Funding further education for disabled students
Disability Rights UK Factsheet F26
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- Who funds Further Education?
- Do I have to pay tuition fees?
- How is disability-related support funded?
- Can I get funding for transport to and from college?
- Are there other sources of funding?
- Who will fund my place at a specialist college?
- Can I claim welfare benefits while I study?
- Further information
- Funding guide for adult learners
- Useful contacts
This factsheet provides funding information for disabled students in the UK who are studying at further education (FE) level. FE is post-16 education below degree level and not taught in a school. The Disability Rights UK booklet Applying to Further Education gives more details about the types of FE courses available.
It’s important to think about your finances before you enrol on a course to make sure that you can afford to go to college. There are many sources of funding available depending on the type of course you are doing and your personal circumstances.
This factsheet mainly applies to England. Please refer to the Useful contacts section for information on organisations which can help you in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
2. Who funds Further Education?
Local Further Education (FE) and sixth form colleges are independently run, and are sometimes called ‘sector’ or ‘maintained’ colleges.
Colleges charge tuition fees for courses and get money from government funding bodies to run specific courses and subsidise tuition fees. In some cases they charge the full cost of the course. This booklet contains information on rules that apply to tuition fees for the academic year 2013/14.
In England there are currently two funding bodies;
- Education Funding Agency (EFA) funds young Learners between 16 and 19 years old or up to the age of 25 if the young learner has a Section 139a Learning Difficulty Assessment.
- Skills Funding Agency (SFA) funds adult learners over 19 or 25 if they have a Section 139a Learning Difficulty Assessment.
Colleges must follow the guidelines of these agencies and make sure they are meeting the needs of disabled learners.
In Wales funding comes from the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills (DCELLS). This is part of the Welsh Assembly Government.
In Scotland funding comes from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC). The SFC must ensure that colleges are meeting the needs of disabled learners. All colleges must report back on how they have supported these students.
In Northern Ireland funding comes from the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL).
FE courses at Higher Education institutions
Some further education courses take place at higher education institutions, such as universities, rather than FE colleges. Universities can access funding for disabled FE students in exactly the same way as FE colleges. This means that if you’re taking an FE course at a university you can still receive disability-related support.
For information on funding higher education courses in FE institutions, see the Disability Rights UK booklet Funding higher education for disabled students.
Further education courses provided at private colleges and training providers are not funded by government agencies. If you want to attend a course at a private college you will have to pay fees. However, private colleges have a legal duty under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments so that disabled people can access their courses and facilities. You should not be charged extra for disability-related support.
If your needs cannot be met by a local FE college your funding body may pay for you to go to a specialist college. The colleges are designed to meet the needs of all disabled students or students with specific impairments. At these colleges you’ll have access to specialist disability-related support that’s not available locally. For more information see Section 6
3. Do I have to pay tuition fees?
In England you can get free education up to the age of 19, or, in some cases, up to the age of 25 if you have a Section 139a Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA). This would depend on factors such whether the chosen course meets the recommendations outlined in the LDA and realistic progression and achievement of learning aims.
If you’re an adult learner aged 19 or over, and you cannot get free education recommended in an LDA, you may have to pay fees. However, there are certain groups who can get full fees remission (meaning you don’t have to pay fees), or partial help to fees (called co-funding). This list is not exhaustive, but lists some of the main groups who might get fees remission.
- If you are aged 19-23 and you are getting JSA, ESA (and in the work related activity group), or universal credit (where due to unemployment and required to undertake skills training) you may get fees remission.
- Also, for those aged 19-23, there are certain specified groups who can get help towards costs such as some of those at entry level or level 1
- If you are aged 19-23 and you are studying for your first level 2, or level 3 course, you may get fees remission.
- If you are aged 19 and above, you might get help up to and including level 2 if you are getting one of the benefits listed above.
- In some cases, those getting state benefits not listed above might get fees exemption but this is at the discretion of the college.
- For those aged 24 and over who are studying at level 3 or above, it is likely you will have to pay fees though there are few exceptions to this. However, you might be able to get a 24 plus loan in these cases – see below.
Distance learning courses
Most distance learning courses are delivered through private training providers so it is highly unlikely that you will receive government funding for fees for the course. This is the case regardless of a recommendation in a LDA .
You may want to consider applying for funding from charitable and educational trusts. Disability Rights UK produces an information booklet called Funding from charitable trusts, with details of trusts and advice on how to apply.
Your local FE College might deliver distance online courses so it is worth speaking to them and finding out. If the course is one funded by the Skills Funding Agency you may be able to access funding for it under rules as described above.
