Funding further education for disabled students
Disability Rights UK Factsheet F26
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- Who funds Further Education?
- Do I have to pay tuition fees?
- How is disability-related support funded?
- Can I get funding for transport to and from college?
- Are there other sources of funding?
- Who will fund my place at a specialist college?
- Can I claim welfare benefits while I study?
- Further information
- Useful contacts
This factsheet provides funding information for disabled students in the UK who are studying at further education (FE) level. FE is post-16 education below degree level and not taught in a school.
It’s important to think about funding before you enrol on a course. There are many sources of financial support, depending on the type of course you’re doing and your personal circumstances. The information in this section assumes you meet basic eligibility criteria such as nationality, residency and other funding rule.
This factsheet mainly applies to England. Please refer to the Useful contacts section for information on organisations which can help you in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Local further education (FE) and sixth form colleges are independently run, and are sometimes called ‘sector’ or ‘maintained’ colleges.
Colleges charge tuition fees for courses and receive money from government funding bodies to run courses and subsidise tuition fees for some students.
In England there are two main funding bodies.
Education Funding Agency (EFA)
The Education Funding Agency (EFA) funds learners between 16 and 19 years old or up to the age of 25 if the young learner has a Section 139a Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA) or Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan
For young people with an EHC plan, funding comes through both the EFA and the local authority.
Skills Funding Agency (SFA)
The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) funds colleges and training providers to offer further education to adult learners aged 19 and over. This includes adults under 25 without an EHC plan or LDA, who self-declare a learning difficulty or disability, and those over 25 with an identified support need.
Colleges and training providers must follow the funding guidelines of these agencies and make sure they are meeting the needs of disabled learners.
In England you can receive free education up to the age of 19. After that age you may have to pay for your course yourself. However, there are certain groups who may not have to pay any fees or who can at least get some financial help.
If you have an EHC plan, full funding can be extended up to the age of 25. This depends on whether the course meets the aims in your plan.
If you start another course, funding may depend on you progressing or achieving the next level. However in some cases the course can be funded at the same level if it consolidates your learning and enables you to achieve the outcomes from your plan.
You might qualify for full funding if you’re aged 19-23 and you’re:
- Studying Entry Level or Level 1 and don’t already have a qualification above Level 1
- Getting certain benefits such as Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (in the work-related activity group), or Universal Credit due to unemployment and required to take skills training. If you’re aged 24 or older you can get full funding up to and including a level 2 course if you receive any of these benefits.
- Taking your first full Level 2 or Level 3 qualification or first full level 4 qualification without having achieved a first full level 3 qualification.
Other people who can get full funding
You can get full funding to take GCSE English or Maths, if you haven’t already passed at Grade C or above (there are different rules for apprentices). Funding is also available for stepping-stone qualifications to help you get to that level.
You can also get full funding if you study a Level 3 qualification after leaving the British Armed Forces due to an injury, or after at least four years’ active service.
If you’re not in any of the above groups, you might still get help with course fees up to Level 2. This is at the discretion of the college or training provider and usually depends on you getting benefits or being on a low income.
24+ Advanced Learning Loans
If you’re aged 24 or above and want to study or train at Level 3 or 4 you may be eligible for a 24+ Advanced Learning Loan to cover the cost of fees. Applications for 24+ Learning Loans are administered through the Student Loans Company.
Course fees in further education vary depending on the type of course and the provider.
You start repaying your loan when you’re earning over £21,000 per year. You pay 9% of your income above this level. For example, if your salary is £25,000, you pay 9% of £4,000 (£30 per month) taken through the income tax system.
Extension of student loans
In 2014 the government consulted on plans to simplify the FE loans system and extend it to students aged 19 and to cover Level 2 courses for those aged 24 or over. The government stated that any major changes to the Loans would be looked at as part of the 2015 Spending Review and will be published on www.gov.uk.
Disability Rights UK and other student organisations don’t agree with all aspects of the loans system. However for some disabled people, the option of a student loan may be worth considering. The Money Advice Service can provide free and impartial money advice. There may be other ways of getting support to lessen the cost. In any case, remember that you don’t need to pay cash up front. Student loans are not means-tested and are paid directly to your college or training provider.
Some other things to bear in mind:
- The SLC will write off any outstanding amount for a student who studies an Access to HE course and then moves into and completes a course of higher education.
- If you never earn more than £21,000 you won’t have to repay your loan.
