Financial support for students with disabilities

Can I get funding help for studying if I'm disabled? Read on for our guide to financial support for students with disabilities, including Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA).

Two young people are being shown some documents

Do students with disabilities have to pay for courses?

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, students with disabilities and long term health conditions can get free education up to the age of 19 (or up to 25 if you’re doing your first Level 3 qualification).

After this, ask the college directly if they offer discounts for students with disabilities, especially if you find it hard to work, or if you receive a means-tested or needs-based benefit like Disabled Students’ Allowance. In Scotland, you don’t have to pay fees for full-time FE courses. Part-time students with disabilities in Scotland can also study for free if they are on benefits.

Who pays for my disability support costs?

In further education you can expect your college to pay for extra educational costs. They use their Additional Learning Support funds (Scottish students get an Additional Support Needs for Learning Allowance instead) to assist learners with disabilities or learning difficulties. Support includes:

  • Extra tutorial help
  • Sign-language interpreters
  • Changing the height of desks
  • Providing handouts on different colour paper or in a larger font

If you need a computer with special software the college should provide one for you to use on campus. However, it remains the property of the college and it’s unlikely you’ll be allowed to take it home.

You should also see if you can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance on top of your other student finance support. A DSA application is needs-based and provides up to £25,000 per academic year for undergraduate and postgraduate students.

A diagnostic assessment is necessary if you wish to apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance.

Can students with disabilities get any money towards transport?

The transport situation varies, depending on where you live. There are several organisations involved.

In England and Wales, under Section 509 of the Education Act, local authorities must make sure that students aged 16-19 are not prevented from attending college because of transport difficulties. They are encouraged to provide transport support to students with disabilities until at least the age of 21, and ideally up to 25. You can find out about the transport policy on your council website, which should also say how to apply for help.

In Scotland, it’s best to speak to your college to find out if you can get help with travel through a bursary or Additional Support Needs for Learning Allowance.

In Northern Ireland, every case is considered on an individual basis and you need to contact your local Education and Library Board (ELB).

In all areas of the UK, social services have the power to pay for transport, so it’s worth asking them if you need extra help getting to and from college.

What can students with disabilities do if they’re still short of money?

You should check if you can get any welfare benefits as a student.

In England and Wales, each college has a Learner Support Fund which can help if you are facing financial hardship. You should contact your Student Support or Welfare Officer for help in applying.

A number of charitable trusts and foundations run their own grant schemes. Disability Rights UK has a funding from charitable trusts booklet which lists those that support students with disabilities in particular.

You may also be eligible for the 16-19 Bursary Fund. You can also try doing a grant search on the Turn2us website to see if you can get help through grants.

Who pays for students with disabilities to go to a specialist college?

If the type of education or support you need is not available locally, you may be able to get a place at a specialist college. Most of these colleges are independent and cater specifically for students with disabilities or learning difficulties, with specialist equipment and staff. They are often residential.

You’ll need to get financial support from the Education Funding Agency or your local authority in England, or the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills (DCELLS) in Wales. There are no specialist colleges in Scotland, and only one in Northern Ireland, but you may be able to get funding for a placement elsewhere in the UK through a bursary from your local education department or ELB.

A specialist careers advisor should be able to help you and your family when it comes to the application process, including application forms. The basic requirement is to show that your disability needs cannot be met in a local school or college. Social services will contribute towards the costs of a residential college if the programme includes a lot of care and support for your daily living needs.

Unfortunately we are unable to offer specific benefits advice at The Mix, but we can give emotional support and guide you to the best places for expert advice if you give us a call on 0808 808 4994.

Next Steps

  • The Money Helper offers free, unbiased and independent advice about all financial matters. 0800 138 7777
  • Youreable is an online community forum for disabled people.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By Holly Turner

Updated on 01-Aug-2021

Photo of a girl in a wheelchair’s shadow by volunteer photographer Nehal Shah