on what you need. Payments cover the cost of specific items of equipment, specific support worker costs, and so on. Apart from travel, there are maximum amounts for each allowance.
DSAs are not intended to pay for disability-related costs that you would have whether you were a student or not, such as personal care support or study costs that every student might have.
Depending on where you currently live, you should apply to one of the following agencies for your DSAs:
- In England apply to Student Finance England. You can apply at the same time as making your online UCAS application. For NHS-funded courses, you need to apply to NHS Student Bursaries for your DSAs.
- In Wales apply to Student Finance Wales. For NHS funded courses apply to NHS Wales Student Awards Unit. In Scotland apply to the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) for any course.
- In Northern Ireland apply to your regional Education Authority. For NHS-funded courses contact the Bursary Administration Unit.
DSAs are available to students on designated higher education courses who are ordinarily resident in the UK.
Are DSAs means tested?
No. Eligibility for DSAs does not depend on your income or the income of your family.
What if I have studied before?
You can qualify for DSAs even if you have already taken a course of higher education. There are no ‘previous study’ restrictions. However, the amount you get may depend on what you received before. For example, you may already have equipment from a previous DSA allowance.
I am being seconded (my employer is sending me on the course instead of my usual job). Am I eligible for DSAs? If you have been seconded by your employer for your study, you can apply for DSAs from your awarding authority.
Are DSAs available to international students?
DSAs are only available to students who are ordinarily resident in the UK. If you’re ordinarily resident in another country then you will not qualify for DSAs. This applies even if you’re a European Union (EU) resident and can get help with your tuition fees.
You can apply for DSAs if you attend a publicly-funded full-time or part-time higher education course in the UK. This includes:
- a first or Bachelor’s degree
- an undergraduate Master’s degree
- a Higher National Diploma (HND) or Higher National Certificate (HNC)
- a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ 4 or 5) linked with a degree
- a Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE)
- most foundation degrees
DSAs are also available for sandwich courses, but you will not be eligible for them when you’re on a full-year paid placement.
Nursing, midwifery and other professions allied to medicine These study programmes are funded by the National Health Service (NHS). Most degree and diploma students qualify for a bursary, for which you need to apply to the appropriate NHS awarding body. DSAs are available as part of your bursary which you apply for through your university or training institution. The university will provide the NHS awarding body with confirmation of your place on the course. You will then get a bursary application pack, including details of how to apply for DSAs.
To apply for DSAs, you must also send in evidence of your impairment. The NHS advises students to let the university know about their disability as soon as possible so that they can make sure appropriate support is in place.
If you have been seconded by your employer to do an NHS-funded course, you won’t get DSAs from the NHS. This is because you’re not eligible for the bursary they’re connected to. You should instead contact your awarding authority to apply for DSAs and explain that you’re a seconded student.
Part-time students are eligible for DSAs as long as it is a designated course and they are studying at least 25% of the full-time equivalent.
Postgraduate study includes research and taught Masters’, doctorates, postgraduate diplomas and certificates. Most postgraduate DSAs are different to undergraduate DSAs as there is just one allowance to cover all costs. However in Scotland postgraduate DSAs are set at the same rate as for undergraduates. DSA amounts also vary for research council funding and for certain programmes like teaching (see below).
As with undergraduates, part-time students must not exceed twice the time period normally needed to complete full-time study for the course.
If you’re from Northern Ireland and get a studentship or bursary from the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), you may be eligible for DSAs from the department. You’re also eligible for DSAs if you get a discretionary award from your regional Education Authority for postgraduate study.
If you get a research council award, such as a studentship, you’re eligible for the DSAs administered by your research council. They usually award DSAs in the same way as the undergraduate scheme, and their DSA rates are similar.
If you’re undertaking a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), you’re eligible for the undergraduate student support package including the undergraduate DSA rates.
For postgraduate social work courses, if you get a bursary from the NHS Business Services Authority, Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) or the Care Council for Wales (CCW), you can apply for DSAs connected to that bursary.
If you’re doing a Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) you qualify for DSA support. If you’re studying either of these at a private institution, you may still be able to apply for DSAs. Student Finance England or Student Finance Wales can tell you if the university you’re attending is designated for DSA support.
Open or distance learning courses
DSAs are available to part-time students doing open or distance learning. You will be eligible for DSAs as long as it is a designated course and you’re studying at least 25% of the full-time equivalent. If you’re studying with the Open University (OU), you should apply directly to the OU for DSA support, unless you live in Scotland when you should still apply to SAAS. You can get more information at www.open.ac.uk/dsa.