- If you start repaying but lose your job or take a pay cut, your repayments will go down (or stop if your income drops below £21,000 per year).
- After 30 years any remaining debt will be wiped clear.
Funding for apprenticeships
Employers can apply for funding to cover the cost of training an apprentice. At the moment this money goes to the training provider.
The amount depends on your age:
- Age 16-18: 100% of the cost paid.
- Age 19-24: usually 50% of the cost paid but will be 100% for apprentices with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan.
- Age over 24: Advanced-level and Higher Apprenticeships are eligible for funding from the Adult Skills Budget.
Enhanced Funding is available for apprentices aged 19-23 who have not been available to enter learning before their 19th birthday, due to a reason beyond their control.
Traineeships can prepare you for an apprenticeship further down the line by helping you to become ‘work ready’. They include work preparation training, maths and English and work experience needed to get an apprenticeship or other job.
Developed with employers, traineeships are available to all 16 to 24 year olds and run for between six weeks and six months.
Opportunities for disabled students to take traineeships can be extended up to age 25. This depends on having a Statement of special educational needs, a Learning Difficulty Assessment or an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan.
The good points of traineeships include the fact that the work experience must be high quality and a proper job role. Employers have to give you an ‘exit interview’ when you finish, or a job interview if a role becomes available. You also get a reference at the end of the placement.
You won’t usually get paid on a traineeship but employers are encouraged to support you with expenses such as transport and meals. You can find out more about traineeships from local colleges and training providers or by calling the Apprenticeship Helpline on 08000 150 600.
Under the Equality Act 2010, all education providers must make reasonable adjustments to avoid disabled students being placed at a ‘substantial disadvantage’. They receive money from the EFA and/or SFA to meet the costs of reasonable adjustments. In colleges this is usually called Learning Support and it is provided in a way to enable them to be flexible in the way they support all their students.
If you’re aged 19-24 and have very high support needs you’ll likely have an EHC plan and get individual funding from your local authority. If not, the college can apply for extra money called Exceptional Learning Support.
Whatever your situation, you can expect extra disability-related study costs to be covered by the education provider under the Equality Act.
Examples of support include:
- additional teaching for students with learning difficulties
- an interpreter for deaf students
- materials in alternative formats
- specialist computer software.
If you need specialist equipment, such as a computer with assistive software, the college should be able to make this available for use on campus. However, it will remain the property of the college and it’s unlikely that you’d be able to take these items home.
Local authorities must make sure young people aren’t prevented from attending college because of transport difficulties.
In England, councils must publish a Transport Policy setting out the support they offer to all young learners aged 16-19. The council also has a duty to encourage and assist disabled young learners with participating in education up to the age of 25.It follows that it is good practice for councils include information about transport arrangements for disabled young learners up to the age of 25.
If you don’t feel you’re getting enough help with transport, there is no other legal remedy apart from a judicial review. However, you may wish to make a formal complaint to the relevant department at the local authority.
If you have an EHC plan, it should include your transport needs.
Under the Care Act 2014, your local Social Services or Social Work Department has a duty to support you with transport. This can include help getting to and from college.
Social Services should carry out an assessment of need and agree a personal budget. It will then be up to you how you spend the budget in your personal support plan. In practice this might sometimes mean a trade-off between spending your budget on personal care needs or transport.
Free and Concessionary Bus Passes
There are free and concessionary Bus pass schemes for disabled people across the UK. The terms and conditions of the schemes vary.
To find out more contact your Local Authority in England, Scotland and Wales or Translink in Northern Ireland.
16-19 Bursary Fund
If you’re aged between 16 and 19 years and think you might struggle with the costs for full-time education or training you may receive a bursary. The scheme is made up of two elements.
1: A bursary of £1,200 per year if you’re considered to be vulnerable
You’re considered to be vulnerable if you’re: in care or a care leaver; getting Income Support or Universal Credit; receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and also getting Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP). If you qualify your school or college will pay you.
2: A discretionary award if you face financial barriers
This can include if you’re struggling with the costs of transport, meals, books and equipment. Your college or training provider is responsible for deciding who is eligible, how much to pay and how regularly to pay it. They’ll usually want to see evidence, for example a letter about your benefits.
Discretionary Support Funds
Funding bodies give colleges money so that they can make hardship grants to their students. These funds are aimed at helping disadvantaged students with the costs of further education, for example, because they have a low income or have a disability.
Each college has their own policy on who is eligible for funding and what they will provide grants for.
