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Can I claim government benefits as a student?

By David Malcolm

Wednesday 10 February 2016 Other sources of funding

If you’re a student in further or higher education in the UK you may be able to claim social security benefits from the government in addition to any student funding you get. The benefits you can apply for depend on your circumstances and whether you’re studying full- or part-time. Here’s an overview with links to more information.

Social security benefits are complicated, and the government are making a number of reforms at present, therefore this information is intended only as a guide. Please be aware that NUS cannot offer individual advice through these pages or the comments section below - if you have any questions or are unsure of your entitlement you should seek expert advice from an adviser – see Where can I find more information?

This topic contains the following:

Can I claim benefits to help pay the rent?

You may be able to claim Housing Benefit from the government to help pay the rent where you normally live during term time. In some areas, Housing Benefit has now been replaced by Universal Credit and you may need to claim this instead - see below.

If you live in shared accommodation you can get help for your share of the rent only. If you live with your partner, either of you can claim, but not both. The amount of Housing Benefit you get depends on your income, and any student funding you get (eg grants and loans) may be taken into account.

The rules about whether you can claim are complicated, but here’s a brief guide to student eligibility. You can claim Housing Benefit if:

  • Your savings are less than £16,000.
  • You’re not an asylum seeker.
  • You’re studying on a part-time course, unless you live in university-owned accommodation (eg halls of residence), in which case you can only claim if you’d be entitled to claim as a full-time student – for example, you’re disabled, have children, get income-related benefits, or qualify for Pension Credit.

If you’re taking a full-time course (designated as full-time by your college or university) you can’t usually claim Housing Benefit. However, you may be able to claim if you’re:

  • Under 19 years old, living away from your parental home and studying full-time for a course that isn’t classed as ‘higher education’.
  • 19 or 20 years old, living away from your parental home and studying full-time to finish a course that isn’t classed as ‘higher education’, which you began before you were 19.
  • Disabled.
  • Responsible for a child (either on your own or with a partner).
  • Getting income-related benefits (eg Income Support).
  • Getting Pension Credit or you qualify for it.

If you’re from outside the UK and you’re here to study, you can’t usually claim Housing Benefit, and even if you’re entitled to, it might affect your right to stay in the UK. Contact the UK Council for International Student Affairs for information and advice.

Here’s the government’s information about Housing Benefit. For more about what counts as ‘higher education’, see Funding for higher education overview.

Can I claim benefits to supplement my income?

If your income is low and you work less than 16 hours a week in paid employment you may be able to claim Income Support from the government. The amount of Income Support you get depends on your income, which includes any student funding you get (eg grants and loans).

The rules about whether you can claim are complicated, but here’s a brief guide to student eiligibility. You can claim Income Support if:

  • You’re at least 16 years old.
  • Your savings are less than £16,000.
  • Neither you nor your partner work full-time in paid employment.
  • You’re studying on a part-time course and you’re a lone parent, disabled or don’t get support from your parents.

If you’re taking a full-time course you can’t usually claim Income Support during term time or the vacations. However, there are some exceptions (eg if you’re a single parent with a child under the age of five), and if you’re under 20 years old and not taking a course of higher education you may be able to claim, depending on your circumstances.

If you’re from outside the UK and you’re here to study, you can’t usually claim Income Support, and even if you’re entitled to, it might affect your right to stay in the UK. Contact the UK Council for International Student Affairs for information and advice.

Here’s the government’s information about Income Support.

In some areas, you may have to claim Universal Credit instead of Income Support. See What if I am asked to claim Universal Credit?

Can I claim benefits while I’m looking for work?

If you’re available and looking for work you may be able to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance. This is a weekly payment to help you while you’re looking for work.

The rules about whether you can claim are complicated, so ask at your local Jobcentre Plus for more information (or your local Social Security or Jobs and Benefits Office if you live in Northern Ireland). As a brief guide, you can claim Jobseeker’s Allowance if:

  • You’re at least 18 years old but younger than the state pension age (in a few exceptional circumstances 16 and 17 year olds can also claim).
  • You’re studying on a part-time course and are available and looking for work. Some restrictions apply, however, and if and your course hours fall within your ‘pattern of availability’ for work, you may be required to give up your course to take up available employment.

If you’re taking a full-time course you can’t usually claim Jobseeker’s Allowance during term time or the vacations. However, there are some exceptions (eg if you’re a single parent or you’re one of a student couple with children) – but you may only be able to claim during the long vacation.

If you’re from outside the UK and you’re here to study, you can’t usually claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, and even if you’re entitled to, it might affect your right to stay in the UK. Contact the UK Council for International Student Affairs for information and advice.

Here’s the government’s information about Jobseeker’s Allowance.

In some areas, you will not be able to claim income-related Jobseeker’s Allowance and must claim Universal Credit instead. If this applies to you, see What if I am asked to claim Universal Credit?

I’m a disabled student – what extra benefits can I claim?

If you’re disabled you may be able to claim a range of benefits from the government, including Personal Independence Payment, to help with costs you incur as a result of your disability if you’re aged between 16 and 64 years old. Personal Independence Payment has replaced the Disability Living Allowance; if you have claimed this in the past you may need to claim for Personal Independence Payment if your circumstances change or if you are asked to do so by the benefits office. If you’re 65 years old or older, you can claim Attendance Allowance.

Being a student doesn’t usually affect your right to claim, and how much you get doesn’t depend on your income, so any student funding you get isn’t taken into account. This means you should apply for any extra student funding that’s available to help you with your disability as well as the government’s standard disability benefits.