HE courses funded by the European Social Fund (ESF)
Students who get ESF payments qualify for DSAs and you should apply to your awarding authority for disability support.
Specialist equipment allowance
This allowance is for items of specialist equipment you need to take part in your study programme and benefit fully from it. You may need:
- a computer
- specialist software, such as voice recognition, mind mapping or screen reading software
- digital recorders
- specialist furniture, such as a chair, table or back support
- repairs, insurance or extended warranty for the equipment
- training in the use of specialist equipment.
In England you have to pay £200 towards the cost of a new computer if you need one to run any recommended assistive software. If you apply for DSAs for a new course starting on or after 1 September 2016, the allowance will not be available to pay for standard computer peripherals (e.g. speakers, headphones, USB drives or cables, keyboards, standard size monitors or mice) unless they’re part of a recommendation for a desktop computer. Exceptions may be considered on a case-by-case basis. Funding for printers and scanners will be available but only in exceptional cases, for example if there are barriers to you accessing the college or universities printing facilities.
Any equipment bought with the allowance belongs to you. You don’t have to return it when you finish your course. Normally the awarding authority orders and pays for the equipment on your behalf and delivers it to you. Any repairs or warranty costs you have should also be met by the DSA. If you want a higher specification computer than the one recommended by your assessor, you may be allowed to pay the additional cost yourself, as long as it is compatible with any specialist software you need. DSA payments to equipment suppliers can be made before the term starts to give you time to get used to using new equipment.
If your equipment needs change during your course, you can make additional claims, as long as you stay within the maximum amount. Towards the end of your studies, your awarding authority is likely to be cautious about buying big items of equipment. They may ask you to consider alternative arrangements, such as leasing equipment or using human support instead.
Non-medical helper’s allowance
This allowance is for any personal assistance you need to benefit fully from your course. As payments are usually for helpers’ wages or costs, they’re generally made in regular instalments, such as once a semester. You may have to keep time sheets and pay records. This allowance is not intended to pay for the non-medical helper’s personal expenses such as their accommodation.
Study support includes:
- sighted guides
- electronic notetakers
- specialist mentors
- mobility trainers
- communication support workers
- british sign language interpreters
- assistive technology trainers
- language support tutor for deaf students
Specialist tuition: If you need specialist one-to-one study skill support specifically related to your disability, for example study skills support for dyslexic students, you may be able to claim the costs from this allowance. This support addresses issues in acquiring, recalling, and retaining information as well as memory, organisational, attention and numeracy difficulties. The awarding authority may want confirmation that the help you get is not additional tuition in your academic subject or study support that any student may need whether they’re disabled or not.
Care and daily living needs: DSAs don’t pay for the costs of help that you would need whether you’re a student or not. If you need personal assistance on a daily basis, for example, getting dressed, you should be able to get help through your local social services or social work department.
If you already have a care package, you’re allowed to take it with you, including if you go away to university outside of your local area.
General and other expenditure allowance
This allowance is intended to cover any additional costs not covered by the other allowances, for example, essential non-core books, small fridges for students needing to store medication or photocopying. It can also be used to 'top up' the specialist equipment and non-medical helper's allowances.
In England if you apply for DSAs for a new course starting on or after 1 September 2016 and you need specialist accommodation, for example with en-suite facilities, the extra costs can be covered by the general allowance. However if the accommodation is managed by your college or university or one of its agents, it will be their responsibility to fund this. Exceptions may be considered on a case-by-case basis.
This allowance is intended to cover extra disability-related travel costs. It is calculated as the difference between public transport costs and the type of transport you need because of your disability. For example you may be able to claim the difference between bus or train fares compared to using a taxi or private car to travel to and from university. The cost of a journey by car is calculated as by using the mid-point range of AA motoring costs.
There is no maximum limit to the travel allowance.
In Scotland there are no DSAs for travel. However, you may be able to claim extra disability-related travel costs from the Students Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS). You should write to SAAS to make a claim, preferably at the same time as you send in your application for the DSAs. You must send SAAS proof of your disability (if you have not already done so) and give details of the additional costs. SAAS may also consider making a 50% advance payment of normal travel costs in certain circumstances.
The maximum DSA amounts you can get depend on your study programme and your individual needs.
Full-time undergraduate study
Maximum amounts for 2016/2017
- Specialist equipment allowance: up to £5,212 for the whole of your course
- Non-medical helper’s allowance: up to £20,725 per year of your study.
