Coronavirus and universal credit for students in Scotland
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). To date, 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.
This briefing covers:
Arrangements have been made by student support bodies to, in the main, continue paying student support during the coronavirus restrictions. Students are expected to continue to engage with their studies via whatever new course arrangements are in place, where possible. In addition, students should follow attendance reporting arrangements, including letting their college or university know if they are unwell or self-isolating.
The Scottish government has announced an extra £5 million funding for students in hardship. Students can apply directly to their college or university.
A further announcement was made on 11 June to provide more flexibility for colleges and universities in making awards of discretionary funds over the summer, and to increase the amount that is available during this period.
There is general student information available on the new Student Information Scotland website, with information specific to further (non-advanced) education (FE) on the Scottish Funding Council’s Covid-19 webpage. This includes various links, such as to a dedicated FAQ for student support document. The Student Support in Colleges document explains that funding has been redirected to discretionary funds from travel and childcare funds which are no longer required, and that the maximum funding limit of £4,000 per year from discretionary funds has been removed.
The FAQ document includes the following information:
Students should continue to receive all student support funding (except travel costs and, usually, childcare costs) when they are ill or self-isolating in accordance with NHS Scotland COVID-19 guidance.
Colleges should continue to pay childcare costs where childcare providers are closed, or not available to the student’s child/ren any more (if they do not meet the Government’s criteria for being able to continue to do so), but the student has provided evidence to the college that the providers are requesting that all or some of the fees are still due as part of their COVID-19 fees policy.
The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) guidance allows for absence from college for unforeseen circumstances, which is applicable in this current situation, and means EMAs will continue to be paid. Authorised absences for EMA also include periods of ill-health, which includes those who are self-isolating due to their parents/carers having health issues which put them at risk.
The Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) has also produced a questions and answers document on higher (advanced) education (HE) funding.
At HE level various provisions are in place to continue student funding, including:
Student loan payments made by the Student Loans Company to Scottish students are being paid as planned.
The care-experienced accommodation grant to help with rent over the summer is available early this year – from early April.
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.
You count as a student (the law says you are ‘receiving education’) for UC if you are:
in full-time (more than 12 hours per week) non-advanced education that started when you were younger than 19, and you have not yet reached 31 August after your 19th birthday; or
on a full-time course of advanced education; or
on another full-time course, for which a loan, grant or bursary is provided for maintenance; or
if none of the above apply, on a course that is not compatible with work-related requirements. Note that most work-related requirements 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.
If you count as a student under one of the definitions above, you can only get UC if you are in one of the groups of student who can claim. If you do not count as a student under any of the definitions above, you 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’. She cannot claim UC unless she is in one of the student groups who can claim, below.
Joseph is 24 and on a course for which he gets a student bursary for maintenance. He is ‘receiving education’. He cannot claim UC unless he is in one of the student groups who can claim, below.
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’.
If you are a student (‘receiving education’), you are only eligible for UC if you are in one the following groups.
You are responsible for a child who is younger than 16, or the child is 16–19 years old and in full-time non-advanced education.
You are ill or disabled. You must have limited capability for work (assessed by the DWP) and also get disability living allowance (DLA) or personal independence payment (PIP). If you have 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.
You are younger than 21 (or you are 21 years old but were younger than 21 when the course started) on a full-time non-advanced course and are ‘without parental support’ (see box, below) – eg, estranged from parents or living away from them in other specified circumstances.
You are a single foster parent (this category includes some single kinship carers), or are a member of a couple, both of you are students, and one member of the couple is a foster parent.
You are older than pension age (pension age is between 65 and 66 currently and will be 66 by October 2020) and have a partner who has not yet reached pension age.
You have taken time out of a course because of illness, disability or caring responsibilities and have now recovered or the caring responsibilities have ended, and you are not eligible for a grant or loan.
You have 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.
'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 her/his physical or mental health, or s/he would suffer significant harm if living with parents; or
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 has 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.
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, and in CPAG’s Benefits for Students in Scotland Handbook.
Note: Almost all student income is taken into account when working out how much UC you should get. That is different to child tax credit (CTC), which ignores most student income. If you are a student and you get CTC, particularly if you are in advanced education during which student income is higher, you may be better off staying on CTC rather than claiming UC because of the less generous way in which student income is assessed for UC. Seek independent advice. Once a claim is made for UC it is not usually possible to go back to CTC, so it is important to ensure switching to UC is the best course of action.
If you are eligible for a student loan, it counts as income. The maximum loan you could be entitled to is taken into account (including any young students’ bursary), even if this is reduced because of household income, or another grant. A dependent’s grant or lone parent’s grant paid as well as your loan counts as income, but other grants are disregarded (eg, independent students’ bursary), as long as they are not to support your partner or child/ren, or to pay rent covered by UC.
If you do not get a loan, but you receive grant income (eg, a nursing bursary, or an FE bursary maintenance allowance), the grant income is taken into account for UC (subject to the disregards set out below). Note: if you do get a loan, see the paragraph above for what grant income is taken into account, not this paragraph.
Education maintenance allowance (EMA) payments are disregarded.
Grant income is disregarded if you do not get a loan and it is paid for any of:
tuition fees or exams; or
in respect of your disability; or
extra costs due to residential study away from your usual place of study during term time ; or
the costs of your normal home (where you live somewhere else during your course) unless those costs are met by your UC; or
the maintenance of someone who is not included in your UC claim; or
books, equipment, course travel costs or childcare costs.
The DWP has advised that one-off payments from discretionary 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. Regular payments from discretionary funds count in the same way as any other grant income, which varies depending on whether you get a loan or not, as set out above.
Money may be available at a local level during a crisis. Students in Scotland are eligible for crisis grants or community care grants from the Scottish welfare fund. If you have no money for food or bills, for example, you can ask for a crisis grant to help you to pay for these things. Local authorities administer these funds. Extra money has been put into these funds due to the coronavirus crisis, and some rules have been eased.