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Applying for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs)

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Disability Rights UK Factsheet F18

1. Introduction

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.

If you are studying in academic year 2020 to 2021, 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.

If you are studying in academic year 2021/22 a single allowance of up to £25,000 (excluding travel) is available to full-time and part-time undergraduate and postgraduate students to cover the different areas of need. 

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.

Awarding authorities

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 Student Finance NI, including for healthcare courses.

2. Who can get DSAs?

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.

3. Which courses are designated for DSAs?

Undergraduate courses

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

In England, from August 2017 new Nursing, midwifery and health students have access to the same student loans system like other students instead of an NHS bursary. You will have to apply for DSAs from Student Finance England.

If you are already on a study programme funded by the National Health Service (NHS) DSAs are available as part of your bursary. 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.

Part-time courses

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 courses

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). 

There will be one single allowance of up to £25,000 available to both undergraduate and postgraduate students studying in academic year 2021/22.

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 the Economy, you may be eligible for DSAs from the department.

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 Social Care Wales (SCW), 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. 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.

4. What are the four allowances?

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
  • audio capturing equipment
  • specialist furniture, such as a chair, table or back support
  • multifunction printers and scanners
  • 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. DSAs will not cover the cost of 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.

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 to help pay for support workers and other non-medical assistance you need to benefit fully from your course. As payments are usually for helpers’ costs, they’re generally made in regular instalments, such as once a semester directly to the service provider. 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 notetakers for deaf and visually impaired students
  • specialist mentors
  • specialist one to one study skill support
  • mobility trainers
  • communication support workers
  • british sign language interpreters
  • assistive technology trainers

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, paper and ink supplies where there is a need for hard copy materials that is additional to that of non-disabled students, or small fridges for students needing to store medication. It can also be used to 'top up' the specialist equipment and non-medical helper's allowances.

If you need specialist accommodation for example, with en-suite facilities because of your disability, DSAs may be able to cover the extra costs. However, if the accommodation is managed by your college or university or one of its agents, it will be their responsibility to fund this.

Travel costs 

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. 

5. How much DSA can I get?

The maximum DSA amounts you can get depend on your study programme and your individual needs.  

Maximum amount for 2021/2022

A single allowance of up to £25,000 (excluding travel) is available to undergraduate and postgraduate students studying on a full-time or part-time course.

Maximum amounts for 2020/2021

Full-time undergraduate study 

  • Specialist equipment allowance: up to £5,849 for the whole of your course
  • Non-medical helper’s allowance: up to £23,258 per year of your study.
  • Other expenditure allowance: up to £1,954 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

  • Specialist equipment allowance: up to £5,849 for the whole of your course.
  • Non-medical helper’s allowance: up to £17,443 per year. It is awarded pro-rata, for example, if the course is 50% of the full-time equivalent, the maximum DSA is £11,629.
  • Other expenditure allowance up to £1,465 per year. It is awarded pro-rata, for example, if the course is 50% of the full-time equivalent, the maximum DSA is £977.
  • 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.

Postgraduate study

  • In England, the maximum amount is £20,580 per year. This covers all components.
  • In Wales, the maximum amount is £20,580 per year. At time of writing, the 2021/22 DSA postgraduate rate was still to be announced.
  • In Northern Ireland, the maximum amount is £10,469 per year. At time of writing, the 2021/22 DSA postgraduate rate was still to be announced.
  • 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 adviser 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.

6. How do I apply?

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 Service 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 Northern Ireland, including healthcare courses. 

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’re applying for other student finance, you’ll be asked on your main application if you want to apply for DSAs. When you have completed your main application you’ll be able to apply for DSAs online. If you want to apply for DSAs only and no other type of student finance you will need to complete a DSA1 application form which you can download from the Student Finance or SAAS website.

Before applying for DSAs it can be helpful to have an early discussion with the disability adviser. Colleges and universities are expected to provide support as part of their duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ under the Equality Act 2010. They have direct responsibility for providing certain types of non-medical help (NMH) such as readers, scribes, proof readers, practical and library support assistants.

The disability adviser can help you complete the application form for DSAs if needed.

You will be asked to send 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 which tells you about your own learning profile. 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 submitted 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.

