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Student FAQs

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Disability Rights UK Factsheet F34

These are some of the common queries we receive concerning disabled students. If you cannot find the answer to your question among these FAQs then why not call our Disabled Students Helpline.

Can I claim Universal Credit as a full-time disabled student?

Universal Credit is a new benefit which has been rolled out across the UK to replace the following “legacy” working age means-tested benefits: income support; income-based jobseeker's allowance; income-related employment and support allowance; child tax credit and working tax credit; and housing benefit.

Most full-time disabled students can only try to claim Universal Credit.

You can only make a new claim for one of the above “legacy” means-tested benefits if:

  • you are already receiving a legacy benefit which includes a severe disability premium; or
  • you are an existing Housing Benefit claimant you can make a new claim for Housing Benefit if and move to new rented accommodation within the same local authority area.

Most full-time students are not eligible for Universal Credit. However, there are some exceptions to this rule.

You can claim Universal Credit if you are receiving education and:

  • are in non-advanced education, are under the age of 21 (or are 21 and reached that age while undertaking the course) and have no parental support;
  • are responsible for a child or ‘qualifying young person’;
  • are a single foster parent;
  • are one of a couple, your partner is also a student and they are responsible for a child or qualifying young person (including as a foster parent);
  • are over pension age and have a partner who has not reached that age;
  • are waiting to return to your course after taking time out because of illness or caring responsibilities; or
  • have a partner who is not a student (or who is able to claim Universal Credit as a student themselves).
  • are entitled to attendance allowance, disability living allowance or personal independence payment and you have a “limited capability for work”.

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 New Style (contributory) ESA on a ‘credits-only’ basis to have your limited capability for work assessed.

Higher education students eligible for Universal Credit will be placed in the ‘no work-related requirements’ group while they’re studying if they’re in receipt of a student loan. Normally this applies over the whole academic year but during the summer vacation you may be subject to work-related requirements.

Universal Credit is means-tested. If you are entitled to a student loan part of this will count as income, even if you choose not to take it.

For detailed information on how student income affects Universal Credit and an example of how student income is calculated see the Child Poverty Action Group factsheet Universal Credit and Students.

For more information on Universal Credit please see also our Factsheet 55 – Universal Credit.

Can I continue to claim Universal Credit as a part-time student?

As a part-time student you can continue to claim Universal Credit if your course is compatible with your work-related requirements. If you are subject to all work-related requirements under Universal Credit you must show that you meet these, despite being on a part-time course. What your work-related activities are will depend on your circumstances. For example, if you are expected to look for work and be available for work, you will have to show that your course won’t stop you from doing this.

Universal Credit is means-tested. If you are entitled to a student finance you will need to take advice on how this might affect your Universal Credit.  

I receive Universal Credit (UC) and PIP.  I have been assessed as having a limited capability for work.

I will be starting a full-time undergraduate degree course and will be entitled to a tuition fee loan, maintenance loan and Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA). How will my entitlement affect my UC?

Your student income can affect how much UC you can get. UC is paid monthly and is based on your circumstances during that month. This is called your ‘assessment period’. For each assessment period that you attend the course, an amount for student income you get is taken off your UC.

The tuition fee loan and DSA are ignored as income for UC.

If you’re eligible for a maintenance loan, part of it counts as income even if you choose not to take it.

As an undergraduate student, if you qualify for certain benefits such as DLA or PIP you will be entitled to receive more support with living costs. The loan has a maintenance element and a special support element (up to £4,014). The special support element will be ignored as income for means-tested benefits.

It can be complicated to calculate how much UC you might finally receive, but here is an example.

If you’re a first-year student, the maximum loan for the 2021/22 year outside of London is £10,815. This includes a special support element of £4,014.

After ignoring the special support element, the remainder £6,801 will be the maximum maintenance loan.

For this example, I have counted the loan as income over eight assessment periods in the first year of the course. If the remaining £6,801 is divided over 8 assessment periods, your monthly loan will be £850. 

£110 is disregarded for expenses in each assessment period.

After £110 has been disregarded, the remaining £740 will be treated as income and your UC will be reduced by this amount each month over the eight assessment periods.