Funding For Apprenticeships
Funding for Apprenticeships is available at all levels. If you’re aged 16-18, 100% of your training costs will be paid by the government. If you’re aged 19-23, only 50% of your training costs are subsidised.
If you are aged 24 or over and doing an advanced or higher apprenticeship, you may get help through the 24 plus advanced learning loan – see below for more information on this.
Please note that some additional funding may be available through the National Apprenticeship Service to encourage employers to take on young disabled people.
Apprentices do real jobs in a real workplace earning money at the same time. There is no set rate of pay but all employed apprentices must receive at least £2.68 per hour. The average wage per week for an apprentice is around £170 and in some job roles around £210 per week.
4. How is disability-related support funded?
Under the Equality Act 2010 (and previously under Part 4 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) all education providers, including FE and sixth form colleges, must make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled students are not placed at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ compared to non-disabled students. In addition, they must not treat disabled students less favourably for reasons related to their impairment. You can find out more from the Disability Rights UK booklet Understanding the Equality Act: information for disabled students.
Colleges get money from their funding body to meet the costs of reasonable adjustments. In colleges this is called Additional Learning Support (ALS). The types of support a college might give include:
- additional teaching for dyslexic students
- an interpreter for D/deaf students
- materials in alternative formats
- specialist computer software.
If you need specialist equipment, such as a computer with assistive software, the college should be able to make this available for use on campus. However, it will remain the property of the college and it’s unlikely that you’d be able to take these items home. If you need specialist equipment for home use, you can apply for funding from a charitable trust. See the Other funding section.
You can get more examples of the adjustments that can be made from our information booklet Adjustments for disabled students.
Assessing your needs
You can generally expect the college to meet your disability-related study needs. But you will need to have an assessment of your needs before support can be put in place.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland some students have a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN) while studying at school which says what their individual learning needs are and what support should be provided. When you reach the age of 16, the Statement is only valid if you stay on at school.
In England, if you are leaving school and moving straight to college, you should have had a Section 139a Learning Difficulty assessment. With your permission, your school or careers adviser should pass on any information to the college about your particular needs. This will help the college to plan for the support you need to learn. Having a Section 139a Learning Difficulty Assessment also means that the Local Authority is responsible for education, training and support needs, in some case up to age 25.
In Wales and Northern Ireland your school should arrange a transition meeting with you and your parents, teachers and other professionals working with you to develop a transition plan that sets out what you would like to do in the future. This should be reviewed every year and may help to identify the needs you will have at college.
In Scotland, you will not have a Statement, as all schools are expected to provide adequate support to meet the needs of all pupils with additional support needs. Your school and other agencies also have certain duties to provide extra support to help you prepare for opportunities after school. This means that your school will normally start planning what support you need about one year before you expect to leave school. With your permission they will do this by asking for information about you from any organisation that is likely to be involved with you after school. This could include Careers Scotland, colleges, NHS boards, Social Services or other local authorities.
Not at school
If you’ve already left school and are thinking about going to college, it’s always a good idea to contact the college a few months before you start. You can make sure that they are aware of your needs, and give yourself a chance to get to know the college.
There are many different ways people with impairments or learning difficulties can be supported at college. To find out what support you might need, it’s a good idea to speak to the college support staff before you arrive. The Additional Learning Support advisers will arrange disability-related study support within the college. You can discuss your course, the support you’ve found useful in the past and any new support that the college might be able to provide.
The college might need to carry out a formal assessment of your needs to make sure you get the right support. The college receives money from its funding body to pay for this support.
If you take part in a mainstream course (that includes disabled and non-disabled students), the college will give you the support you need to succeed on your course. This might include extra teaching for students with dyslexia, an interpreter for D/deaf students, flexible timetables, materials in alternative formats such as Braille or computer software.
You might choose a course which is designed to meet the needs of disabled learners generally or learners with a particular impairment or learning disability. These programmes have fewer students than a mainstream class and all the students on the course will need additional support to help their learning. This might include Basic Skills courses that aim to develop your maths, reading and writing skills or Independent Living Skills courses which prepare students for adult life.
Funding for a place at a specialist college will only be considered if your Section 139a Assessment or last transition review has identified that your needs cannot be meet in a local college. Specialist further education colleges provide education for disabled people only. Some specialist colleges cater for a range of disabled students, while others mainly provide for those with a particular impairment or learning difficulty.
5. Can I get funding for transport to and from college?
Getting to college can be difficult for disabled people for a variety of reasons, including the cost of transport. You may be able to get funding to help you overcome some of these barriers.