Needs assessment

Student Finance will write to you about a needs assessment. Many students worry about what this involves, especially if they had a previous 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. They might show you different equipment and software, discuss the different features and give you the chance to use it. 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.

You’ll need to phone or email the assessment centre for an appointment. If you don’t make an appointment and you don’t have a needs assessment, Student Finance can’t process your DSA application.

All assessment centres have to meet quality standards. Student Finance England sets and checks these standards.

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. You will get a copy of the report too.

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. 

7. Further questions

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. Since September 2016 universities and colleges have the main responsibility for providing certain types of non-medical helper support. This includes scribes, readers, library support assistants proof readers, manual note-takers and examination support workers.

An exceptional case process has been introduced as part of the recent DSA changes to support disabled students who are in dispute with their college or university about the support or adjustments needed. This may be the case where a college or university refuses to provide support because they feel it’s unreasonable. Interim support would be available to ensure disabled students are supported until the dispute is resolved. The process is triggered when you make a formal complaint to the college or university.

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 Universal Credit, 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.

8. Administration of DSAs


Student Finance England may pay the DSAs to you, or directly to the organisation providing the service or equipment.

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.

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 non-medical human support, the non-medical helper’s allowance can be paid directly to the university or an agency. Universities often have a register of support workers who they employ through the DSA.

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, Student Finance Northern Ireland administers DSA payments.

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:

  • 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.  

9. Other funding

For general information on funding in higher education, such as loans and grants, see Disability Rights UK’s Factsheet F5 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 Universal Credit 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 or the £200 contribution you have to make towards the cost of a laptop or computer. 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.

10. Further information

Disability Rights UK Student Helpline

For further information on the support that is available for disabled students, please contact our Disabled Students Helpline - 0330 995 0414.

We also produce a range of education factsheets covering these subjects and frequently asked questions which you can access through our website at www.disabilityrightsuk.org.

Student Finance England resources

Quick Start Finance Guide

Interactive guides for students and parents with information about the different types of student finance available.

Student Finance Application Journey – Film

Available from: www.practitioners.slc.co.uk/supporting-materials

Useful contacts

Department for Education (DfE)

Tel: 0370 000 2288

Open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm

Website: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-education

Email: Online contact form

Lead Scotland

Tel: 0131 228 9441
Textphone: 18001 131 228 9441
Helpline: 0800 999 2568

Email: enquiries@lead.org.uk

Website: www.lead.org.uk

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

Email: www.moneysavingexpert.com/family

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

Tel: 0300 330 1345

Open Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm, Saturday 9am to 3pm

Email: Online contact form

Website: www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/nhs-bursary-students 

Social Work Bursaries

Tel: 0300 330 1342

Open Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm, Saturday 9am to 3pm

Email: Online contact form

Website: www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/social-work-students

Information on NHS and social work bursaries, payment dates and downloadable application forms.

NHS Student Awards Unit, Wales

Tel: 029 2090 5380

Administers the NHS bursary in Wales.

Email: www.nwssp.wales.nhs.uk/student-awards

Open University

Tel: 0300 303 5303

Phone line open Monday to Friday 8am to 5.30pm

Email: Online contact form

Website: www.open.ac.uk 

Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS)

Tel: 0300 555 0505
Textphone: 0131 244 5107

Phone line open Monday to Thursday 8.30am to 5pm, Friday 8.30am to 4.30pm

Website: www.saas.gov.uk 

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

Phone line open Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am to 4pm

Website: www.gov.uk/disabled-students-allowances-dsas

Central system for information on financial support and online applications for grants, loans and Disabled Students Allowances’ (DSAs) in England.

Student Finance Northern Ireland

Tel: 0300 100 0077
Textphone: 0300 100 0625

Phone line open Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm, Saturday 9am to 4pm. 

Website: www.studentfinanceni.co.uk

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 6pm

Website: www.studentfinancewales.co.uk

Provides information and administers financial support for HE students in Wales.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)

UKRI works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities and government. It brings together the seven Research Councils UK, Innovate UK and a new organisation, Research England.  The Research Councils cover 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 UKRI website.

Website: www.ukri.org

7 April 2021