Disabled people can worry about the extra costs associated with their disability that other people considering further and higher education aren’t faced with. The Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) is designed to support people with extra study-related costs they incur due to their disability.
Why are DSAs important?
Disabled people may already know that the Equality Act 2010 demands that they are neither discriminated against nor disadvantaged in education as a result of disability. This same legislation covers the educational experience from pre-school right up to university and even postgraduate courses. As a student progresses the support they need is likely to become more specific, relating to their course of study and as their disability effects them. With this in mind, the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) is a grant that’s made available to them to help with the extra costs of studying they may have as a result of disability or long-term health condition. Because DSA is individualised it isn’t possible to say how much you’ll be awarded but we can explain the eligibility criteria and application process.
The first piece of pleasant news is that DSAs are not loans, so don’t have to be paid back, unless the student leaves their course early, although it’s important to remember that they are not a ‘benefit’ either so cannot be claimed for anything other than 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.
There are four allowances covering different areas of need.
- Specialist equipment allowance
- Non-medical helper’s allowance
- General and other expenditure allowance
- Travel costs
Are you eligible?
In order to meet the eligibility criteria for DSA a student must meet the definition as described by the Equality Act 2010. This definition, however, is broad and you may be surprised that it covers not only physical and sensory disabilities but also mental health issues and learning difficulties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia. As mentioned previously, DSA is based on your specific needs so not all students will be awarded the same amounts. This also means that the amount you’ll receive does not depend on your income, or that of your parents or partner. (DSA can be claimed in addition to student finance loans and grants – so students don’t find themselves in a ‘one or the other’ situation – they can receive both.)
To qualify for DSA you must live in the UK, qualify for student finance and be taking a full-time or part-time undergraduate or postgraduate course in the UK that lasts for at least one year.
It’s also worth noting that disabled people who enrol in distance learning (correspondence) courses, such as those offered by the Open University, are also able to receive DSA.
How to apply
You can apply for DSA at any time, before or during your course, although UCAS recommend that you apply as early as possible so that your payments are set up to coincide with the start of your course.
(You don’t need a confirmed place at a university to apply.)
The first move is to apply for Student Finance, letting them know you wish to apply for DSA. You’ll receive a DSA application form and will be asked to provide proof of your disability or specific learning difficulty (such as a diagnostic assessment or report, or letter from a medical authority). If you have an EHC plan, your local authority can forward the details to the DSA assessor as proof of your eligibility.
Eligible applicants will receive an approval letter from their DSA funding provider who will then ask you to attend a needs assessment.
The awarding authority you apply to will depend on where you live:
In England, apply to Student Finance England. (You can apply at the same time as making your online UCAS application.)
In Wales, apply to Student Finance Wales.
In Scotland, apply to the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS).
In Northern Ireland, apply to your regional education authority.
You might be surprised to find that the needs assessment isn’t the first step in the process but this is because it should be partly based on the course of your choosing. The assessment is an opportunity to discuss the requirements of your chosen course and your learning needs to formulate a plan specific to you. (It’s a good idea to let the college or university you’ll be attending know that your DSA application has been accepted.) This may take place at a study needs assessment centre where you’ll meet with a specialist to discuss appropriate support. (Students can select an appointment at the centre of their choice.)
A report will be produced detailing the equipment and support you require for your course. Even so, you will not be reimbursed for items you purchase before the report has been produced so it’s best to wait for it, not least because some of your award will be sent directly to whoever is providing the support. (A copy of the report will also be sent to the college or university’s disability officer who will arrange support and adjustments as required.)
What can DSAs be used for?
DSA payments cover the cost of specific items of equipment, specific non-medical support worker costs, and so on. Apart from travel, there are maximum amounts for each allowance.
DSA does not cover the disability-related costs you’d have if you weren’t attending a course, or those costs that any student might have. For instance, you may get a new computer if you don’t already have one – but then, lots of students may need a computer for their course, so the provision falls into something of a grey area. In these cases a compromise is made whereby eligible students pay the first £200 towards the costs since this is the minimum cost that any student is likely to incur when buying one.
DSAs are awarded to eligible people with a vast variety of needs, from full-time to part-time students and for people with a range of disabilities, health conditions and learning difficulties.
Awards for the forthcoming 2018 – 2019 academic year have been announced. For a full-time student, the specialist equipment allowance is up to £5,529 for the whole course with a non-medical helper allowance of up to £21,987 a year, and a general allowance of up to £1,847 a year.
For a part-time student, the specialist equipment allowance is also up to £5,529 for the whole course with a non-medical helper allowance of up to £16,489 a year, and a general allowance of up to £1,385 a year. Eligible postgraduate students can receive up to £10,993 a year.
Further advice and information regarding your specific circumstances can be acquired from various disability charities and organisations or via the disability officer at many colleges and universities – or visit: