AbilityNet Factsheet - February 2020

How to get support from Disabled Students’ Allowances as a student living with a learning difference, disability, physical or mental health condition

This factsheet provides an overview of the main ways disabled students, those with a learning difference or students with physical or mental health issues can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs).

Last updated: February 2020

“I didn't realise quite how much value this could add to my life” 

James is dyslexic. He has gained so much more from his university studies since having a DSA assessment and receiving the recommended support. He received a laptop, text-to-speech software, a scanner (that he can use to convert printed text into audio files), and a Dictaphone for recording lectures. The support he received transformed his experience from one in which he looked set to fail his course, to one in which he achieved a 2:1 degree.

For students like James, struggling with a disability, learning difficulty or anxiety, reaching the end of a course can feel impossible without help. 

AbilityNet’s team of assessors around the country work with university students who are eligible for DSAs (Disabled Students' Allowances). Assessors recommend specific tech for a student, depending on the circumstances and needs.

Asking for help or admitting that you are experiencing difficulties can be challenging. DSAs are designed to provide you with the support you need to address the additional barriers your disability, condition or learning difference presents you with, enabling you to get the most out of your university experience and reach your true potential.

1. What’s included in DSAs?

If you have a mental health condition, a long term illness or any other disability, or a learning difference such as dyslexia, ADHD or Autism Spectrum Condition, you can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) to cover some of the extra costs of studying you may have.

DSAs are a grant, not a loan, so you do not have to pay anything back. Any equipment you receive is also yours and does not have to be given back when you finish your course. How much you get is dependent on your individual needs, not your household income and what you receive does not affect other finances such as your student loan.

2. What DSAs can pay for?

DSAs can help with the costs of:

  • specialist equipment, for example a computer if you need one because of your disability
  • non-medical helpers/carers
  • extra travel costs occurring as a result of your disability
  • other disability-related costs of studying

DSAs do not cover disability-related costs outside of attending your education course.

If your DSA assessor recommends specialist assistive software and you either do not own a computer or the computer you own is not able to run the assistive software reliably, your assessor is likely to recommend you are provided with a new computer able to run the software being recommended. If a new computer is recommended, you will need to pay the first £200 towards the new device, as this is considered to be the minimum cost of an ‘entry-level’ computer. Many universities offer help if you think you will be unable to make this contribution.

If you are due to attend university and are thinking of buying a new computer and you are also applying for DSAs, it is advisable to attend your needs assessment (or contact your assessment centre) before you buy a computer.

3. How much can I get?

The figures below are the maximum amount available, but in most cases, it is unlikely that you will receive this maximum. DSAs are also paid directly to support providers and equipment suppliers based on the recommendations made by your needs assessor, you will not receive this money directly.

2019 to 2020 academic year

Type of studentSpecialist equipment allowanceNon-medical helper allowanceGeneral allowance
Full-timeUp to £5,684 for the whole courseUp to £22,603 a yearUp to £1,899 a year
Part-timeUp to £5,684 for the whole courseUp to £16,951 a yearUp to £1,424 a year

Postgraduates can get a single allowance of up to £20,000 a year.


“Without support, university would have been very difficult for me. I access things like Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) which has provided me with ergonomic equipment and applications on my laptop. This helps me sit at my desk and write an essay; multiple deadlines can be a killer for chronic pain!” – Bethany, student


4. What is a ‘needs assessment’?

When the evidence of your need is accepted by your funding body, you will be told by your funding body that the next step in the process is to contact an assessment centre [PDF] to book a needs assessment (do not book this until you’ve received confirmation to go ahead). 

A needs assessment is an informal discussion with a trained needs assessor who will talk to you about your course and any areas where you think your disability or condition may present barriers that other students may not experience. The assessment will normally take place in an assessment centre as the centres have equipment and software that your assessor will be able to show you. The cost of your assessment is taken from your DSAs entitlement, so you don’t need to worry about paying for this.

Many people worry that asking for DSAs will reveal a personal issue they want to keep to themselves. The process for DSAs is entirely confidential and although sharing information with your university support department is advisable to help them to support you, the decision to do so is entirely up to you and you will be asked this directly at the end of your assessment.

After your assessment, you’ll get a report with the recommendations your needs assessor has made, based on your discussion with them. This will include equipment, software and any other support such as training, study skills or mentoring. Your report will also be sent to your funding body for approval.

Once your funding body has approved the recommendations made by your needs assessor, they will contact you to let you know that you can go ahead and arrange to get your equipment delivered and organise any other training or support sessions booked. The contact details of the suppliers will be included on their letter/email. Although the majority of your equipment (including delivery) will be paid for by your DSAs, your equipment supplier will ask you for your £200 laptop contribution (see above) at this point. Do not order any equipment before you receive this confirmation as your funding body is highly unlikely to reimburse you.

5. How DSAs are paid

In most cases your DSAs will be paid directly to the organisation providing your equipment or support (Study skills, mentoring, etc) Some funding bodies may pay this money directly into your bank account and in some cases this can happen before a confirmation letter is received. As this money is for equipment and support you will have to account for it and so it cannot be spent on anything other than the support it was granted for. Very few funding bodies still do this.

6. Eligibility

AbilityNet has produced a DSAs Eligibility Checker; a quick set of questions that takes you through the points below.

You can apply for DSAs if you live in England and have a disability that affects your ability to study, such as a:

  • learning difficulty, for example dyslexia or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • mental health condition, for example anxiety or depression
  • physical disability, for example if you’re partially sighted or have to use crutches
  • long-term health condition such as cancer, chronic heart disease or HIV

You must also:

  • be an undergraduate or postgraduate student (including Open University or distance learning)
  • qualify for student finance from Student Finance England
  • be studying on a course that lasts at least a year

Who is not eligible?

You cannot get DSAs from Student Finance England if you’re:

  • a student from outside the UK
  • eligible for NHS Disabled Students’ Allowances (this is a separate scheme)
  • getting equivalent support from another funding source, like from your university or a social work bursary

Proving you’re eligible

You will not automatically get DSAs - you need proof of your eligibility.

ConditionProof
Disabilities or long-term health conditionA photocopy of a report or letter from your doctor or consultant - you can also fill in the disability evidence form (PDF, 65KB)
Mental-health conditionA photocopy of a report or letter from your doctor or consultant - you can also fill in the disability evidence form (PDF, 65KB)
Specific learning difficulty like dyslexiaA photocopy of a ‘diagnostic assessment’ from a practitioner psychologist or suitably qualified specialist teacher


You could get extra help to pay for a new diagnostic assessment.

Your course eligibility

Your course must be in the UK and one of the following:

  • a first degree, for example BA, BSc or BEd
  • a Foundation Degree
  • a Certificate of Higher Education
  • a Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE)
  • a Higher National Certificate (HNC)
  • a Higher National Diploma (HND)
  • a Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE)
  • a postgraduate course
  • Initial Teacher Training

Check with your university or college that your course is recognised.

Part-time course intensity

If you are studying part-time, the ‘intensity’ of your course (how much of your course is completed each year compared to a full-time course) and this can affect how much you get. You can check course intensity with your university or college.

There are some additional considerations with claiming DSAs if you are studying part time:

Part-time courses that started before 1 September 2012

Your course cannot last more than twice as long as the equivalent full-time course.

Part-time courses starting from 1 September 2012

Your course cannot be more than 4 times longer than the equivalent full-time course and your course must last at least a year.

Part-time postgraduate master’s courses

If you’re applying for a Postgraduate Loan for a part-time master’s degree, the course must not last more than twice as long as the equivalent full-time course.

7. How to apply for DSAs

How you apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) depends on whether you’re studying full-time or part-time.

Full-time students

If you’ve already applied for student finance

Sign in to your student finance account to start your DSAs application.

The application for DSAs should be on your ‘to-do list’. If it is not, select ‘change your circumstances’ to apply.

If you do not have an online account because you applied for student finance by post, you should use the DSAs paper application form.

If you have not applied for student finance

You can apply for DSAs when you apply for student finance online.

If you do not need student finance, you can apply just for DSAs by filling in the DSAs paper application form

You can’t apply for student finance online once you’ve applied for DSAs.

Part-time students

You will need to apply using the DSAs paper application form. You cannot apply online.

If you’re already getting DSAs

Claim back your expenses using the DSAs paper application form.

8. How long does it take to find out the result of your DSAs application?

You’ll find out the result of your application within 6 weeks.

It can take up to 14 weeks to get your DSAs support in place, though, as this is done separately.

9. Further information

Contact the disability adviser at your university or college if you need advice about financial help.

If your circumstances change

Contact Student Finance England if your circumstances change as this may affect what you’re entitled to. For example, if your condition gets worse you may be able to get extra help.

If your application is rejected

You can ask to have your case reviewed if your application is turned down. Contact Student Finance England for more details.

Further reading:

If you have any questions you can contact our DSA Assessment team directly for guidance and advice by calling 01926 464095 or emailing dsa@abilitynet.org.uk 

How AbilityNet can help you

My Computer My Way

My Computer My Way is an AbilityNet run website packed with articles explaining how to use the accessibility features built into your computer, tablet or smartphone. The site is routinely updated as new features and changes are made to the Windows, MacOS, iOS, Chrome OS and Android operating systems. The site is broken down into the following sections:

  • Vision – computer adjustments to do with vision and colour
  • Hearing – computer adjustments to do with hearing, communication and speech
  • Motor – computer adjustments to do mobility, stamina and dexterity
  • Cognitive – computer adjustments to do with attention, learning and memory

Use My Computer My Way for free.

Advice and information

If you have any questions please contact us at AbilityNet and we will do all we can to help.

IT Support at Home

If you’re looking for in-person support, you can book a free visit from one of our disclosure-checked volunteers. Many of our volunteers are former IT professionals who give their time to help older people and people with disabilities to use technology to achieve their goals. Our friendly volunteers can help with most major computer systems, laptops, tablet devices and smartphones.

Digital Accessibility advice for organisations

AbilityNet's Digital Accessibility Services help ensure your websites, apps and other digital services are accessible, usable and comply with current legislation. 

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