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Disabled Students’ Allowance: the complete guide

Written by
Alex Hasty
Insurance comparison and finance expert
Posted
19 SEPTEMBER 2023
6 min read
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University is a challenge for anyone – but when you have a disability, it becomes all the more tricky to traverse the pitfalls of life on campus. Often, at the forefront of these worries is finding the money to be able to fund day-to-day living expenses, the cost of accommodation, and your lifestyle.

Thankfully, more is being done to account for the financial needs of students with accessibility requirements than ever before. Increasing levels of funding are being given to students, with the chief amongst those being the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA).

Introduced in 1993, the DSA gives someone in higher education a small bursary to help support them financially through their time at university. But how much can they expect to receive? And who qualifies? There are lots of ifs, ands, or buts regarding the allowance. That’s why we’ve compiled this handy guide discussing all aspects of the DSA, and what they mean for you.

Read on to discover how much you might be able to claim, as well as how to, if you’re a student with a disability.

What is the Disabled Students’ Allowance?

The DSA is a grant which gives students in the UK extra financial support while studying an undergraduate, postgraduate, or doctorate degree. This aid is available in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and is not included as part of your maintenance loan or tuition fee. 
 
That means when your program of study is over, any money you received from the DSA does not have to be paid back. The exception to this rule is if you leave your course early, where you’ll have to return any money you haven’t spent yet.  
 
As part of the DSA, you might also be eligible to apply for a new computer (outside of financial support). You will need to pay towards the first £200 of this cost, with the rest covered by the DSA scheme.

Who is eligible for the Disabled Students Allowance? 

Just as with any grant, you’ll need to qualify to be eligible to receive the DSA. As a rule of thumb, each of the following must apply in order for you to be provided with a bursary:

  • You’re a full-time resident of the UK
  • You’re on a university level degree that lasts for a year or more (including part-time, Open University, and distance learning courses) 
  • You already qualify for support from Student Finance 
  • You have a disability, medical condition, sensory impairment, mental health condition, or specific learning difficulty that makes it harder for you to study your course

The spectrum of disability is broad, so it’s best to understand that your condition must be recognised and clearly defined by the Equality Act of 2010. This includes things like mental health conditions, physical and sensory disabilities, autism, and specific learning differences like ADHD, dyslexia or dyspraxia, and even long-term conditions like cancer.  
 
There are circumstances where a student might have a disability, but is still unable to claim the DSA. This applies if:  
 
You are an EU student who is only eligible for tuition fee support  
Your degree is an apprenticeship  
You already get an equivalent disability funding from another source – such as a social work bursary, an NHS bursary, or research council funding  
 
You may also be eligible for DSA if you’re studying abroad as part of a UK course. 

How much money do you get for the Disabled Students’ Allowance? 

Just as with any maintenance grant, the amount you receive will depend on your exact circumstance. This will depend on how much your assigned disability advisor believes you should be entitled to. When it comes to the maximum you’re entitled to, this will vary depending on what country you’re from.  
 
For Wales, England, and Northern Ireland, the 2023-24 caps are clear: 

  • £26,291 per year if you’re from England
  • £33,146 per year if you’re from Wales
  • £25,000 per year if you’re from Northern Ireland

Things are a little more complicated in Scotland, where the exact costs are categorised and broken down in the following way:

  • £1,725 per year for general costs
  • £5,160 across your whole course for 'large items' of specialist equipment
  • £20,520 per year for non-medical personal help

Remember, these are the most you can get in each country, not what you should expect to receive. 

How to apply for the Disabled Students’ Allowance

You can apply for the DSA by logging into your Student Finance account. The earlier you do this the better, as it will give Student Finance the time to have provisions in place for you well before your course begins. The best time to apply is as soon as your placement is confirmed by UCAS.  
 
You should find that a DSA application is on your “to-do list” when you sign in. If it isn’t, then go to “change your circumstances” and follow the DSA instructions mentioned to apply.  
 
This process is slightly different if you’re in Scotland. You’ll need to speak to the university’s disability advisor. They’ll assess whether you qualify for the allowance, then invite you to an appointment, where you’ll need to provide evidence that you’re eligible. 

What evidence is needed to apply for the Disabled Students’ Allowance? 

