Students with a Specific Learning Difficulty [SpLD], such as dyslexia, who are already studying, or are about to begin a full or part time higher education course [including some Open University and postgraduate courses], may be eligible to apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance [DSA], which is a non-means tested government grant to help towards the cost of non-medical support, including specialist study skills, tuition, and IT equipment/software, etc.
Non-medical support can help to remove the barriers to learning that some students may have due to their disability.
Who is DSA for?
DSA is available to both full-time and part-time students, those on unpaid sandwich courses, open and distance students, and those on postgraduate courses. You may apply for DSA even if you have already taken a higher education course, although you can’t apply for more than one at a time.
You may claim DSA in addition to your student finance loans and grants to cover any extra study-related costs you incur due to an impairment, mental health condition, or learning difficulty.
It is neither a benefit nor a loan, so it doesn’t need repaying. The amount you’ll receive depends on your individual needs not on your income, nor that of your parents or partner. There are some restrictions on what you may use your DSA for, so check the details below carefully.
Am I eligible?
You are eligible for DSA if you meet all the following criteria:
- You are taking a full-time or part-time undergraduate or postgraduate course in the UK [including Open University and distance learning courses] that lasts at least one year.
- You normally live in the UK.
- You qualify for student finance.
- You can prove you have a disability, medical condition, sensory impairment, mental health condition, or specific learning difficulty which affects your ability to study.
You should check your eligibility with your university or college directly.
What support could I get?
DSA is slightly different depending where in the UK you live. DSA for students in England is made of up four parts:
- Non-medical helper allowance – an annual payment to help cover the costs of academic support [e.g. a sign language interpreter].
- Specialist equipment allowance – a one-off payment to cover items required for you to study [e.g. assistive technology software]. If you require a computer, you will need to pay the first £200.
- Travel allowance – reasonable spending on additional costs incurred as a result of a disability [this does not cover everyday costs you would expect to pay for].
- General allowance – an annual payment to cover any other disability-related expenses not mentioned [e.g. braille books and photocopying].
What evidence do I need to apply for DSA to help with a Specific Learning Difficulty?
In order to apply for DSA, you will require a specialist diagnostic assessment as evidence of your Specific Learning Difficulty. The assessment must have been undertaken when you were aged 16 or over.
If you’re a mature student having previously undertaken a post-16 assessment but where more than two years has elapsed before you entered higher education, you may be required to undertake an updated ‘top-up’ assessment. Your university or college should be contacted for advice prior to any reassessment being undertaken.
What does a specialist diagnostic assessment include?
A specialist diagnostic assessment includes:
- your details and date of the assessment;
- a clear statement of the presence of a Specific Learning Difficulty;
- a detailed description of the tests used [which must conform to guidelines issued by the SASC SpLD Working Group];
- a comprehensive breakdown and analysis of test scores;
- conclusions which explain why there is a statement of disability;
- recommendations – e.g:
- reasonable adjustments such as, for example, extra time in examinations [often +25%];
- subject-specific support recommendations;
- extensions for course work with the relevant conditions;
- assistive technology recommendations related to the nature of the Specific Learning Difficulty;
- any other referrals which might be necessary, such as optometry assessments or speech and language therapy assessments, although these are not common and will not usually be paid for by the higher education establishment.
You may already have an exam access arrangements ‘report’ for GSCE and/or A level examinations [i.e. provided by your school/college] which may be sufficient to allow the higher education establishment to make a similar arrangement for examinations, but this will not be adequate for a DSA application.
How can I obtain a specialist diagnostic assessment?
The SASC SpLD Working Group’s guidelines for assessments relating to Disabled Students’ Allowance in Higher Education state that assessments must be carried out by a qualified specialist teacher who holds a practising certificate [‘APC SpLD’], or by an educational psychologist. The assessment report must be prepared using an agreed set of diagnostic tools and presented in a specific format.
Some higher education establishments provide access to qualified assessors, and may be able to offer reduced fees or waive them entirely. Other establishments do not provide this service, and students will need to make their own arrangements to obtain a diagnostic assessment.
As a qualified specialist teacher and holder of the required practising certificate, Melanie Stephenson of Dyslexia Lincs is authorised to conduct specialist diagnostic assessments for DSA purposes.
How much does a specialist diagnostic assessment cost?
The cost of obtaining a specialist diagnostic assessment for DSA varies depending on the provider used.
The current fee for a full specialist diagnostic assessment provided by Dyslexia Lincs can be found here.
Some higher education establishments may fund or part-fund assessments, but this is not normally offered prior to the student starting the first year, which can delay the receipt of DSA support.
How do I apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance?
You don’t have to have a confirmed place at a university before you apply for your DSA. It is recommended you apply early so that this in place before your course starts, but you can apply at any point during your studies.
You will be asked to provide proof of your disability, medical health condition, sensory impairment, mental health condition, or specific learning difficulty [e.g. a diagnostic assessment of dyslexia, or letter from a medical authority].
Steps to apply for DSA
- Apply for student finance online or by post, and – as part of this process – indicate that you wish to apply for DSA.
- Attach or send your evidence with the DSA application form – remember to keep copies of all evidence sent.
- If you’re eligible for DSA, you’ll receive an approval letter from your DSA funding provider. You’ll then be asked to attend a needs assessment at a centre of your choice to explore the requirements of your course, and your learning needs. It’s a good idea to contact your university or college at this point, to let them know you’ve been approved for DSA.
- Following the needs assessment, you’ll receive a report detailing the equipment and support you’ll need. You won’t be reimbursed for anything you buy before you receive this report, so it’s important to wait until it arrives. For some items, DSA funds will be paid into your bank account, and for others, payment will be made directly to whoever is providing the support.
- The details of your DSA and needs assessment report will then be sent to the disability adviser at your chosen university or college, who will then make arrangements for any support or adjustments you require. If you have an Education, Health & Care [EHC] plan, with your permission, your local home authority will forward the details to the DSA assessor as proof of your eligibility, and will help you complete your application.
You can apply for DSA at any time during your course, but you will have to pay for any tests to establish your eligibility if you don’t have current proof. Some universities and colleges may be able to provide assistance with these costs – you should contact the disability officer to discuss your options.
The application process in more detail
How you apply for DSA depends on whether you’re studying full-time or part-time.
If you’ve already applied for student finance:
- Log in to your student finance account to start your DSA application.
- The application for DSA should be on your ‘to-do list’. If it isn’t, select ‘change your circumstances’ to apply.
- If you don’t have an online account because you applied for student finance by post, use the DSA paper application form.
If you haven’t applied for student finance:
- You can apply for DSA when you apply for student finance online.
- If you don’t need student finance, you can apply for DSA only by filling in the DSA paper application form.
- You can’t apply for student finance online once you’ve applied for DSA.
Apply using the DSA paper application form. You can’t apply online.
How long does the DSA application process take?
Confirmation of whether or not an application is successful is usually received within 6 weeks.
It can take up to 14 weeks to get DSA-related support in place as this is done separately.
Further information about Disabled Students’ Allowance can be found on the gov.uk website.
If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to contact us.