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Grants and funding for disabled students

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Higher education opens up many opportunities, but also brings with it added financial worries; this is especially the case if you have a disability. We explain the help available to relieve the strain of being a student.

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While all students are entitled to a tuition fee loan, a means-tested maintenance loan to cover living costs and sometimes a maintenance grant, additional grants are available for disabled students.

Here we review the extra funding available to UK students with a disability.

Disabled Students' Allowance

Whichever part of the UK you are from and whether you are studying in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, if you have a disability that will impact your studies while in higher education, you are able to apply for Disabled Students' Allowance.

It is available if you are an undergraduate or postgraduate student with a physical condition, learning difficulties, a mental health condition or a long-term medical condition.

You can apply for this allowance to help with the following costs:

  • Small purchases such as extra photocopying, Braille paper or a dictaphone

  • Larger specialist equipment you may require for your studies as a result of your disability; for instance, voice recognition software, a computer, printer and scanner. Equipment that is needed by all students on a course would not be covered.

  • Non-medical personal help such as the services of a reader, note taker, sign language interpreter, proofreader or mentor. This doesn't cover extra tuition specific to the subject area, personal care or any other help unrelated to your studies.

  • The additional costs of travel which a disability brings, such as being unable to use public transport.

The level of help you receive from Disabled Students' Allowance is determined by your disability and whether your course is full-time or part-time; your household income does not influence the payment.

Allowances for the 2021/2022 academic year are:

Undergraduate and postgraduate students can get up to £25,000 a year for support. 

Allowances for the 2020/2021 academic year are:

Full-time students:

  • Specialist equipment allowance: up to £5,849 for the whole course

  • Non-medical helper allowance: up to £23,258 a year

  • General allowance Up to £1,954 a year

Part-time students:

  • Specialist equipment allowance: up to £5,849 for the whole course

  • Non-medical helper allowance: up to £17,443 a year

  • General allowance Up to £1,465 a year

If you are a postgraduate, you can claim an annual allowance of up to £20,580 a year.

You do not need to repay any DSA you receive and can claim it in addition to other forms of student finance although you can't get it if you receive an NHS Disabled Students' Allowance or similar funding from the university you attend.

Payment is either made into your account or straight to the organisation providing the products or services you need and you will not have to repay any of the costs incurred.

For consideration for this form of funding, you need to complete a form available from Student Finance England, Wales or Northern Ireland or from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland. If you qualify you will have to undergo a needs assessment to determine the level of funding you will receive.

NHS Bursary for students

If you are a disabled student taking a course funded by NHS England or Wales, the Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorate, or you are receiving a bursary from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland, you can get financial assistance if your disability means you incur additional costs to attend the training.

It covers similar costs to the Disabled Students' Allowance and a recent assessment of your needs is required as proof of eligibility.

An additional payment is included within your bursary for postgraduate social work students with a disability who get a bursary from NHS England or the Care Council for Wales.

Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment

Besides financial assistance with your studies, you may be able to claim additional funding towards day-to-day living while you are a student.

If you need help to care for yourself or to get around, you may already be receiving Disability Living Allowance, which is being phased out and replaced with a similar benefit known as a Personal Independence Payment (PIP). If you are applying for assistance for the first time, you will be considered for the latter.

Being in higher education will not adversely affect your eligibility to claim PIP as the payment is based on need rather than your family or partner's income; it is also unaffected by any other student funding you may receive.

The level of payment you receive will be dependent on the extent to which your disability impacts the care you require and your ability to mobilise.

claim form is available from the Department of Work and Pensions, and after completing and returning this, you will need to complete an assessment.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit has replaced a number of benefits, including Housing Benefit and income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

If you are unable to work as a result of your disability while a student, you may be able to claim Universal Credit if you are studying part-time.

Full-time students usually cannot claim this unless they are receiving Personal Independent Payment or Disability Living Allowance and they have a limited capacity for work.

You will need to complete an assessment to demonstrate that your disability would prevent you from working. You should claim New Style (contributory) ESA on a credits-only basis to have your limited capability for work assessed. 

Help towards travel costs

If your mobility is affected or you are unable to travel alone, this will often mean that the journey to and from university on a daily basis leads to extra costs.

Your disability may mean you are entitled to a concessionary bus pass that entitles you to free bus travel or a Disabled Persons Railcard that allows you and a companion to receive a third off most rail fares.

Alternatively, you may be able to take advantage of the Motability scheme that enables those with a disability to lease a car; once you have a car you will also be able to apply for vehicle tax exemption and a blue badge to allow you to park in more accessible areas.

Researching the financial assistance available to you as a disabled student and accessing all the funding to which you are entitled will allow you to be in a more comfortable financial situation while you pursue your studies.

New bank accounts are offered all the time, so compare all of the best options to make sure you get the right one for you.

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