You will get full UC during the summer vacation between the first and second year of the course. Your UC will reduce again in the assessment period in which the second year of the course begins.

Can I claim employment and support allowance as a full time advanced higher education student?

You can claim New Style ESA if you have paid enough national insurance (NI) contributions over a certain period of time, normally the last 2 to 3 years. You will have to satisfy the limited capability for work test.

You can check your national insurance record online or by calling HMRC. For more on this see: Check if you are eligible for ESA at www.citizensadvice.org.uk  

It is no longer possible for most people to make new claims for income-related ESA. Income-related ESA has been replaced for new claimants by Universal Credit.

As a full-time student you will be able to continue an existing claim for income-related ESA if you receive DLA or PIP and your circumstances do not change.

For example, if you move to new rented accommodation address you will need to make a claim for Universal Credit unless you:

  • are already receiving a legacy benefit which includes a severe disability premium or
  • are an existing Housing Benefit claimant and move to new accommodation within the same local authority area.

However, if you are receiving income-based ESA and claim Universal Credit you be accepted as having a limited capability for work.

Income-related ESA is means-tested. If you are entitled to a student loan part of this will count as income, even if you choose not to take it.

I receive income-related Employment and Support Allowance, PIP and Housing Benefit. How will my entitlement to loans as a full-time undergraduate student affect my means-tested benefits?

In higher education, if you’re eligible for a student loan, part of it will be considered as income.

As an undergraduate student, if you qualify for certain benefits such as DLA or PIP you will be entitled to receive more support with living costs. The loan has a maintenance element and a special support element (up to £4,014). The special support element will be ignored as income for means-tested benefits.

It can be complicated to calculate how much benefit you might finally receive, but here is an example of a full-time student.

If you’re a first-year student, the maximum loan for the 2021/22 year outside of London is £10,815. This includes a special support element of £4,014.

After ignoring the special support element, the remainder £6,801 will be the maximum maintenance loan. The benefit rules allow you £303 a year for travel costs and £390 a year for books and equipment.

The remaining £6,108 is divided over 42 or 43 weeks, depending on the total number of term weeks.

A further £10 a week is disregarded.

The rest counts as income.

So if your term weeks add up to 42, your weekly loan will be £145.43.

After £10 has been disregarded the remaining £135.43 will be treated as income.

How will my entitlement to a full-time postgraduate or doctoral loan affect means-tested benefits?

If are entitled to a postgraduate or doctoral loan,30% of this loan will be taken into account as student income for means-tested benefits. You will be treated as having this income if you are entitled to it, even if you choose not to take it. There is no differentiation on whether the  payments are for fees or living costs. Disregards are applied.

Is it possible to get Housing Benefit to help pay for student halls?

You can claim Housing Benefit to help pay for rent of student halls if you:

  • are already receiving a legacy benefit which includes a severe disability premium or
  • are an existing Housing Benefit claimant and move to new accommodation within the same local authority area.

Please see our Factsheet F44 - Housing Benefit for more information on all the different routes through which you may qualify for Housing Benefit as a full time student.

If you cannot claim Housing Benefit you may be eligible for Universal Credit to help cover your rent.

What support can I get with my disability on my course? 

If you have a disability you may need support to access the course and successfully complete your studies.

Support can include many different things, for example:

  • Specialist equipment, such as a voice-activated computer
  • Sign-language interpreters
  • Tape or digital recorder for lectures and notes
  • Extra tutorial help
  • Changing the height of desks
  • Allowing you extra time to complete essays or exams
  • Providing handouts on different colour paper, or in a larger font
  • Transport to and from college

What is considered reasonable depends on each individual case. You can get more suggestions on possible adjustments by reading our Factsheet F11 - adjustments for disabled students.

You should be able to have a confidential discussion with the staff member responsible for disability, usually called the additional learning support adviser or disability adviser. They should arrange for a needs assessment – a face-to-face meeting with a trained assessor who understands about your disability. The assessor will send you a report summarising the extra help that you will receive.

If you have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan, with your permission your school/careers adviser will pass on information about your support needs to the college.

Further education colleges get money from their funding body to provide support. This is usually called Learning Support. 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.

