Disabled Students' Allowance explained
Nicky Rees, the Trust's Welfare Officer, answers some frequently asked questions about Disabled Students' Allowance, and possible support available for students living with cystic fibrosis (CF).
What is Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA)?
Disabled Students' Allowance helps to support disabled students and those with additional learning needs who are studying a course of higher education. The DSA offers extra support that can help with disability-related costs or expenses which are over and above those provided as reasonable adjustments by your university.
Students living with CF often combine studying with the daily fitness routines needed to stay well. This can include (but is not limited to): physiotherapy; physical exercise; rest; and/or medication. The DSA can provide grants to buy equipment and fund non-medical helpers, to help students living with CF to get to most out of student life and make things a little easier.
Who is eligible?
To be eligible for DSA your condition must meet the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010, and either be studying:
- an eligible full-time or part-time undergraduate course (for example, a degree, or HND-level course) including Initial Teacher Education and distance learning courses; or
- an eligible full-time or part-time postgraduate course, including Initial Teacher Education and distance learning courses.
Part-time students living in England, Wales and Northern Ireland must be studying at least 25% of the length of the full-time course to qualify for DSA. In Scotland, part-time students must be studying 50% of the length of the full-time course.
If you are not sure whether your course qualifies, you should check with your further education provider.
You may still be able to get DSA if you’re doing certain types of unpaid work experience in the public or voluntary sectors. If you don’t qualify for DSA during a placement year, you may be able to get help from the Access to Work Scheme (or The Work Psychology Service in Northern Ireland).
What can DSAs pay for?
The type of support and how much you get depends on your individual needs and the course you're studying, not your household income.
DSA is separated into four allowances that cover different areas of need:
1. General Allowance (‘Basic Allowance’ in Scotland)
This can include items such as:
- Photocopying and additional printing costs— as a student living with CF you may have additional printing/copying needs if you are unable to attend lectures when you are unwell, and need to copy lectures notes or material.
- A mini fridge for your room— this can help if you have medication that needs to be stored in a fridge, and to keep snacks nearby to help with your diet.
2. Specialist Equipment Allowance ('Large Items Allowance' in Scotland)
This can include items such as:
- Printers/scanners – as a student living with CF, you may not be able to access public printers/scanners at your University. They may be far from your accommodation, or you may be concerned with the infection risk of using public devices.
- Specialist furniture, such as a chair, table or back support— you may have joint pain that means sitting for long periods is painful. Ergonomic furniture can help to reduce musculoskeletal problems and joint pain.
- Disability-related software (mind mapping, screen reading and/or voice recognition software)— these may be helpful if you have joint pain in your wrists/hands or are living with fatigue.
- Laptops/PC— In England you must pay £200 towards the cost of a new computer if you need one to run any recommended assistive software.
3. Non-Medical Helper Allowance ('Non-Medical Personal Help Allowance' in Scotland)
This can include things such as:
- IT/Software Training— to provide training on specialised software, for example voice recognition or text reading software.
- Electronic notetaker— you may have joint pain in your wrists/hands or have fatigue. Having an electronic notetaker in lectures can help reduce joint pain and allow you to use your energy effectively.
4. Travel Allowance (not available in Scotland through DSA, however you may be able to claim travel costs from the Students Awards Agency for Scotland [SAAS])
As a student living with CF, you may be able to get help with the extra cost of travelling to and from lectures (including work placements) if you are unable to use public transport. This may be because of infection, limited mobility and/or fatigue. It is important to consider your ability to travel to lectures, be well enough to participate, and then be able to travel home.
When can I apply?
It is best to apply for DSA as soon as possible. You can apply for DSA before your offer at university is confirmed. You can also apply during your studies, and while applications should be made at the latest nine months after the start of the academic year, this may be extended if you can show the application has been made as soon as is reasonably practicable (for example, after a stay in hospital).
The application process time can vary across the UK, however it can take up to 14 weeks, so it's a good idea to start your DSA application as soon as possible.
How do you apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance?
You can apply for DSA at the same time as you apply for student finance. If you are not applying for student finance, or applying later, you can apply separately.
Where you apply depends on where you live, as different funding bodies cover the four nations of the UK.
In Scotland, you apply for DSA through Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS). You can download the application form at on their website. If you're a full-time student and will be applying for tuition fees and/or living cost support, you must complete a student funding application before SAAS can assess your eligibility for DSA.
In Northern Ireland, you apply for DSA through Student Finance NI. You can do this when you apply for student finance, or you can download the application form online or speak to your local Education Authority Office.
What evidence do I need when applying?
When applying for DSA, you need to provide medical evidence from a specialist healthcare provider. This medical evidence should contain details of your cystic fibrosis and the nature of your health. It should also briefly explain how this impacts you and your ability to study. Speak to your Cystic Fibrosis Social Worker / Specialist if you have one. You may decide to also use your CF annual review feedback letter as evidence if this accurately reflects your current health.
What happens after I apply?
Once your eligibility for DSA is confirmed, you may be asked to contact an assessment centre to work out what help you need (a Study Needs Assessment). This is an informal meeting that will help identify what support you need based on your individual needs. After the assessment, you’ll get a report listing equipment and other support you can get to help you while studying.
A ‘Study Needs Assessment’ can seem daunting, but it is important to remember that at this stage, you have already been awarded DSA. An assessment is not a test, the specialist assessor is there to establish how much extra support you need while studying, not to make it harder for you to get help.
If awarded, do I need to pay it back?
DSAs are grants that do not need to be repaid. Any items you get to help with your studies are yours to keep.
Will DSA affect my welfare benefits?
No. DSAs are for specific study related expenses only, and do not count as funding for daily living costs. DSA is ignored when deciding if you qualify for means-tested welfare benefits such as Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance and Housing Benefit.
What can I do if my circumstances have change?
Your Study Needs Assessment report is not final and can be altered if your circumstances change. Don’t worry if you decide to go to a different university or choose to live at home instead of university accommodation, as these details can be updated. Contact your funding body to ensure your support suppliers are changed if necessary.
You should also contact your funding body if your health condition gets worse, as this may affect what you are entitled to and you could receive additional help.
What if I am repeating or extending my study?
If, for reasons related to your disability, you have to repeat or spread out your study in order to complete it, the funding body may agree to continue making DSA payments. You should contact your funding body as early as possible about this.
If you take a break from your studies, any DSA payments will pause, but then restart once you return. As soon as anything changes with your studies you should contact the funding body to ensure you are not overpaid (as any overpayment must be repaid).
Can I get help with applying?
You can speak to the Disability Advisor at your university, they are there to offer support, guidance and information, to help you make the most of your time at University.
The Trust's Welfare Officer can support you with applying for DSA. Contact our Helpline on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0300 373 1000 to access our Welfare Officer, who can help you understand what you may be entitled to and the options available.
For budgeting tips, check out our financial support and budgeting at university page, complete with information on benefits, student discounts and money saving ideas. You can also speak to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust about maximising your income.