- Other expenditure allowance: up to £1,741 per year of your study.
- Travel: extra travel costs you have to pay because of your disability and not normally for everyday travel cost. No maximum limit.
Part-time undergraduate study
Maximum amounts for 2016/2017
- Specialist equipment allowance: up to £5,212 for the whole of your course
- Non-medical helper’s allowance: up to £15,543 per year. It is awarded pro-rata, for example, if the course is 50% of the full-time equivalent, the maximum DSA is £10,362.
- Other expenditure allowance: up to £1,305 per year. It is awarded pro-rata, for example, if the course is 50% of the full-time equivalent, the maximum DSA is £870.
- Travel: extra travel costs you have to pay because of disability and not normally for everyday travel cost. No maximum limit.
In England and Wales, students on part-time Initial Teacher Training courses qualify for the full student loan and the other support normally available to full-time students.
- In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the maximum amount for 2016/2017 is £10,362 per year. This covers all components.
- In Scotland, DSAs are available at the undergraduate rates.
- PGCE and other ITT courses are eligible for DSAs at the undergraduate rates.
- Most research council funded study includes DSAs at the undergraduate rates.
Open and distance learning
- The maximum amounts are the same as for part-time undergraduate students.
Disabled students with high support costs, for example, hearing or visually impaired students, may find that DSAs are not enough to cover all their support needs. Under the Equality Act, universities have a legal duty to support students who need extra services and support. The university disability co-ordinator will be able to help you, although they might not be able to meet the full cost. You may have to apply for additional funding from other sources, such as charitable trusts. Disability Rights UK’s information booklet Funding from charitable trusts lists some places you can apply to for extra funding.
Where to apply
Depending on where you currently live, you should apply to one of the following agencies for DSAs:
- In England apply to Student Finance England. You can apply at the same time as making your online UCAS application. For NHS-funded courses, you need to apply to NHS Student Bursaries for your DSAs.
- In Wales apply to Student Finance Wales, or NHS Wales Student Awards Unit for NHS funded courses.
- In Scotland apply to the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) for any course.
- In Northern Ireland apply to Student Finance England or your regional Education Authority. For NHS-funded courses contact the Bursary Administration Unit.
This does not apply to NHS-seconded students, who should check with their awarding authority if they’re eligible for this support.
See the Further Information section of this booklet for details on how to contact awarding authorities and bodies.
For postgraduate study:
- an awarding authority (depending on your course)
- Research council (if you get bursary funding from them)
See Disability Rights UK’s information Factsheet F52 - postgraduate education for disabled students for further information and the contact details of postgraduate study awarding bodies, such as research councils.
How to apply
Once you have decided to apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances, there are several steps before you receive your equipment and support. At certain points you will need to take an active role in the process. This will be explained to you in letters from your Student Finance company. It’s best to apply early in the year so that you have time to respond to the letters and emails before the summer holidays. You can usually apply for DSA at the same time as making your main online application.
If you ticked the Disabled Students’ Allowances box on your student loan application, you will receive a DSA1 application form with your basic details already filled in. Otherwise you can download the form from the Student Finance or SAAS website.
You can contact your disability adviser if you need help completing the form. You will need to send the completed form along with evidence of your impairment, health condition or disability.
The evidence can be a diagnostic assessment for a specific learning difficulty, or a letter from your doctor or consultant stating the nature of your condition and ideally briefly explaining how it impacts you. If you have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan in England, this can support the diagnosis and be used to indicate the areas where you need support.
If you have a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia you will need to send your diagnostic assessment. The assessment needs to have been carried out after your 16th birthday. If the diagnostic assessment was carried out in 2012 or after, the psychologist must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council as a practitioner psychologist.
Once you have sent the form and evidence of your disability, Student Finance will write and/or email you to confirm that you are eligible for DSAs. If you have ticked the ‘consent to share’ box, a copy will be sent to Disability Services at your first choice university or college.
The letter from Student Finance will tell you about the next step – which is to have a needs assessment. Many students worry about what this involves, especially if they had an assessment at school or through the health service where their voice wasn’t listened to or which only focused on what they couldn’t do. However, the needs assessment for DSAs is not like this at all. Its purpose is to make sure you have the best possible opportunity in higher education to show your abilities, make good progress and achieve your goals.
The needs assessor will sit down with you, discuss your course and identify areas where you might benefit from using, for example, computer technology. Assessors are experienced in the range of equipment and human support that’s available and will help you decide what’s best. They will then write a report and send it to Student Finance, and they’ll send you a copy as well if you wish.
