Coronavirus and universal credit for students
Many students are being financially affected by the coronavirus crisis due, for example, to losing a job or having a reduction in self-employed income. In most cases students can continue to get student funding. In some cases they may also be eligible for universal credit (UC). There have been no specific government announcements regarding benefits for students during this crisis. Therefore, it remains the case that only a minority of students will be eligible for UC, as before.
Read other AskCPAG articles for more information on the impacts of the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on benefits.
Student support
Arrangements have been made by student support bodies throughout the UK to, in the main, continue paying student support during the coronavirus restrictions. There is more information for the different parts of the UK in the links below.
Extra funding for students in hardship has been announced at various times during the pandemic. Students can apply directly to their college or university (see Support for students impacted by COVID-19 on the Scottish Government website).
There is a ‘dedicated FAQ for student support’ for further (non-advanced) education students (including Education Maintenance Allowance) here, which will be updated regularly. On this web page there is also a document (Student Support in Colleges) explaining that funding has been redirected to discretionary funds from travel and childcare funds which are no longer required, and that the maximum funding limit from discretionary funds has been removed.
Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) has also produced a frequently asked questions document on higher (advanced) education funding.
England, Wales and Northern Ireland
There is guidance from the Student Loans Company regarding the impacts of coronavirus for both current and prospective students.
NHS bursaries will also continue to be paid as normal.
Check Student Finance Wales and Student Finance Northern Ireland for updates on these regions.
Universal credit and students
Most students cannot claim universal credit (UC) and are expected to rely on student funding together with any other income, such as that from work or parents.
UC is for people on a low enough income, whether they are in or out of work. Claims can be made regardless of circumstances, provided basic conditions about age, residence in the UK, income, capital and education are met. Note that someone may not be eligible for UC if s/he is not a UK national, although that is complex, so seek advice.
The education condition basically says that students are not eligible for UC, but there are exceptions. The students who can claim UC are mainly student parents, some disabled students, students with a non-student partner, and non-advanced education students younger than 21 who are without parental support in certain circumstances. There is more detail on eligibility and other students who might be eligible for UC, below.
Note: if a student already gets other benefits or tax credits, particularly child tax credit (CTC), they may be better off staying on these benefits/tax credits rather than claiming UC. They should seek advice from a CAB or other welfare rights adviser before claiming UC. Once a claim is made for UC it is not usually possible to go back to other benefits/tax credits, so it is important to ensure that switching to UC is the best course of action.
Who is a student for UC?
Someone counts as a student (the law says they are ‘receiving education’) for UC if s/he is:
in full-time (more than 12 hours per week) non-advanced education that started when s/he was younger than 19, and claimant has not yet reached the 31 August after their 19th birthday
on a full-time course of advanced education
on another full-time course, for which a loan, grant or bursary is provided for maintenance
if none of the above apply: on a course that is not compatible with work-related requirements. Note that most requirements to seek and be available for work were suspended for three months from 30 March 2020; therefore, for UC claims from 30 March 2020 until 29 June 2020, this bullet point should not have applied.1The Social Security (Coronavirus) (Further Measures) Regulations 2020, SI 2020 No.371, regulation 6
If someone counts as a student under one of the bullets above, s/he can only get UC if s/he is in one of the groups of student who can claim (below).
If someone does not count as a student under any of the definitions above, they can claim UC under the normal rules.
Zoe is on a full-time advanced course and gets a student loan for maintenance. She is ‘receiving education’.
Joseph is 24 and on a course for which he gets a student bursary for maintenance. He is ‘receiving education’.
Lia is 22 and on a full-time non-advanced course. She gets no student funding for maintenance. Her work coach determines that her course is incompatible with her work search and availability requirements, therefore she is ‘receiving education’.
Muhammad is on a part-time course. His work coach determines that his course is compatible with his work search and availability requirements, therefore he is not ‘receiving education’.
Which students can claim UC
If someone is a student (‘receiving education’), s/he is only eligible for UC if:
S/he is responsible for a child that is younger than 16, or for a child who is 16–19 years old and in full-time non-advanced education.