You may be able to apply for Employment and Support Allowance, which helps people who are unable to work or have difficulties. You may be eligible for this if you’re a part-time student and your illness or disability affects your ability to work while you study, or you’re a full-time student and get the Disability Living Allowance. The amount you get may depend on your income and your National Insurance contributions. In some areas, you may no longer be able to claim income-related Employment and Support Allowance and must claim Universal Credit instead. See What if I am asked to claim Universal Credit?

Here’s the government’s information about Financial help if you're disabled. Also, if you’re taking a course of further or higher education, have a look at:

I’m about to or have just become a student parent – what extra benefits can I claim?

You may be able to claim benefits from the government to help support you if you’re about to become a parent or you’ve recently become one. Full- and part-time students can claim these benefits if they’re applicable.

If you’re employed (eg you’re working part-time while you study) and you’ve just given birth or are within 11 weeks of giving birth, you may be able to get Statutory Maternity Pay from your employer. You get a percentage of your usual weekly earnings for up to 39 weeks. If you’re not entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (eg because you’re self-employed or recently left work) you may be able to claim Maternity Allowance from the government instead. Here’s the government’s information about Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance.

If you’re employed and your wife, partner or civil partner gives birth or adopts a child, you may be able to claim Ordinary Statutory Paternity from your employer. You get a payment each week for up to two consecutive weeks, plus extra if your partner returns to work. Here’s the government’s information about paternity pay.

If you’re employed and you’re adopting a child you can get Statutory Adoption Pay from your employer. You get a payment each week for up to 39 weeks. Here’s the government’s information about Statutory Adoption Pay.

I’m a student parent – what extra benefits can I claim?

If you’re responsible for a child under 16 years old (or under 20 years old and they’re in full-time education or training that’s approved by the government) you may be able to claim Child Benefit from the government. You get a weekly amount for each child. If you’re under 20 years old and in full-time education, someone (eg your parent) may be able to claim Child Benefit for you.

You can apply for Child Benefit whether you’re a full- or part-time student, and any student funding you get isn’t taken into account when working out what you’re entitled to. This means you should apply for any extra student funding that’s available to help you support your children as well as the government’s standard disability benefits.

Here’s the government’s information about Child Benefit. Also, if you’re taking a course of further or higher education, have a look at:

I’m a carer – what extra benefits can I claim?

If you spend at least 35 hours a week caring for someone with substantial caring needs, and that person claims benefits related to their needs (eg Attendance Allowance), you may be able to claim Carer’s Allowance from the government. You get a weekly amount, which is taxable and may affect your other benefits. However, any student funding you get isn’t taken into account.

You can’t usually claim if you’re a full-time student, or a part-time students studying for 21 hours a week or more (this includes supervised study and things like coursework and experiments, not just time spent with a tutor). If you're uncertain speak to an adviser.

Here’s the government’s information about Carer’s Allowance.

What other government benefits are available?

You may be entitled to further government benefits, depending on your circumstances. Some of these are only available if you’re already getting other benefits or tax credits. Being a student may affect whether you’re eligible to apply – however, any student funding you get isn’t taken into account when working out what you’re entitled to.

You may be entitled to these benefits if you meet the qualifying conditions:

  • Funeral Payments – help towards the costs of a funeral you’re arranging, which is usually paid back from the deceased person’s estate (if they have one).
  • Cold Weather Payments – extra money if your local temperature is (or is forecast to be) an average of zero degrees Celsius or below over seven consecutive days.
  • Winter Fuel Payment – extra money to help you pay your heating bills if you were born on or before 5 January 1953.

What if I am asked to claim Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a major change to the way social security works. It is being phased in over a long period, and not all areas or types of claimant are yet being asked to claim. Your benefits office will be able to confirm if you are required to claim Universal Credit or not.

The intention is that Universal Credit will eventually replace a number of benefits and tax credits with one payment. The benefits that will be replaced include Housing Benefit, Income Support, income-based Jobseekers’ Allowance and income-based Employment and Support Allowance.

Most full-time students are not able to claim Universal Credit, but there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if you are disabled, have children or are aged under 21, in further education and estranged from your parents, you may be able to claim if you study full-time. The amount you receive will depend on your income, including certain forms of student income.

See here for the government information on Universal Credit.

See here for a factsheet from the Child Poverty Action Group on Students and Universal Credit. Note it is written for Scottish students but the situation is very similar in England and Wales. Universal Credit is yet to be introduced in Northern Ireland.

Is there a limit to the amount of benefits I can claim?

Many social security benefits are subject to a cap, which means that the combined amount of all the benefits you get is capped at a maximum amount. Any amounts you get from disability-related benefits aren’t included when calculating the capped amount (eg Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, Attendance Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance). The exact level of the cap depends on your circumstances - for example, if you have children or not.

Here’s the government’s information about the benefit cap. Also, take a look at What tax credits can I get as a student?

Where can I find more information?

Here are some resources to help you find more information about benefits:

  • You can use the government’s online benefits adviser to estimate what benefits you may be entitled to.
  • Turn2us is a charitable service that helps people access the money available to them – through welfare benefits, grants and other help.
  • The Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland produces a number of factsheets on student entitlement to benefits.

You may be able to get specialist benefits advice from your university, college or students’ union advice centre or your local citizen’s advice bureau.

This information was updated in February 2016. NUS provides this information in good faith and has taken care to make sure it’s accurate. However, student finance issues can be complicated, and rules change frequently. You should contact the advice centre in your students' union, college or university for support if you’re uncertain or need more help.