In higher education, you can apply for Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs). DSAs are for extra costs you have on your course because of your disability. They are divided into four categories: specialist equipment, non-medical helper, general expenditure and travel. You can get more information on DSAs from our Factsheet F18 - applying for disabled students’ allowances.

How do I pay for transport to college?

There are several organisations involved in providing transport to and from college.

In England the Local Authority (LA) must publish a transport policy statement each year which sets out the travel arrangements available to all young learners aged 16 to 19 to participate in education. This can include subsidised bus passes or transport provided by the local authority such as a mini bus or taxi.

The LA also has a duty to encourage and assist disabled young people to participate in education up to the age of 25. It therefore follows that it is good practice for LA’s to include information about what transport arrangements are available for disabled young learners. Guidance says that transport should enable a young person to reach their place of education or training without such stress, strain or difficulty that would prevent them from benefiting from the education provided.

The LA does not have to provide free transport and can ask you to contribute towards the costs of travel.

There are different sources of funding to help with help with travel costs. The 16-19 bursary can help with education-related costs, including transport if you meet the eligibility criteria. Young people over 19 can apply for financial assistance through the colleges discretionary support fund.

By law, Social Services also have the power to pay for transport to and from college. But Social Services may have limited resources and are allowed to take this into account when deciding whether to provide services, including transport. 
 
If you’re unable to get the funding you need for transport from any of the sources we have listed, you could consider applying to a charitable trust. For more information refer to our information Factsheet F25 - funding from charitable trusts.

Who pays for my personal care at university?

Social services have a legal responsibility to meet the day-to-day needs of disabled people and this includes personal care support as well as practical and emotional support that you may need to manage your life and be independent. Education providers on the other hand have a duty to provide educational support.

If you have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan this will cease when you start higher education. Even though the EHC plan will cease, the health and care support you are entitled to will continue. The care part of the EHC plan, known as the Care and Support Plan, will continue in its own right as a statutory plan. Care and Support needs are reassessed by Social Services annually and when there is a change in circumstances such as leaving home to attend a course. If you move away from your home area to attend a course, the funding responsibilities rest with the Social Services Department of the local authority where you are ‘ordinarily resident’. For most students this will be the local authority where they are coming from, where they feel most settled and have the strongest ties.

If you’re considering care and support for the first time, you need to contact your local Adult Social Care Department. You can ask for an assessment of all your care and support needs, carried out by a trained assessor or social worker who will focus on your needs and outcomes that matter to you in your life.

You should not be denied an assessment if it is apparent to the local authority that you have needs for care and support. The assessment will look at the total extent of your needs before your eligibility is considered. The local authority will use the national eligibility criteria to determine your eligibility for care and support by looking at whether:

  • Your needs are related to your physical, cognitive, sensory or mental disability or illness
  • As a result of those needs, you are unable to achieve at least two of the outcomes specified in the Care Act (such as managing nutrition and personal hygiene)
  • There is likely to be a significant impact on your well-being as a consequence of being unable to achieve these outcomes.

The needs assessment should decide whether you’re eligible for services, what needs you have and which of these needs social services will pay for. Social services are allowed to make a charge for services but they should also take into consideration your ability to pay following a financial assessment.

All universities and further education colleges are covered by the Public Sector Equality Duty This came into force in April 2011 and requires them to:

  • Eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation
  • Advance equality of opportunity.
  • Foster good relations.

Actions could include adapting accommodation for you and arranging assistance from volunteers.

I want to complain about the way I've been treated on my course. I think it might be discrimination. What should I do? 

It’s usually best to try to resolve the complaint informally first. If you’re thinking about making a complaint you may find it easier to approach your tutor, additional learning support adviser or disability adviser first. This is a more informal way to resolve the problem. If you’re not satisfied with the outcome of this, you can make a formal complaint in writing. You can find out about the internal complaints procedure from your student handbook, the college or university website or directly from the university or college.
 
For support in resolving the issue informally, advice on using conciliation or mediation services and information about civil legal aid, please contact our Disabled Students Helpline .   
 
For more information on taking your complaint further, see our Factsheet F47 - making a complaint.

Further help or information

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 disabilityrightsuk.org.

24 September 2020

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