S/he is ill/disabled. S/he must have limited capability for work (assessed by the DWP) and also get disability living allowance (DLA) or personal independence payment (PIP). If someone has not yet been assessed as having limited capability for work, the DWP is likely to refuse the UC claim. It is advisable to make an application for ‘new-style’ (contributory) employment and support allowance (ESA) on a credits-only basis and to have limited capability for work assessed, and then reclaim UC once found to have limited capability for work.
S/he is younger than 21 (or is 21 years old but was younger than 21 when the course started) on a full-time non-advanced course and is ‘without parental support’ (see box, below) – eg, estranged from parents or living away from them in other specified circumstances.
S/he is a single foster parent (this category includes some single kinship carers), or is a member of a couple, both of whom are students, and one member of the couple is a foster parent.
S/he is older than pension age (currently age 66) and has a partner who has not yet reached that age.
S/he has taken time out of a course because of illness, disability or caring responsibilities and has now recovered or the caring responsibilities have ended, and s/he is not eligible for a grant or loan.
S/he has a partner who is not a student, or who is a student and one or both of members of the couple fit into one of the groups above.
Definitions: ‘without parental support’ means someone who:
has no parent
is living away from parents because s/he is estranged from them, or because there is a serious risk to his/her physical or mental health, or s/he would suffer significant harm if living with parents
is living away from parents who cannot support her/him financially because parents are ill or disabled, in prison, or not allowed to enter Britain
‘Parent’ includes someone acting in place of a parent.
Note: a 16 or 17-year-old student can only claim UC if s/he fits into one of the first three bullet points above – ie, responsible for a child; ill/disabled; or ‘without parental support’ and in non-advanced education. Care leavers who are 16/17-year-old students can only claim if they are responsible for a child, or are ill/disabled, and cannot get help with rent.
Fatou is 24 and on a full-time advanced course and is a lone parent with a five-year-old child. She is eligible for UC.
Sam is 20 and is ill and cannot work, but he does not get DLA or PIP. He is on a full-time advanced course. He is not eligible for UC.
Jasper is 16 and on a full-time non-advanced course. He is estranged from his parents. He is eligible for UC.
Fiona and Rory live together as a couple. Rory is on a full-time advanced course. Fiona is unemployed. They can get UC.
Universal credit and student income
Student income usually counts as income for universal credit (UC). Note: most other income, such as earnings, and some other benefits, counts as income for UC as well.
Student income includes student loans and grants paid to someone on a course. There are special rules regarding the treatment of student loans and grants. There is more information on the treatment of Scottish student funding in CPAG’s UC and students factsheet. Students with funding from other regions of the UK should see CPAG’s Student Support and Benefits handbook.
Note: UC takes almost all of student income into account. That is different to child tax credit (CTC), which ignores most student income. If someone gets CTC and is a student, particularly in advanced education during which student income is higher, s/he may be better off staying on CTC rather than claiming UC because of the less generous way student income is assessed for UC. Seek independent advice. Once a claim is made for UC it is not possible to go back to CTC, so it is important to ensure switching to UC is the best course of action.
The DWP has advised that one-off payments from discretionary/hardship funds count as capital for UC rather than income. As such, if household capital is less than £6,000 it does not affect UC at all, if between £6,000-£16,000 UC is reduced, if above £16,000 no UC can be awarded.
Crisis grants and local welfare assistance
Money may be available at a local level during a crisis. Check the links below.
Students in Scotland are eligible for crisis grants or community care grants from the Scottish Welfare Fund. Local authorities administer these funds. Extra money has been put into these funds due to the coronavirus crisis, and some rules have been eased.
In England, help may be available under local welfare assistance set up by local authorities.
Apply to the Discretionary assistance fund in Wales for an emergency assistance payment.
In Northern Ireland extra financial support may be available if you are in a financial crisis.
1     The Social Security (Coronavirus) (Further Measures) Regulations 2020, SI 2020 No.371, regulation 6  »