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Funding further education for disabled students

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 and residency. 

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? 

In England, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) funds schools and academies with sixth forms, further education colleges, independent learning providers and special post-16 institutions. The funding is provided to these institutions for the education and training of learners aged between 16 and 19 years and up to the age of 25 for young people with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan.  

Colleges charge tuition fees for courses and receive money from the ESFA to run courses and subsidise tuition fees for some students. 

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, you may be still be eligible for funding up to age 25 but there is no automatic entitlement to education provision.  What is funded will depend on the outcomes and needs specified in your EHC plan, and the decision of your Local Authority. The Local Authority has to consider if the college suits your needs and if it is an ‘efficient use of resources’.

If you continue on to 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

From April 2021, full funding is available for your first full level 3 qualification to help train and gain skills that you may need to improve job prospects and meet the needs of the economy. This funding can be accessed for almost 400 courses. You will no longer need to take an advanced learner loan to pay for course fees.

‘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 determined by Jobcentre Plus to be in one of the following groups: all work related requirements group, work preparation group, work-focused interview group.

Other people who can get full funding: 

If you are aged 19 and over you can get full funding to take GCSE English or Maths if you don’t already hold a Grade A*-C (9 - 4) 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. 

Full funding is also available for essential digital skills qualifications up to and including level 1 if you have digital skills assessed at below level 1.

If you’re not in any of the above groups, you might still get help with course fees 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

Tuition fee loans are be available to all learners aged 19 and above for general and technical qualifications at levels 3, 4, 5 and 6 at an approved college or training provider. 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 and are not means-tested. 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. You apply online through the Student Finance website or by post by completing a paper application. If you apply online, you should get a letter confirming your loan within 2 weeks.

You start repaying your loan when you’re earning over £27,295 per year. You pay 9% of your income above this level. For example, if your salary is £31,295, 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 £27,295 - 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

Apprenticeship funding mainly comes from the government with employers contributing through a tax on big business (known as the apprenticeship levy), or 10% of the cost if they are a small employer. As an apprentice you should never have to pay for your own training.

If you’re aged 16 -18

  • employers and providers should each receive £1,000 towards your training costs.
  • and where an employer has fewer than 50 people working for them, the government will pay 100% of the training costs.

If you’re aged 19 -24

  • the same funding as above (for 16-18 year olds) will be available to employers and providers if you have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan.
  • extra funding will also be available if you have been in the care of the local authority.


Traineeships can prepare you for an apprenticeship if you don’t yet have the skills and experience that employers are looking for. They help you to become ‘work ready’ and include work preparation training, Maths and English and work experience needed to get an apprenticeship or other job. 

You can apply for a traineeship if you’re aged 16 to 24, or up to 25 if you have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan, and have a level 3 qualification or below. A traineeship can last between six weeks and one year.

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.

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 ESFA 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 may 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.    

The options can include subsidised bus passes or railcards, a minibus or taxi provided by the local authority.

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 you might be eligible to receive a bursary. The scheme is made up of two elements. 

  1. A bursary of up to £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 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

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.

Charitable trusts 

If you have extra disability-related 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 £3,000. You can apply between 1 February and 31 August for the academic year starting in September. The panel also meets in October to consider late applications – funds permitting. 

You can find it on our website: 


7. Who will fund my place at a Special Post 16 Institution (SPI)?  

You can ask for a Special Post 16 Institution (SPI) 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 SPI must be suitable to meet your needs and it should be an ‘efficient use of resources’. Funding for a place at an SPI will only be considered if your EHC plan review has identified that your needs are best met at an SPI and this is stated in your Plan.  

If your Plan names an SPI 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/carers 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 education provider and course is strongly advised. 

8. Can I claim welfare benefits whilst I study? 

Most full-time students can’t claim welfare benefits. However, students who get Personal Independence Payment (PIP) may be able to receive more support with living costs than other students.  . It is important to let the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and other relevant agencies 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/about-us/contact-us/contact-us/contact-us/.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) has replaced Disability Living Allowance for people between the ages of 16 and 64. PIP is a non-means tested benefit for people who need help taking part in everyday life or find it difficult to get around. It Is always paid on top of other benefits.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit (UC) is a new benefit which has been rolled out across the UK to replace working age means-tested benefits. You can only make a new claim for one of the ‘legacy’ means-tested benefits if you are already receiving a legacy benefit which includes a severe disability premium (SDP). This will end on 27 January 2021.

Most full-time students are not eligible for Universal Credit, but there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, you can claim Universal Credit if you have been assessed as having a limited capability for work and receive PIP.

If you have not already been assessed as having a limited capability for work, the DWP will refuse your Universal Credit claim. You should claim contributory New Style (NSESA) on a credits-only basis to have your limited capability for work assessed. CPAG Scotland has produced a detailed factsheet on students and UC:

https://cpag.org.uk/scotland/welfare-rights/universal-credit-and-students Although this guide is for Scottish students, the situation is similar across the UK. Higher education students eligible for UC will usually be placed in the ‘no work-related requirements’ group for the whole academic year.

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 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. 

https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/sites/default/files/civicrm/IntoApprenticeships_2020_04_LowRes_Bookmarked.pdf Helping you meet the costs of learning and training: funding for disabled students 2019/20

Produced by the Scottish Government and available at 


10. Useful contacts 

Benefits-related information available at 


Northern Ireland: 

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.communities-ni.gov.uk/topics/benefits-and-pensions/benefits

Department for Education (DfE) 


The government department with overall responsibility for further education. 

Welsh Government 

Email: customerhelp@gov.wales 

Website: http://gov.wales/topics/educationandskills

Telephone: 0300 0604400  

Department for the Economy

Telephone: 028 9025 9900

Text Relay: 18001 028 9052 9900 

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 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

Email: enquiries@sfc.ac.uk 

Website: www.sfc.ac.uk 


Website: www.translink.co.uk/ 

Telephone: 028 90 66 66 30

Provide free and concessionary bus passes to disabled people in Northern Ireland. 

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

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

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

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 

5 July 2021

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