Student finance is a minefield at the best of times. As a student parent, it’s more like an underwater minefield infested with sharks and piranhas, and the tiniest mistake will land you in a whole heap of stress – trust me, we’ve been there. Most stressful of all is navigating student finance when you’re also claiming benefits – a situation many student parents will find themselves in. The information available on the internet is sparse – and that’s being generous.
That’s why I’ve put together this guide. A combination of research and experience has resulted in this, a guide to Student Finance Wales for student parents – including what you could be entitled to, and what you need to know about claiming benefits as a student.
(For now, this guide only covers Wales. I’ll try to put together similar guides for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland once I know a little more about these systems).
What student finance am I eligible for?
Some aspects of student finance are available to all students ordinarily resident in Wales (that means with a home address in Wales, even if you’re living in another country for university), whilst others depend on your household income.
- Tuition Fees. In Wales, universities can charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees for your course. The good news is that you don’t have to pay this upfront. You can take out a tuition fee loan of up to £3,900, which you won’t have to pay back until you’re earning over £21,000 a year. The Welsh government cover the rest, with a fee grant – that’s non-repayable – of up to £5,100.
- Maintenance loan. This is a means-tested loan that you will have to pay back. The amount you get depends on whether you’re living with your parents, away from home, in London or studying overseas. The maximum amount you can get ranges from £4,786 to £7,372. This is paid directly to your bank account in three instalments across the year.
- Welsh Government Learning Grant. This is a non-repayable grant, paid directly into your bank account at the same times as the maintenance loan. It is given to students with a household income (that’s including parents and partners) of under £50,000 a year, and works on a sliding scale from £50 up to £5,161 depending on the exact income figures.
Other grants are available to students who meet certain conditions – being a parent, or having responsibility for a child, being among them.
- Special Support Grant. This grant replaces the Welsh Government Learning Grant for students who meet any of a number of criteria – being a lone parent; both parents being students at the same time or being in receipt of housing benefit/the housing component of Universal Credit will qualify you for the Special Support Grant. The amount paid is the same – a maximum of £1,561 – but the difference is important. Unlike the Welsh Government Learning Grant, the Special Support Grant does not reduce the amount of Maintenance Loan you are eligible for, and it is not counted as income for benefit purposes.
- Childcare Grant. This non-repayable grant will cover up to 85% of your childcare costs, up to £161.50 a week for one child or £274.55 a week for two or more children. It is paid directly into your bank account, and does depend on your household income. In addition, you will not be eligible for the childcare grant if your childcare is already funded by the NHS; if you have tax-free childcare via HMRC or if you are in receipt of the childcare element of working tax credit.
- Parent Learning Allowance. An additional non-repayable, means-tested grant of up to £1,557 a year, paid to anyone who is responsible for a child during their studies.
How will my student finance impact my benefits?
Most full-time students are ineligible for benefits during their time at university. However, student parents are eligible for housing benefit, child benefit and child tax credits. Unfortunately, the information for student parents on this topic is very rare, so fortunately for you (unfortunately for us) this is the information we’ve learned about benefits and student finance the hard way.
- Child Benefit. You get child benefit if you’re responsible for a child under 16 (or under 20, if they’re in full time education or training). If you or your partner’s income is over £50,000, you will be taxed on the child benefit. Child benefit does not count towards your household income for student finance purposes, and student finance does not count as income when you are claiming child benefit.
- Child Tax Credit. Child tax credit is an income-dependent benefit, and the amount you are entitled to depends on a number of factors. The good news is that if you’re in higher education, your tuition fee loan & grant, maintenance loan, Parents Learning Allowance, Welsh Government Learning Grant/Special Support grant, childcare grant and a number of other scholarships and bursaries are disregarded when calculating your income for child tax credit purposes. The only student finance that does count as income is the Adult Dependent Grant, a grant similar to the Parent Learning Allowance for anyone with an adult living at home who relies on them financially.
- Housing Benefit. This is the tricky one, and it’s the one where many people – ourselves included, unfortunately – have found themselves in hot water. It’s nigh on impossible to find out online what student finance is actually regarded as income for housing benefit purposes, so we’ve had to find out the hard way. Yet again, the quantity of the information available is scarce and the quality is tiny; with most advisors – even those in the benefits section at the local council – only able to say that if you have children, you might qualify for housing benefit. Helpful, right? Others have told me that they simply don’t know – at least they’re being honest, I suppose, but it’s little comfort when struggling families are being hit by massive overpayment bills. The basics are that Welsh Government Learning Grant/Special Support Grant does not count as income, and neither does Childcare Grant or Parent Learning Allowance. Your maintenance loan and the Adult Dependant Grant do count.
Different websites list different people as the best contact for queries with regards to benefits as student parents. Unfortunately, in our experience, both the council’s benefit advisors and the Citizens Advice Bureau have been shockingly useless when it comes to benefits for student parents; simply shrugging their shoulders and saying “Sorry, I don’t know”. For student finance queries, we were able to rely on the fantastic finance team at the university, but even they were confused by the nightmarish benefits system facing student parents.
Your best bet is to gather and piece together information from all the limited resources at your disposal (or, seeing as that’s exactly what I’ve done, just read this guide instead) – and lobby as many relevant authorities as possible for some clear, concise expert advice on claiming benefits and student finance as a student parent.
This post is part of the Student Parent Survival Guide series. Check out the rest of the series here.