Some students who are carers may be able to claim additional support through the social security system. The rules relating to student eligibility for social security benefits are complex and this article is only intended as an overview of specific rules relating to student carers. You should seek expert help if you are uncertain – details are below.
Carer’s Allowance is a benefit paid to people who spend at least 35 hours a week looking after a disabled person, defined as a person claiming certain elements of Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance or the Personal Independence Payment. This may be an adult or a child.
The person claiming Carer’s Allowance cannot earn more than £100 per week from other paid work. They also cannot be in full-time education.
Full-time education in this sense is defined as 21 hours per week or more of classes, lectures, seminars and the individual study time expected by the university, college or learning provider. In practice, if a provider says the course is full-time the benefits agency will treat it as such.
If your course is full-time but you study for significantly lower hours than normal, for example because you are exempt from a module, you may be able to make a case you are not full-time as defined – but you should seek advice to help you do so.
Part-time students who can show they are not expected to study 21 hours a week or more should still be able to claim Carer’s Allowance.
The charity Turn2Us has more information on Carer’s Allowance.
Time Out from Studies
If you are a full-time student who has suspended your studies because you had caring responsibilities, your access to benefits may be restricted whilst you undertake those responsibilities, unless you qualify for other reasons (for example, if you are yourself disabled).
If your caring responsibilities have ceased and you are waiting to return to study you may be able to claim jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit (all replaced by universal credit from autumn 2013) for up to a year until you can recommence study. Speak to an adviser for guidance in this situtation – see below for details.
For information on entitlement to other benefits for students see our article here.
Help and advice
Your students’ union, university or college will almost certainly have an adviser who can help you determine what benefits you might be entitled to. We have more information on sources of advice here.
Accessing Discretionary Support
Most UK students in higher and further education will have access to some form of discretionary hardship support via their institution and you may be able to get help from these funds if you’re facing financial difficulties or a simply a shortfall between your expected income and your necessary outgoings.
The funds are called different things depending on where you study – Access to Learning Fund in English higher education, the Learner Support Fund in English further education, Financial Contingency Fund in Wales, Discretionary Funds in Scotland and Support Funds in Northern Ireland. Whatever the name, they might be able to help you with grants or short-term loans. You’ll need to apply – ask your advice centre for support if you are uncertain about the forms or the evidence you must provide. Note that no funding is guaranteed, but most will be as sympathetic as possible.
Some students’ unions may also operate funds providing small grants or loans – ask them for details of any such scheme.
Beware High Risk Debt
Our research found that as much as 10 per cent of students in vulnerable groups had accessed high risk debt (including payday loans, cash-a-cheque and doorstep loans) and we are campaigning to get payday loan advertising banned from college and universities. To find out more about this campaign, click here.