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Funding further education for disabled students

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Disability Rights UK Factsheet F26

1. Introduction

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. 

2. Who funds Further Education? 

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. For young people with an Education Health and Care plan, funding for providers comes through both the EFA and the local authority. In such cases, funding can extend up to age 25.

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, 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 some geographical areas, there are proposals for the Adult Education Budget, which includes SFA funding, to be gradually transferred to local government areas through devolution agreements.  

3. Do I have to pay tuition fees? 

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, for example if it builds on your learning and is necessary for you to achieve the outcomes in your plan. 

You might qualify for full funding if you’re aged 19-23 and studying: 

  • Entry Level or Level 1 and don't already have a higher qualification 
  • Your first full Level 2 qualification
  • Your first full Level 3 qualification

If your local college or training provider is not able to offer you a fully funded Level 3 course, we recommend you contact the National Careers Service to get information about alternative providers. 

You might also qualify for full funding if you’re unemployed, aged 24 or older and studying:

  • English for Speakers of Other Languages
  • A course to help you progress to Level 2
  • Your first full Level 2 qualification

‘Unemployed’ means someone who is getting Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (work-related activity group) or Universal Credit, earning less than 16 times the National Minimum Wage per week and regarded as unemployed by JobCentre Plus.

If you’re aged 24 or older and employed, you may qualify for co-funding. This means you or your employer are expected to contribute to the cost.

Other people who can get full funding: 

You can get full funding to take GCSE English or Maths, if you don’t already hold a Grade A*-C in these subjects (there are different rules for apprentices). Funding is also available for Functional Skills and stepping-stone qualifications to help you get to that level. 

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. We always recommend asking for help with fees if you can’t afford to take a course that would improve your employment prospects.

Advanced Learner Loans

From August 2016 tuition fee loans are be available to all learners aged 19 and above for qualifications at levels 3 and 4. Loans are also available for courses at levels 5 and 6 which provide a clear route to develop high-level technical and professional skills. The loans are administered through the Student Loans Company. Course fees in further education vary depending on the type of course and the provider. If possible, you should get advice from a careers adviser before deciding whether to apply for a loan.

Before you complete an application form your college or training provider should give you a Learning and Funding Information letter. This letter should outline the course you’re taking and the exact fees, so you know what you’re signing up for. The information in this letter will be helpful if you decide to apply for a loan. The college or training provider must not fill out the application form on your behalf or try to influence your decision on whether to apply for a loan. You can get independent advice from the Money Advice Service about the different ways you could fund your learning.

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.  

Some things to bear in mind: 

  • Interest will continue to be added to your loan whether you're repaying it or not.
  • You don't repay anything while you're earning less than £21,000 - this includes if you start repaying but then your income goes down or you lose your job.
  • 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. 
  • 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: fully funded - 100% of the cost paid 
  • Age 19-24: usually 50% of the cost paid - but 100% for apprentices with an EHC plan. 
  • Age over 24: co-funded

Apprenticeship funding supports individuals to progress to higher levels of learning. If you already have a qualification at Level 4 or above, you will only be eligible for funding for a higher apprenticeship at Level 5 or above. You won’t be eligible for funding for an intermediate level or advanced level apprenticeship.

Extended funding is available for apprentices aged 19-24 who have not been available to enter learning before their 19th birthday, due to exceptional circumstances, including having a serious health condition. 

Employer grants (AGE Grant) of up to £1,500 (increasing to £2,450 in some geographic areas, depending on the size of the employer) are currently available. You need to be aged 16 to 24 to qualify and your employer must have less than 50 employees. The employer also needs to show they have not started an apprentice in the previous 12 months. 

More information on the AGE Grant and geographic differences can be found at www.gov.uk/government/publications/apprenticeship-grant-employer-fact-sheet.

From April 2017, some employers will be required to contribute to a new ‘apprenticeship levy’, and there will be changes to the funding for apprenticeship training for all employers. All employers can benefit from this investment - the funds can potentially be used towards any extra training and assessment costs of disabled apprentices.   


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 16 to 24 year olds and run for between six weeks and six months.

Traineeships for 16 to 18 year olds are based on the Education Funding Agency funding system. This includes young disabled people up to age 24 who have an EHC plan. Traineeships are part of study programmes and you have the flexibility to move between different learning options. Vulnerable student bursaries and discretionary bursaries are available as described below.

Traineeships or 19 to 24 year olds are funded from the Adult Education Budget.

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 08000 150 600 FREE.

4. How is disability-related support funded? 

Colleges and training providers are not allowed to turn students away due to the cost of their support, nor are they allowed to charge students for their support. Under the Equality Act 2010, they 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. 

Learning Support should be available from your college or training provider on a traineeship or apprenticeship. You can also apply for Access to Work www.gov.uk/access-to-work/overview towards extra work-related costs.