Grants can cover the cost of:
- childcare and related transport costs
- course related books and equipment
- transport to and from college
- course field trips
- examination fees.
Contact your Student Support or Welfare Officer at the college for further information and help in applying.
Childcare funding is only available to students aged 20 upwards. If you’re 19 years old and need help to pay for childcare costs you should apply to the Care to Learn programme.
To get an application form, contact the Learner Support helpline:
T 0800 121 8989
24+ Bursary Fund
There is a bursary fund for mature students who take out a 24+ Advanced Learning Loan. This fund provides support similar to Discretionary Learner Support but colleges have flexibility to respond to students’ needs and local circumstances. The fund can also be used to support learners with learning difficulties and disabilities, for example support workers, specialist equipment and necessary adjustments under the Equality Act.
Professional and Career Development Loans
Professional and Career Development Loans are bank loans to pay for courses and training that help with your career or help get you into work. You may be able to borrow between £300 and £10,000.
Loans are usually offered at a reduced interest rate and the government pays the interest while you’re studying. You start repaying the loan one month after leaving your course.
You should apply three months before starting your course to give the bank enough time to process your application. For more information call the National Careers Service on 0800 100 900 or visit www.gov.uk/career-development-loans/overview.
If you have costs which can’t be covered by funding from any other sources, you could try applying to a charitable trust such as the Snowdon Trust www.snowdontrust.org. Snowdon bursaries are made for one or two years and can be up to £2,500. Applications for funding can be made from 1 February to 31 August for the academic year starting in September. The panel also meets in October to consider late applications – funds permitting.
For more information
Disability Rights UK produces a free factsheet called Funding from charitable trusts. You can find it on our website:
You can ask for a specialist college to be named in an EHC Plan. You don’t have to be refused a place at a local FE college before making your request. However the specialist college must be suitable to meet your needs and it should be an ‘efficient use of resources’. Funding for a place at a specialist college will only be considered if your EHC plan review has identified that your needs are best met at a specialist college and this is stated in your Plan.
If your Plan names a specialist college which is on the S41 Secretary of State’s approved list, the local authority must secure the place and the college must admit you.
If you have an EHC Plan and don’t agree with the college or course your local authority is offering, you can appeal to the First Tier Tribunal. You and your parents can also discuss reaching agreement with a mediator.
Most full-time students can’t claim welfare benefits. However, if you’re living with a health condition or disability, you may still be able to apply for the benefits listed in this section. It is important to let the Benefits Agency or Jobcentre Plus know that you’re starting a course. This is a change in your circumstances, so you must tell them even if you believe it won’t affect your benefits.
For individual advice it’s best to speak with a welfare rights specialist in the student money advice team at your university or college or try your local Citizens Advice Bureau www.citizensadvice.org.uk/getadvice.htm.
Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
You can continue to get DLA as a student. Starting further education does not usually result in DWP reassessing your entitlement. If your condition has changed in a way that means you qualify for a different rate, or your award is due to end, you may have to claim PIP instead.
DLA is gradually ending for people of working age. From October 2015 most people with a current DLA award will be contacted about Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and re-assessed by the end of October 2017.
You may also be eligible for Housing Benefit and income related Employment and Support Allowance.
Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is for people who need help taking part in everyday life or who find it difficult to get around. PIP replaces DLA for people between the ages of 16 and 64. Sometimes the activities you do as part of your course can suggest that your daily living or mobility needs have changed and you can be asked to undergo a reassessment.
You may also be eligible for Housing Benefit and income related Employment and Support Allowance.
Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
As a full-time non-advanced further education student you can only claim income-related ESA if you also receive DLA or PIP.
You’ll be treated as having a limited capability for work without having to pass the work capability assessment if you are 20 or over, or are 19 and were already 19 when you were accepted on, enrolled on or started the course you will be treated as having limited capability for work. You may still have to complete an ESA50 form and attend a face to face assessment but this should be only to determine whether you meet the criteria for the work related activity group or the support group.
If you are a qualifying young person you will still be assessed. You’re a qualifying young person if you are under 19, or are 19 but were under 19 when you were accepted on, enrolled on or started the course.