England and Wales
Local authorities must ensure that young learners are not prevented from attending college because of transport difficulties. Local authorities must consider your individual circumstances before refusing to help with transport costs on policy grounds. Contact your local authority to find out what transport support they provide, or visit the website.
If you have a Section 139a Learning Difficulty Assessment, your plan should include your transport needs.
In England the local authority must publish a 16 to 19 Transport Policy each year that sets out the support available to all young learners including disabled young learners up to the age of 25.
If you do not feel there is adequate provision, other than judicial review there is no legal remedy. However, you may wish to make a formal complaint to the relevant department at the local authority. This is normally the School Admissions Department within Children’s Services. Check this with your local authority.
In Wales the Local authorities and their partners are encouraged to provide transport support to disabled students until at least the age of 21, and ideally up to 25.
In Scotland you can apply for a Travel Expense Allowance to help with the cost transport to and from college. It may be included in a bursary payment. The amount you can get depends on your household income unless you’re under 18 years old. You can also apply for help with the cost of transport to and from college through the Additional Support Needs for Learning Allowance (ASLA). The Extended Learning Coordinator at your college can give you information on how to apply.
In Northern Ireland every request for transport to and from college is considered on an individual basis. Further information is available from your local Education and Library Board (ELB).
Social Services or Social Work Department
In England, Scotland and Wales your local Social Services or Social Work Department also have the power to pay for transport to and from college. This is set out in Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. However, Social Work Departments are allowed to take their resources into account when deciding whether to provide services, including transport.
Free and Concessionary Bus Passes
There are free and concessionary Bus pass schemes for disabled people across the UK. The terms and conditions of the schemes vary. To find out more contact your Local Authority in England, Scotland and Wales or Translink in Northern Ireland.
6. Are there other sources of funding?
Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA)
The EMA is a weekly allowance that aims to encourage more young people to stay in FE once their compulsory schooling ends. The allowance is available in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to young people who are starting year 12, at age 16, to help with course-related costs for travel, books and equipment. Young people get £10, £20 or £30 per week, depending on household income.
In England, EMA is no longer available .
16-19 Bursary Fund
If you’re aged between 16 and 19 years and think you might struggle with the costs for full-time education or training you may receive a bursary.
The scheme is made up of two elements. These are
1. A bursary of £1,200 a year paid to you if you are considered to be vulnerable - You are considered to be vulnerable and can receive help if you are in care or a care leaver or getting income support or getting both Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Disability Living Allowance. If you qualify your school or college will pay you.
ESA can be paid from the age of 16 to full-time students who receive DLA. Receiving both these benefits will qualify you for a bursary. If you get DLA, the Work Capability Assessment (part of the ESA claim process) will only be used to decide whether you are placed in the Work-Related Activity Group or the Support Group.
You can get more information on Employment and support allowance from our factsheet available online. This includes a section for students.
2. Help under a discretionary fund - You can get help under the Discretionary Fund if you need help with things such as the costs of transport, food or equipment. Your school or college will decide how much to pay and how regularly to pay it. Payments can also be in kind (such as a transport pass) rather than in cash. Payment could also be linked to your behaviour or attendance.
Providers are responsible for identifying which young people are eligible for this payment. They will usually want to see evidence, for example a letter about your benefits.
Discretionary Support Funds (England and Scotland)
Financial Contingency Fund (Wales)
Further Education Support Funds (Northern Ireland)
The funding bodies give colleges money so that they can give grants to their students. These funds are aimed at helping disadvantaged students with the costs associated with further education, for example, because they have a low income or have a disability. Each college has their own policy on who is eligible for funding and what they will provide grants for. Grants usually cover the cost of:
- childcare and related transport costs
- course related books and equipment
- transport to and from college
- course field trips
- accommodation, if you have to take a course that is held a long way from home.
In England, Discretionary Learner Support funds are available to adults aged 19+ for hardship. However the childcare funding is only available to students aged 20+. You should contact your Student Support or Welfare Officer at the college or sixth form for further information and help in applying.
If you are 19 years old and need help to pay for your childcare costs you should apply to the Care to Learn programme. To get an application form you should contact the Learner Support helpline on 0800 121 8989.
24+ Advanced Learning Loans and Bursary Fund
If you are 24+ years old you can apply for a loan to help with the costs of a college or training course. The course must start on or after 1 August 2013 and be at level 3. For more information please go to www.gov.uk/24_advanced_learning_loans/overview.
