How student finance affects your benefits

This information applies to England and Wales.

You may be entitled to student finance to help pay for university or college tuition fees and to help with living costs. This is called 'student income'.

Warning Student loans

Even if you choose not to apply or take a student loan, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will treat you as having a loan and count this as your income.

Benefits advice from Disability Rights UK

Disability Rights UK runs an advice and information line for disabled students, trainees and apprentices studying in England.

Disabled Students Helpline (Disability Rights UK)

Full-time courses

The rules around whether you count as a full-time student differ depending on both:

  • your course
  • your benefits

You cannot claim Carer’s Allowance if you’re a full-time student.

Part-time courses

Studying part-time will not usually affect your means-tested benefit.

Speak to an adviser from Citizens Advice online to find out if your benefits will change.

The rules on when a course counts as part-time vary for different benefits.

Part-time students and benefits - who is a part-time student for benefits purposes? (Turn2us)

The Department for Work and Pensions classes distance learning courses, such as the Open University, as part-time study. This means that even if you study full-time, you are a part-time student.

Benefits not affected by student income (not means-tested)

Claiming loans or grants to live and study should not affect the following benefits:

  • Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
  • Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
  • new-style Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)
  • new-style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Carer’s Allowance if you are a part-time student

Tax credits

Most grants and loans are disregarded when calculating a student’s income for tax credits. The exception is an Adult Dependants’ Grant.

Adult Dependants’ Grant (GOV.UK)

Universal Credit

Starting to study on its own will not trigger a move from legacy benefits to Universal Credit.

If a student has another change of circumstance, this could trigger UC.

For example, if a person moves to a new local authority area and applies for help towards rent.

Most full-time students are not eligible for Universal Credit. But you can claim Universal Credit as a full-time student if all of the following apply:

  • you receive PIP
  • your Work Capability Assessment says you have a 'limited capability for work'
  • you have limited capability for work before you start your studies (this applies to UC claims on or after 15 December 2021)

If you think you may be eligible for PIP or DLA, apply as soon as you can.

How to claim PIP

Work Capability Assessment

Universal Credit: studying full time (GOV.UK)

If you do not qualify for Universal Credit, you can apply for New Style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Income-related Employment and Support Allowance

If you are still receiving old-style income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), this is affected by student income. But Universal Credit has replaced ESA for most new claims.

Carer’s Allowance

You cannot claim Carer’s Allowance if you’re a full-time student.

You can claim Carer’s Allowance if you’re a part-time student studying for less than 21 hours a week.

Means-tested benefits and student income

Means-tested benefits, such as Universal Credit and income-related Employment Support Allowance, are based on income and savings.

If you or your partner are in college or university, your student income can affect your means-tested benefits.

Examples of how your means-tested benefits can change (Disability Rights UK)

What counts as student income

Your student income includes:

  • student loans, including maintenance loans from the government
  • student grants
  • scholarships from a college or university for anything that is not travel costs, books, equipment or childcare
  • bursaries, like a teacher training bursary, NHS bursary and social work bursary

If you apply for a bursary and later decide that you do not want to take it, this will not affect your benefits.

You can find out what you're entitled to through:

Your student income does not include:

  • fixed amounts for travel costs, books and equipment
  • any allowance for tuition fees
  • Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA)
  • an allowance to cover the cost of residential study
  • money towards childcare costs
  • Parents' Learning Allowance
  • the 'special support' part of a maintenance loan for students who are entitled to certain disability benefits, such as DLA or PIP
  • a higher education bursary for care leavers

Postgraduate study

If you're a full-time postgraduate student, the following income will count as income for means-tested benefits:

  • research council awards
  • postgraduate studentship or stipend
  • 30% of Master's Loans
  • 30% of Doctoral Loans

Special support element

If you are disabled or are eligible to claim benefits like DLA or PIP, you may be eligible for a higher amount of maintenance loan as a full-time undergraduate student.

If you're entitled to a maintenance loan, take it.

Income for means-tested benefits takes into account the maximum loan you are entitled to. This applies even if you do not take it.

The special support element of your maintenance loan is worth up to £4,221. This is not treated as income for means-tested benefits.

Student Finance will tell you if you can get the special support element when you apply.

Last reviewed by Scope on: 26/02/2024

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