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Where do I go for help if I'm in financial difficulty?

By David Malcolm

Friday 5 February 2016 Info and advice

If you’re facing financial difficulties, seek help as soon as possible, because you can usually solve problems more easily if you address them early. Here are the key sources of independent advice for students in the UK.

Student advice centres

Almost all universities and colleges, as well as most larger students’ unions have some kind of advice centre offering support and information about student finance. Advisors at these centres have a lot of experience in dealing with students’ issues, and an expert understanding of the system. They won’t be judgemental, so don’t worry about explaining your situation.

Often you can drop in for advice, or you can arrange an appointment. However, some centres may be closed outside of term time. All centres have information leaflets and other resources, and some also run workshops on budgeting and financial matters. NUS provides a copy of the Student Support and Benefits Handbook to all students’ union members, which should also help.

Look at the website for your students’ union or institution to find your local centre’s contact details, or contact your student services department. Otherwise, you may be able to find the contact details on the National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA) website.

Specialist websites for students

These resources offer specialised support for students:

  • Student parents: Student Parents has information on funding, including a funding calculator and other tips.
  • International students: UKCISA is a charity that provides extensive information on funding, as well as support for UK students intending to study overseas. Their helpline (0044 (0)20 7788 9214 Monday to Friday, 1pm to 4pm UK time), but note it can sometimes be very busy.
  • Disabled students: Disability Rights UK is a fairly new charity with information for disabled students in further and higher education, including a range of factsheets and resources. They also have a helpline (0044 (0)800 328 5050 Tuesdays 11.30am to 1.30pm and Thursdays 1.30pm to 3.30pm).
  • Medical students: Money4MedStudents has information and advice for students on medicine courses.

General financial advice

You can draw on many resources for general financial advice. The Citizens’ Advice Bureau offers general help on money and benefits through its website or face-to-face appointments. The website has a list of local offices and an online advice guide tailored to where you live.

Another online resource is the government’s independent national Money Advice Service. Students in Scotland can also get local help from Money Advice Scotland.

If you’re having problems with debt, make sure you get impartial professional advice. Avoid 'debt advice' companies that offer a free initial consultation – they want you to sign up to their own debt management plans, usually with hefty fees attached. Instead, these debt charities offer free, impartial advice:

  • StepChange Debt Charity has an online service called Debt Remedy that gives you immediate debt advice, a personalised budget and recommends the best way forward for you. This service is free and anonymous. They also have a free helpline you can call (0800 138 1111 Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm and Saturdays 9am to 4pm).
  • The Money Charity has a number of resources for credit and debt management on its website.
  • National Debtline also has an online independent advice tool called My Money Steps for you to create a personalised debt action plan. Alternatively you can contact them online or call their free helpline (0808 808 4000 Monday to Friday 9am to 9pm and Saturdays 9.30am to 1pm).

Discretionary hardship funds

All colleges and universities run a discretionary hardship fund, and you may be able to get help from these funds if you’re facing financial difficulties.

The funds are called different things depending on where you study. They might be called:

  • Access to Learning Fund in English higher education
  • 16-19 Bursary Funds or Discretionary Support Funds in English further education
  • Financial Contingency Fund in Wales
  • Discretionary Funds in Scotland
  • 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 institution advice centre about how to do it – and no funding is guaranteed, but most will be as sympathetic as possible.

This information was last 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.