Making an appointment
There are assessment centres across the country that offer specialist needs assessment services for students going into higher education. You will need to choose one and make an appointment to visit. Alternative arrangements can be made if you have an impairment which makes it difficult to travel. Most students can find an assessment centre that is either near home or their preferred university – it’s your choice where to go.
All assessment centres have to meet quality standards and the organisation that sets and checks these standards is called DSA-QAG (Disabled Students Allowance-Quality Assurance Group). Student Finance will direct you to the DSA-QAG website where you can find an up to date list of access centres. Click on ‘Search for Assessment/Outreach Centres’ and then search your preferred location to see the centres listed.
You will need to phone or email the centre for an appointment. If you don’t make an appointment and you don’t have a needs assessment, Student Finance cannot process your DSA application. Nothing will happen until you take this step.
Getting support in place
Once Student Finance receive the assessor’s report, they will write to you to confirm your entitlement and advise you how to order any recommended equipment. They will also recommend that you contact the disability adviser at your first choice university to organise personal support such as one-to-one dyslexia support.
These steps need to be completed to get your support in place for the beginning of your first term. If you leave it late, you may find it difficult to get a convenient appointment. You can ask the Student Finance or your first choice university for advice at any time. They are aware that it may seem a bit daunting and are very experienced in helping students through the process.
What support should my college or university provide?
DSAs can’t be used to pay for support that the university should be providing. The Equality Act 2010 places duties on universities and colleges to make reasonable adjustments and provisions for disabled students. From September 2016 universities and colleges will have the main responsibility for providing certain types of non-medical helper support. This will include scribes, readers, library support assistants proof readers, manual note-takers and examination support workers.
See Disability Rights UK’s factsheets F11 - adjustments for disabled students and F56 - understanding the equality act: information for disabled students.
What if my needs change during my study?
You can apply for help to meet costs throughout your course up to the maximum amount of each allowance. If your needs change and you need further equipment or support, you should contact your needs assessor for further help or advice. Should you need a new study needs assessment, the cost will only be funded from DSAs where Student Finance has authorised it for you to proceed.
What if I already have some of what I need?
When assessing your needs, awarding bodies may take into account what support you have already received, especially if you got equipment though DSAs on a previous course. Any new equipment or software must be compatible with what you have already.
You can’t use DSAs to reimburse you for something you have already bought yourself.
Will DSAs affect my welfare benefits?
No. DSAs are only for specific study related expenses. They don’t count as funding for daily living costs. DSAs are completely ignored when deciding if you qualify for means-tested welfare benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction.
What if I am repeating periods of study?
Your awarding authority may agree to continue making DSA payments if, for reasons related to your disability, you have to repeat or extend your study in order to complete it. You should contact your awarding authority as early as possible about this.
What happens if I transfer to another course?
It should be possible for you to transfer your DSA support to another course, even at a different university. Changing course or university may mean that you need to have slightly different support in place, so you may have to contact your needs assessor for a variation on support or have a top-up needs assessment. Contact your awarding authority for advice.
What happens if I leave my course early?
If you leave your course, you should tell your awarding authority straight away. DSAs can’t be paid after you have left your course.
Student Finance England may pay the DSAs to you, or direct to a helper or equipment supplier. If the DSAs are paid directly to you, you must provide proof of expenditure to your awarding authority. If you don’t provide this, they may stop future payments or ask for the money back.
In Scotland, SAAS are responsible for payment of DSAs. If you agree in writing, SAAS can make payments direct to suppliers or service providers.
In Northern Ireland, the regional Education Authority (EA) administers DSA payments. Each EA has its own DSA Officer who is responsible for administering all the DSA applications and payments.
The equipment allowance is usually given to the supplier, who will then give you the equipment. You can usually get equipment before your course starts if you need time to get used to using it.
Depending on who administers the personal support, the non-medical helper’s allowance can be paid directly to you or to the university or an agency. Universities often have a register of support workers who they employ through the DSA. Students are normally advised not to directly employ non-medical helpers themselves, because of the extra burden of paying tax and national insurance. However, you can employ your own support worker if you want to.
If you’re frequently making large payments, to a support worker for example, the awarding authority may make provisional payments in advance and ask for evidence afterwards that the service was provided. Payments for regular costs such as books or stationery may be made in instalments, and you will probably need to keep and send in receipts.