Contribution based ESA and Incapacity Benefit
There is no rule that says you cannot get contribution based ESA or Incapacity Benefit while you’re studying and there is no official limit on the number of hours you can study. Sometimes Jobcentre Plus or the Benefits Agency might assume, if you study, that you are also ready and able to work. This is not automatically the case. A decision about your benefit should only be made after looking at your individual circumstances. Many courses are in fact different from employment. You can have 'limited capability for work' but still be able to study because:
- Studying tends to be flexible and you have more control over your timetable
- Colleges and universities will provide you with support on the course
- Academic tasks are less physical
- There is generally less pressure
In any event, if you get any disability or health related benefits and you start to study, you should inform the DWP in case this suggests a relevant change.
You can’t usually claim housing benefit if you’re a full-time student. However there are some exceptions. For example you may be able to claim if you receive any part of DLA or PIP or you’ve had limited capability for work acknowledged for the last 28 weeks (you don’t have to be receiving ESA to qualify). You may also be able to claim Housing Benefit if you’re registered blind.
Means-tested Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit should not be affected by studying as long as you meet the eligibility criteria. Both credits are treated as income when calculating entitlement to other welfare benefits.
Universal Credit is a new benefit for people on low incomes which will gradually replace most means-tested benefits and tax credits. Claims are currently limited to straightforward cases such as single jobseekers claimants. In some areas, new claims from couples and families are also accepted. You can’t yet claim Universal Credit if you have a disability. Those on the pre-Universal Credit means-tested benefits will be migrated onto Universal Credit between 2017 and 2019, with ESA claimants to be the last group to be migrated. Capability for work can only be decided after looking at individual circumstances.
Many courses are very different from work. For example there’s often more flexibility at college and you can get support and adjustments on the course. The daily tasks will probably be different, the hours may be less and there is usually less pressure
Information from Disability Rights UK
Disability Rights UK Student Helpline
For further information on the above and the support that is available for disabled students, please contact the Disabled Students Helpline:
Tel: 0800 328 5050
Tues and Thurs from 11am to 1pm
The helpline provides free information and advice to disabled students in England, their parents, carers and key advisers about opportunities in post-16 education and training. This includes further and higher education and apprenticeships. We also provide general information on the Equality Act as it applies to education and give advice on UK students' entitlement to welfare benefits.
Into Apprenticeships is a careers guide for disabled people, parents and key advisers about applying for apprenticeships in England. It deals with common questions such as how to find an apprenticeship, whether the training will be accessible and what support is available in the workplace. There are several inspiring stories written by disabled apprentices about their own experiences and the challenges they have faced. The guide also contains a useful resources section listing further websites, publications and organisations which can help.
Into Further Education
Into Further Education is a guide for anyone with a health condition, learning difficulty or disability thinking about studying in further education in England. It aims to answer common questions such as whether colleges will be accessible, how to choose a course and what support will be available. The guide also contains six inspiring personal stories and a resources section listing further websites, publications and organisations which can help.
Helping you meet the costs of learning and training: funding for disabled students 2014/2015
Produced by the Scottish Government and available at
Benefits-related information available at
Helpline: 0800 220 674
Textphone: 0800 243 787
Open Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 9:00am to 5:00pm and Thursday from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Northern Ireland: www.dsdni.gov.uk
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)
The government department with overall responsibility for further education.
English: 0300 0603300
Welsh: 0300 0604400
Department for Employment and Learning
Telephone: 028 9025 7777
Information on a wide range of government services, including, education, training, employment and welfare benefits.
Directory of Social Change
Tel: 0845 077 7707
Education Authority (Northern Ireland)
Details of regional are available on the NIdirect website at:
Offers services to help students and graduates in Wales including work placements, work experience and funding for training.
National Jobcentre Enquiry Line
Helpline: 0345 604 3719 Textphone: 0345 608 8551
Information on a wide range of government services in Northern Ireland, including, education, training, employment and welfare benefits.
Scottish Funding Council
Tel: 0131 313 6500
Skills Funding Agency
Telephone: 0345 377 5000
Telephone: 028 90 66 66 30
Email: Complete the online enquiry form
Provide free and concessionary bus passes to disabled people in Northern Ireland.
Education Funding Agency
Learner Support helpline
Tel: 0800 121 8989
Careers Service Northern Ireland
Tel: 0300 200 7820
Skills Development Scotland
Tel: 0800 917 8000
Information and advice on jobs, careers, learning and training in Scotland.
Telephone: 0800 028 4844
If you ring on your mobile they will call you back for free.
Bilingual information and advice on jobs, careers, learning, and apprenticeships in Wales.
National Careers Service
Telephone: 0800 100 900
Information and advice on jobs, careers, learning and training for people in England.
Education and Learning
Information about further or higher education and training
3 December 2015