Discover how to apply for non-repayable, needs-assessed Disabled Students' Allowances (DSA), which are designed to help students with a mental health problem, long-term illness or other disability reach their full academic potential
How much can I receive?
For 2020/21, postgraduates eligible for DSA funding in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can receive a single allowance of up to £20,580, an increase of 2.9% on the 2019/20 allowance of £20,000.
In Scotland, full-time students starting a postgraduate course in 2020/21 receive a basic allowance of up to £1,725, a large items allowance of £5,160 and a non-medical personal help (NMPH) allowance of up to £20,520.
These figures are stipulated as a maximum - most students will get much less. The DSA doesn't cover the cost of anything unrelated to your condition (such as standard course books), or costs associated with your disability that you'd still incur if you weren't studying.
DSA is allocated specifically to cover equipment (such as a computer, if required due to your disability), non-medical helpers, additional travel expenses and any other disability-related costs relevant to pursuing your postgraduate course.
Your background, household income and employment status won't affect the funding you're entitled to. DSA funding is needs-tested, not means-tested, meaning you'll complete a needs assessment to determine the level of help you require.
Am I eligible for DSA?
To receive DSA, you must:
- live in England (or the country you're applying to)
- meet the definition of disabled under the Equality Act 2010 - you have a physical or mental impairment that has a 'substantial' and 'long-term' (12 months or more) negative effect on your ability to complete simply daily tasks
- prove that you're disabled by submitting a doctor's report, disability evidence form or completing a diagnostic assessment for a specific learning disability, such as dyslexia or dyspraxia
- be an undergraduate or postgraduate student (including distance learning)
- qualify for student finance from Student Finance England
- be studying a course that lasts at least a year.
You're ineligible for DSA if you're:
- a European Union (EU) or non-EU international student.
- getting equivalent support from another funding source such as the NHS Disabled Students Allowance, your university or a Research Council.
Is my course eligible?
Most full-time postgraduate courses are eligible for DSA funding, including:
- Masters degrees
- PhD study
- PGCE courses and other routes into teaching
- postgraduate diplomas (PGDip) and certificates (PGCert)
Your course is eligible if you're studying it part time. However, the total duration of the course must not last more than twice as long as the full-time equivalent.
You can't receive DSA student finance while undertaking a paid work placement as part of a sandwich course.
How do I apply for DSA?
The DSA application process follows a similar structure across all parts of the UK. You'll first apply to the relevant student finance organisation for your country and let them know that you wish to apply for DSA. You'll then receive the relevant application form, which you'll submit, accompanied by the required evidence of your disability, to your administrative body:
- Student Finance England
- Student Finance Wales
- Student Finance NI
- Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS)
Once you've had confirmation of your eligibility, you'll need to book a needs-assessment appointment and make the appropriate travel arrangements. The needs assessment is an informal session, lasting approximately two hours - you'll talk to your assessor about your course and together identify what kind of help would best suit your needs.
Don't book your needs assessment or make any equipment purchases before you've been contacted by the relevant body as you won't be reimbursed. If you're moving straight from undergraduate study to postgraduate study, you may not need a new needs assessment, but you must check this first.
Expect the process to last 14 weeks from submitting your application to receiving funding, which will be paid directly to your bank account or to the suppliers of your additional equipment.
It's always best to apply as soon as you can to allow for any delays or errors with your application. Postgraduate students have to reapply for DSA funding for every year of study.
What alternatives to DSA are there?
Research Council-funded students can apply for additional disability-related financial support from their research organisation. This is also called a DSA, but isn't related to the main government DSA and cannot be received in conjunction with it.
Contact the named disability adviser at your research organisation to arrange a needs assessment directly with them, as it's the organisation that provides the funding.
Alternatively, if you're ineligible to receive DSA, you may be able to find other forms of postgraduate funding for disabled students at your university, as well as through various charities and foundations. For instance, there may be a number of scholarships and bursaries on offer.