If the DSAs are not arranged in time for the start of term, ask the disability adviser or other staff at your university about temporary arrangements. They may be able to:
- put support in place at the university’s expense and then reclaim the money from your DSAs. Interim support will need to be recommended by the needs assessor and justified. It is not granted on all occasions but it is something Student Finance can consider.
- make a loan payment from the Hardship Fund until your DSAs are paid
- lend the equipment or make available the support you need
- explain to academic staff that you don’t have your support in place yet.
Appeals and complaints
Appeals should be made to the relevant awarding bodies. You may want to get advice from your university before doing this. See Disability Rights UK’s Factsheet F47 - making a complaint.
For general information on funding in higher education, such as loans and bursaries, see Disability Rights UK’s Factsheet F16 funding higher education for disabled students.
You may qualify for benefits, or be already receiving them. The Disability Rights UK student helpline can give you information on applying for Housing Benefit and what happens if you are claiming ESA.
The Hardship Fund at your college or university may be used towards initial diagnostic assessments of dyslexia. This will depend on the college or university’s policy.
If you have additional disability costs that have not been covered by Disabled Students' Allowances or you don’t qualify for DSAs, then you may be able to get funding from charitable trusts. See Disability Rights UK’s Factsheet F25 - funding from charitable trusts.
Disability Rights UK Student Helpline
For further information on the support that is available for disabled students, please contact our Disabled Students Helpline - 0800 328 5050.
We also produce a range of education factsheets covering these subjects and frequently asked questions which you can access through the education and skills section of our website at www.disabilityrightsuk.org.
Student Finance England resources
- A quick guide to Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) - what, when and how to apply
- Bridging the Gap – A guide to the Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) in higher education
- A guide to financial support for new full-time higher education students
- A guide to student finance for new part-time students in higher education
- Childcare Grant and other support for full-time student parents in higher education
- DSAs information films – videos featuring advice from Student Finance England’s DSAs team and first-hand accounts from students. The three films cover ‘Are DSAs for me?’, ‘How can DSAs help?’ and ‘5 Steps to apply’.
‘DSAs - the complete story’ is a longer version (about 11 minutes) combining all three films that would be more suited to a classroom environment. Each film has accessibility options including a sign language function and interactive transcripts.
Department for Education (DfE)
Tel: 0370 000 2288
Provides students with a database of registered assessment centres offering needs assessments for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs). They also have information about university disability officers and suppliers of disability equipment.
Tel: 0131 228 9441
Textphone: 18001 131 228 9441
Information service: 0800 999 2568
Organisation enabling disabled adults and carers to access inclusive learning opportunities in Scotland. Lead also runs an information and advice service for disabled students in Scotland.
Money Saving Expert
See Students & Schools section for money saving tips. 20 key facts on tuition fees, student loans and grants.
NHS BSA Student Bursaries
NHS Student Bursaries
Social Work Bursaries]
Tel: 0300 330 1342
Information on NHS and social work bursaries, payment dates and downloadable application forms.
NHS Student Awards Unit, Wales
Tel: 029 2019 6167
Administers the NHS bursary and DSAs in Wales.
Tel: 0300 303 5303
Phone line open Monday to Friday 8am-8pm, Saturday 9am-5pm.
The OU administers DSAs for its own students.
Research Councils UK
RCUK is a partnership of the UK's seven Research Councils covering medical and biological sciences, astronomy, physics, chemistry and engineering, social sciences, economics, environmental sciences and the arts and humanities. For information about contacting individual Research Councils see the contacts section of the RCUK website.
Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS)
Tel: 0300 555 0505
Textphone: 0131 244 5107
Phone line open Monday to Thursday 8.30am-5pm, Friday 8.30am-4.30pm
Email through the website by selecting an enquiry subject and completing an online form. SAAS is the awarding authority in Scotland.
Student Finance England
Tel: 0300 100 0607
Textphone: 0300 100 0622
Phone line open Monday to Friday 8am-8pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am-4pm
Central system for information on financial support and online applications for grants, loans and Disabled Students Allowances’ (DSAs) in England.
Student Finance England also has a facebook app to walk you through the steps to applying at http://apps.facebook.com/financeguide
Student Finance Northern Ireland
Tel: 0300 100 0077
Textphone: 0300 100 0625
Phone line open Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am-4pm
Information on financial support in Northern Ireland and contact details of regional Education Authority’s.
Student Finance Wales
Tel: 0300 200 450
Textphone: 0300 100 1693
Phone line open Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm and Saturday 9am – 1pm.
Provides information and administers financial support for HE students in Wales.
14 December 2015