There is a new bursary fund from September 2013 for mature students who take out a 24+ Advanced Learning Loan. This fund is similar to Discretionary Learner Support but colleges will have flexibility to respond to students’ needs and local circumstances. The fund can be used to support learners with learning difficulties and disabilities, for example support workers, specialist equipment and necessary adjustments under the Equality Act.
Students in Further Education are not eligible for loans under the Student Loan Scheme. Some colleges may offer a loan as part of their Access Fund provision or their own student support funds. You could also apply for a loan from your own bank or building society, but it is important to think about repayment arrangements very carefully before doing this.
Professional Career Development Loans (PCDL)
You can borrow between £300 and £10,000 to support any course of learning that will help you in your career. The Government pays the interest while you’re learning and you don’t start repaying until one month after leaving your course. It will cover up to 80% of your course fees or 100% if you’ve been out of work for 3 months or more, plus the cost of books and other learning materials.
The loan comes from three high street banks taking part in the scheme and anyone can qualify, particularly if they don’t qualify for funding through their local authority. You should apply 3 months before starting your course to give the bank enough time to process your application. For more information call the National Careers Service on 0800 100 900 or visit www.gov.uk/career-development-loans/overview.
Trusts and charitable support
Some national and local organisations, including charities, offer grants to students studying certain subjects or who have a particular impairment. Your local library may hold a list of trusts or your college may be able to give you details. Disability Rights UK also produces an information booklet called Funding from charitable trusts, with details of trusts and advice on how to apply.
7. Who will fund my place at a specialist college?
If the type of education or support you need is not available at your local FE college your funding body may pay for you to go to a specialist college. The colleges may be designed to meet the needs of all disabled students, or just students with specific impairments. At these colleges you will have access to disability-related study support that is not available locally.
In England and Wales the Local Authority has a duty to secure suitable education to meet the reasonable needs of all learners under the age of 19 and in England the Local Authority also has this duty to learners under the age of 25 if they have a Section 139a learning difficulty assessment (LDA). To gain funding for a place, the LDA needs to recommend continued education at a specialist college or a residential college if local provision cannot meet your needs. Your careers adviser will make an application to your Local Authority. . Your place at a specialist college will be funded by the Education Funding Agency if you are from England or DCELLS in Wales.
If you disagree with the decision made by the LDA you have the right to appeal and should contact your Local Authority for details.
If you are from England and between 19 and 25 but do not have a Section 139a Assessment you should contact your Local Authority (LA) for further support.
The LA will fund places for students who stay on at a special school between the ages of 16 and 19, if this has been agreed in their transition plan.
It is unlikely you will receive government funding for a place at a specialist school or college if your disability-related needs can be met at a local ‘sector’ college or school.
In Scotland there are no specialist colleges but you may be able to get funding for a placement in an specialist college elsewhere in the UK through a bursary from your local council’s education department.
In Northern Ireland you may be able to get funding for a placement in an independent specialist college if your needs cannot be met at an FE college. The funding for a placement would come from your the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL).
Your Social Services or Social Work Department may pay or contribute towards a place at a residential college in cases where the provision includes a large care component.
8. Can I claim welfare benefits while I study?
If you receive benefits, you must notify the benefits agency before you begin a course as this is considered a change of circumstance.
The benefits agency might review the benefits you get if you have a change of circumstance. It is a good idea to consult a benefits adviser to make sure you are getting all the benefits for which you are eligible.
Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independence Payments (PIP)
In general, study should not affect your Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payments (PIP) as this is a benefit to meet your home needs and is not related to your study. However, the care component of DLA may be stopped if;
- you are attending a residential college where care is provided as part of the service, but you should continue to get some of the care component for any time you are at home; or
- you receive the care component because you have been assessed as unable to do a certain activity but are studying a course that focuses on this activity. For example, if you have been assessed as unable to prepare a meal but you are doing a catering course, then the care component may be stopped.
If your course is part-time, benefits such as Income Support, ESA and Housing Benefit will not usually be affected as long as you continue to meet the basic conditions.
You can continue to claim as a full-time student if you meet certain conditions. For example, you may be able to get income related ESA and/or housing benefit if you receive any part of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or personal independence payments (PIP).
Please also note that a new benefit called universal credit is gradually replacing most other means tested benefits like income related ESA and housing benefit. The rules for students are briefly outlined in our factsheet which is at the following link
The rules on benefits can be complicated. For individual advice it’s best to contact the Disability Rights UK student helpline.