5. Can I get funding for transport to and from college? 

Local authorities 

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 is therefore 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. 

Social Services 

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. 

6. Are there any other sources of funding? 

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 0800 121 8989 FREE 

Advanced Learner Loan Bursary Fund 

There is a bursary fund for students who take out Advanced Learning Loans. 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. 

Apply to your college or training provider - each one has its own application process. Speak to student services if you need support with your application.

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 0800 100 900 FREE or visit www.gov.uk/career-development-loans/overview

Charitable trusts 

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: 

W www.disabilityrightsuk.org 

7. Who will fund my place at a specialist college?  

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 named 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.

There is no guarantee that the Tribunal will make a decision in time for you to start your course in September. Early negotiation with your local authority on the named college and course is strongly advised. 

8. Can I claim welfare benefits whilst I study? 

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 receive 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 start to be contacted about Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and re-assessed by 2018. 

You may also be eligible for Housing Benefit and income related Employment and Support Allowance or Universal Credit. 

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 or Universal Credit.  

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 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.  

Income-related ESA is means-tested.

Contribution based ESA

There is no rule that says you cannot get contribution based ESA 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 may no longer have a limited capability for 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 receive any disability or health related benefits and you start to study, you should inform the DWP in case this suggests a relevant change.  

Housing Benefit 

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. 

Tax Credits 

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 

Universal Credit (UC) is a new benefit for people on low incomes which will gradually replace most existing means-tested benefits and tax credits. The aim is that UC will eventually replace these in a single combined payment.

Most full-time students are not able to claim UC, but there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if you are disabled, assessed as having a limited capability for work and receive either Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment. UC has not yet been rolled out to all areas and your benefits office will be able to confirm if you are required to claim Universal Credit or not.

CPAG Scotland has produced a detailed factsheet on students and universal credit See: www.cpag.org.uk/content/universal-credit-and-students-1.  While it is written for Scottish students the situation is very similar in England and Wales. UC will not be rolled-out to Northern Ireland until 2017.

9.  Further information 

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: 0330 995 0414 

Tues and Thurs from 11am to 1pm  

Email: students@disabilityrightsuk.org 

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. 

We produce a range of 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

Into Apprenticeships  

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. 


Helping you meet the costs of learning and training: funding for disabled students 2016/17

Produced by the Scottish Government and available at 


10. Useful contacts 

Benefits-related information available at 


Northern Ireland: 

Helpline: 0800 220 674 0800 220 674 FREE 

Textphone: 0800 243 787 0800 243 787 FREE 

Open Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 9:00am to 5:00pm and Thursday from 10:00am to 5:00pm 

Northern Ireland: www.communities-ni.gov.uk/topics/benefits-and-pensions/benefits

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) 

Website: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-business-innovation-skills 

The government department with overall responsibility for further education. 

Welsh Government 

Email: CustomerHelp@Wales.GSI.Gov.UK 

Website: http://gov.wales/topics/educationandskills/?lang=en  

Telephone: 0300 0604400  

Department for the Economy

Telephone: 028 9025 7777 028 9025 7777 

Email: DFEMail@economy-ni.gov.uk

Website: www.economy-ni.gov.uk/topics/further-education   


Website: www.gov.uk 

Information on a wide range of government services, including, education, training, employment and welfare benefits. 

Directory of Social Change 

Tel: 0845 077 7707 0845 077 7707 

Email: cs@dsc.org.uk 

Website: www.dsc.org.uk 

Education Authority (Northern Ireland) 

Details of regional offices are available on the NIdirect website at: 

Website: www.nidirect.gov.uk/contacts/education-authority  

Go Wales  

Website: www.gowales.co.uk 

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 

NI Direct 

Website: www.nidirect.gov.uk 

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 0131 313 6500 

Email: info@sfc.ac.uk 

Website: www.sfc.ac.uk 

Skills Funding Agency 

Telephone: 0345 377 5000 

Email: info@sfa.bis.gov.uk 

Website: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/skills-funding-agency  


Website: www.translink.co.uk/ 

Telephone: 028 90 66 66 30 028 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 0800 121 8989 FREE 

Website: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/education-funding-agency 

Careers services 

Careers Service Northern Ireland 

Tel:  0300 200 7820 

Email using the online form on their website

Website: www.nidirect.gov.uk/careers 

Skills Development Scotland 

Tel:  0800 917 8000 0800 917 8000 FREE 

Website: www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk 

Information and advice on jobs, careers, learning and training in Scotland. 

Careers Wales 

Website: www.careerswales.com 

Telephone: 0800 028 4844 0800 028 4844 FREE 

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 0800 100 900 FREE 

Website: https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk 

Information and advice on jobs, careers, learning and training for people in England. 

Education and Learning 

Website: www.gov.uk/browse/education 

Information about further or higher education and training 

13 October 2016 

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