But what evidence is needed? As you can imagine with such a wide spectrum of disabilities, this will vary a lot depending on your exact circumstances. Your Student Finance form should include specifics when it comes to this, but common examples for different types of evidence would be things like: 

  • Long-term health or mental health conditions, physical or sensory disabilities – a Disability Evidence Form, completed by your doctor or a qualified specialist. You could also bring a detailed letter from either which outlines how your condition will impact your study.
  • Specific learning differences – A written diagnostic report from a medical professional, such as a psychologist or special needs teacher.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder – You may need to have your condition confirmed by a clinical psychologist or doctor, with them outlining how your autism affects your day-to-day abilities. A statement of special education needs from a local authority also serves as evidence here. 

Each circumstance will be unique. Make sure to collect as much evidence as you can before any assessment or meeting. In the event you have more than one condition, you might have to provide evidence for each. 

Getting a Disabled Students’ Allowance study needs assessment 

Once your DSA is confirmed, you’ll be asked to attend a study needs assessment. The assessor will decide exactly how much support you need. Naturally, you’ll need to be as clear and prepared as possible to let them know what your exact needs and requirements are.  
 
As such, it’s handy to ask yourself some questions before attending the assessment, to work out what you’re going to need financial support with. Think about things like: 

  • How much travel is involved in your course
  • Whether you're going to struggling with long-form writing for exams or essays
  • Your ability to organise your work and manage your own time
  • Your ability to concentrate for long periods of time 
  • If you require any specialist equipment to communicate with others, or comprehend what’s being said
  • Any existing support you feel is a vital part of your ability to study successfully

The more you’re aware, the more clarity the assessor will have when making a decision. Their final decision will be written up in a full report, which will list all the help you’re eligible to receive. 

What can the Disabled Student’s Allowance be used to pay for?

Your DSA is used explicitly to help you with costs associated with your study. That means you can’t use it to buy things like groceries or pay for your household bills. Some common examples of things which DSA will cover include: 

  • Special equipment or software which makes it easier for you to study, attend lectures and complete exams (remember that you’ll need to cover the first £200 for any new laptops) 
  • Additional living costs a result of your disability, such printing costs, braille paper, or audio description technology 
  • The costs of non-medical helpers, such as one-to-one interpreters 
  • Extra travel costs as a direct result of your disability 

How do you receive the Disabled Students’ Allowance?

DSA is paid out in two ways – with both ensuring that the money you’re being given is going towards disability support aides, rather than social purchases. The two ways you’ll receive the grant are:  

  • Directly to a supplier of specialist equipment, or a non-medical support worker
  • To your bank account, after you’ve already paid for the aforementioned services yourself. In this instance, you’ll need to provide evidence of the receipts 

In the case of the latter, make sure you only make the purchases once you’ve been confirmed for DSA. Also be sure to talk to a disability advisor at your uni to guarantee the services or equipment are covered by the allowance.  

How to appeal if you’re rejected for the Disabled Students’ Allowance 

If you feel you weren’t given enough support, or you were rejected outright, you can appeal the decision. You’ll need to reach out to the relevant Student Finance body, ask for an explanation of your unsuccessful request, and ask for them to review you again.  
 
You’ll need to be patient at this point. Your review will be heard eventually, but it might take some time for Student Finance to get back to you with a decision. 

What other support can you get as a disabled student?

The DSA isn’t the only way students with accessibility requirements can get help and support while studying. Make sure to also pursue these avenues if you want to make your time at university a little bit easier:

  • Bursaries, scholarships and awards. It might be that you’re already eligible for bursaries directly from the university you’re attending. Make sure to check out their websites for details on the funding they provide for disabled students. Your student support service should also be able to tell you what’s available. 
  • Charitable trusts. Some people might be eligible for monetary boosts from charitable trusts. You can use Turn2Us to look for grants which might apply to your situation. You’ll also be able to find disability grants which are offered through Disability Rights UK.
  • University and college hardship funds. Reach out to the student services wing of your university and find out if you’re eligible for any additional funding. You can get this if you’re a student with existing financial commitments, or you were previously in care.
  • Other benefits. Your Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or Disability Living Allowance (DLA) can also be used to help fund your period of study. These will be unaffected by any DSA or other funding you get a result of your study.

The content written in this article is for information purposes only and should not be taken as financial advice. If you require support on the products discussed here, please speak to your bank/lender or seek the advice of an independent professional financial advisor. We also have more information on our Customer Support Hub.

Alex Hasty - Insurance comparison and finance expert

At Compare the Market, Alex has had roles as Commercial Associate Director, Director of Trading and Director of Growth. He’s currently responsible for the development and execution of Comparethemarket’s longer-term strategic options, ensuring the right breadth of products and services that meet customer needs.

Learn more about Alex