Tel: 0800 328 5050
Textphone: 18001 0800 328 5050 (Type Talk)
Tuesdays 11.30am-1.30pm and Thursdays 1.30pm-3.30pm
If you get income-related benefits and are attending a residential college you may be asked to contribute part or all of your benefits. This generally depends on who is paying for your residential placement.
Contribution based ESA and Incapacity Benefit
There is no rule that says you cannot get contribution based ESA or Incapacity Benefit while you’re studying and there is no official limit on the number of hours you can study. Sometimes Jobcentre Plus or the Benefits Agency might assume, if you study, that you are also ready and able to work. This is not automatically the case. A decision about your benefit should only be made after looking at your individual circumstances. Many courses are in fact different from employment. You can have 'limited capability for work' but still be able to study because:
- Studying tends to be flexible and you have more control over your timetable
- Colleges and universities will provide you with support on the course
- Academic tasks are less physical
- There is generally less pressure
In any event, if you get any disability or health related benefits and you start to study, you should inform the DWP in case this suggests a relevant change.
9. Further information
Information from Disability Rights UK
Disability Rights UK Student Helpline
For further information on the above and the support that is available for disabled students, please contact the Disabled Students Helpline:
Tel: 0800 328 5050
Tues 11.30am-1.30pm & Thurs 1.30pm-3.30pm
The helpline provides free information and advice to disabled students in England, their parents, carers and key advisers about opportunities in post-16 education and training. This includes further and higher education and apprenticeships. We also provide general information on the Equality Act as it applies to education and give advice on UK students' entitlement to welfare benefits.
Placement Information: Learners with Learning Difficulties and/or Disabilities at Independent Specialist Providers 2012/13
This publication is produced by the Young Peoples’ Learning Agency in March 2012 which has been replaced by the Education Funding Agency. It is available at
Helping you meet the costs of learning and training 2012/2013 - Disabled Students
Produced by the Scottish Government and available at
10 Funding guide for adult learners
Produced by the Welsh Government and available from Your Future Choice Action
11 Useful contacts
Benefits-related information available at
Helpline: 0800 220 674
Textphone: 0800 243 787
Open Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 9:00am to 5:00pm and Thursday from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Northern Ireland: www.dsdni.gov.uk
Disability Benefits Line
Disability Living Allowance or Attendance Allowance Unit
Warbeck House, Warbeck Hill, Blackpool, Lancashire FY2 0YE
Telephone: 08457 123 456
Textphone: 08457 224 433
Open Monday to Friday from 8:00am to 6:00pm
Information on carers and disability available at
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)
1 Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0ET
The government department with overall responsibility for further education.
Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills (DCELLS)
3rd Floor, Pillar MO1/02, Welsh Assembly Government
Cathays Park, Cardiff CF10 3NQ
English: 0300 0603300 or 0845 010 3300
Welsh: 0300 0604400 or 0845 010 4400
Department for Employment and Learning
(Northern Ireland) (DELNI)
Adelaide House, 39-49 Adelaide Street, Belfast BT2 8FD
Telephone: 028 9025 7777
Information on a wide range of government services, including, education, training, employment and welfare benefits.
Directory of Social Change
24 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2DP
Tel: 0845 077 7707
Fax: 020 7391 4804
Education and Library Boards (Northern Ireland)
Details of local education and library boards are available on the DELNI website at:
Offers services to help students and graduates in Wales including work placements, work experience and funding for training.
Jobcentre Plus Phone Service
Helpline: 0845 606 0234 Textphone: 0845 605 5255
Information on a wide range of government services in Northern Ireland, including, education, training, employment and welfare benefits.
Scottish Funding Council
Donaldson House, 97 Haymarket Terrace
Edinburgh EH12 5HD
Tel: 0131 313 6500
Skills Funding Agency
Cheylesmore House, Quinton Road, Coventry CV1 2WT
Telephone: 0845 377 5000
Telephone: 028 90 66 66 30
Provide free and concessionary bus passes to disabled people in Northern Ireland.
Education Funding Agency
Learner Support helpline
Tel: 0800 121 8989
Careers Service Northern Ireland
Lesley Buildings, 61 Fountain Street, Belfast BT1 5EX
Telephone: 0300 200 7820
Telephone 0845 8 502 502
Textphone 0141 889 8581
Information and advice on jobs, careers, learning and training in Scotland.
Telephone: 0800 100 900 or 029 2090 6801 from a mobile
Bilingual information and advice on jobs, careers, learning, and apprenticeships in Wales.
National Careers Service
Telephone: 0800 100 900
Information and advice on jobs, careers, learning and training for people 18 or over in England.
Education and Learning
Information about further or higher education and training
06 August 2013