Government changes to Disabled Students’ Allowance ‘unacceptable’, says NUS

The government has announced it will simplify the system and cap payments at £25,000

The changes to the undergraduate Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) announced yesterday by the government are “unacceptable”, the National Union of Students said today.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan announced that the government was changing the way the allowance is structured from four separate sub-allowances to one allowance. The changes will bring the undergraduate DSA in-line with the system for postgraduates.

Ms Donelan revealed the change in a Written Ministerial Statement to parliament at the same time she announced that the undergraduate tuition fee cap would remain at £9,250 for 2021/22, thereby extending the freeze on tuition fees for a fourth year.

The new, single DSA allowance will be capped at £25,000 per year for full-time and part-time undergraduate students. At the moment, eligible students are entitled to receive a general allowance of up to £1,954 a year, an equipment grant up to £5,849 for the duration of the course, and financial support for a non-medical helper of up to £23,251 a year. When combined, the maximum a disabled student can currently claim is more than £27,000.

The NUS has said the changes mean the most disadvantaged students will miss out on up to £2,161 a year in funding.

Sara Khan, NUS vice-president (Liberation), said: “It is unacceptable that these changes to the DSA will mean that some disabled students with high support needs will lose up to £2,161 a year in funding. The government must act quickly to put this right and ensure that no student is financially disadvantaged by these changes, and it should publish a full equality impact assessment.

“While a move to increase flexibility in funding is welcome, this will only work in practice if no student misses out on funds as a result of the changes. The proposed method will impact disproportionately on those who are eligible to access the maximum amounts for both medical help and equipment.”

In response, a spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “We are committed to supporting students with disabilities and the overall level of funding for the Disabled Students’ Allowance is not decreasing. The new flexibility we are introducing means that many disabled students will be able to access more funding than before through the combined allowances.”

The Mancunion reported in March 2020 that latest DfE figures show that 60% of students eligible for Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) had not heard of the bursary before.

Related news: Expert panel: What progress still needs to be made for disabled students?

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