Student finance can feel like a minefield.
This is particularly true when you’re a student parent, as the plethora of grants and loans available to you grows exponentially. This is a good thing – it means you have more financial stability and can afford the things your children need without sacrificing your ability to study.
The problem is, the information out there is patchy at best. It’s improving in some areas, and Student Finance England has the most comprehensive information I’ve found so far, but when it all comes in a series of documents and you’re trying to piece it all together, it can get a little overwhelming.
That’s where this guide comes in. A plain-and-simple, fuss-free guide to navigating Student Finance England as a student parent. You’ll use Student Finance England if you have been living in the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man for the three years before your course begins, and will be living in England on the first day of your first academic year.
(You can also check out my guides for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland).
I feel a disclaimer is necessary here: I am not a student finance professional. I do not work for any of the companies, I’m just someone who’s found herself floundering, trying to figure out how student finance changes when you have a child, and is trying to simplify it to help you avoid the same. I’ll link to some useful official websites at the bottom of the page; please take the time to read them thoroughly.
This information relates to the 2017/2018 academic year. I will update these guides as new information becomes available.
Student Finance works a little differently depending on whether you’re studying part-time or full-time. During this section about part-time studies, you’ll see the phrase “course intensity”. This means how much you study in a year, compared to a full-time student. As an example, say a full-time year would cover 120 credits. As a part-time student, you may only do 60 credits in a year – half of a full-time student. This gives you a course intensity of 50%.
Tuition Fee Loan
Depending on your course intensity, you may be eligible for a tuition fee loan. As a minimum, the course intensity must be 25% for you to qualify. The maximum amount you can receive is £6,935, and this will have to be repaid.
Tuition Fee Grant
This grant is non-repayable and means tested. If your annual household income is below £25,424 you may be eligible for up to £1,231. Again, this depends on your course intensity.
This is a non-repayable grant of up to £288 a year to cover course-related costs. It’s means-tested, with a sliding scale of entitlement according to your household income.
This is often a grey area, and it’s been known to catch a lot of people out. As most students aren’t entitled to benefits, there isn’t a wealth of information on the internet. Thankfully, Student Finance England have provided more information than most on your eligibility to claim benefits as a part-time student.
Depending on your household income, part-time students may be eligible to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, Local Housing Allowance and Council Tax Reduction. Jobcentre Plus do not consider your fee loan and grant to be a source of income. In addition to this, depending on your income you’ll be able to claim Child Tax Credit/aspects of Universal Credit, and Child Benefit.
Taking on or continuing full-time study as a parent can be a daunting prospect in more ways than one, and money worries are bound to be near the top of the list. You aren’t just worrying about whether you can afford the next round or that textbook you’ll probably never read; you’re buying nappies or paying for school trips or covering unexpected phone bills. Thankfully, there’s a lot of avenues of support from Student Finance England, to help see you through.
Tuition Fee Loan
The tuition fee loan is paid directly to your university or college. In the 2017/2018 academic year, this will cover up to £9,250 per year, meaning that you don’t need to pay anything upfront as far as your tuition fees are concerned. You’ll only start repaying when you earn over £21,000 a year.
This is paid into your bank account in three instalments, one at the start of each term. The exact amount you get depends on two things – first is where you will live while you study:
The second factor is your household income. Unfortunately, I don’t have a fancy table for this – instead, here’s a link to the eligibility calculator, to give you an idea of what you may be eligible for.
You can get extra maintenance loan, but only in specific circumstances. The government link at the bottom of this guide has more information on the different circumstances, but the two that apply specifically to student parents are:
- Single parent/single foster parent of a child or young person under the age of 20, in full-time education below Higher Education level or in approved training.
- Where the partner is also a full-time student and one or both of you is responsible for a child or young person under the age of 20 in full-time education below Higher Education level or in approved training.
Your kids have to go somewhere while you’re studying. Having rambunctious toddlers charging around a lecture theatre isn’t fair on the other students, so it’s important to find childcare if you need it. As all parents know, childcare is expensive. Thankfully, there is a grant as part of student finance, to help cover the costs.
If you have dependent children under the age of 15 (or under the age of 17 if they have special educational needs), in registered or approved childcare, you could be eligible for a grant of up to 85% of your childcare costs – up to £159.59 a week for one child, or £273.60 a week for two or more children. This is a means-tested grant, so it will depend on your household income. In addition, you can’t claim this at the same time as the childcare element of Working Tax Credit/Universal Credit, or Tax-Free Childcare from HMRC.
Childcare Grant will be paid directly to your bank account, and is non-repayable (unless you are overpaid or leave your course early).
Parents’ Learning Allowance
If you have dependent children, you may be eligible for the means-tested Parents’ Learning Allowance, a non-repayable grant of up to £1,617 a year to help cover the costs related to studying with a child. This is paid directly to you.
Adult Dependant’s Grant
This is a grant of up to £2,834 a year, means-tested based on your household income. If an adult depends on you financially and you meet a certain set of criteria – the dependant can’t be a grown-up child, or another adult receiving student finance for their own studies – you could be eligible for this non-repayable grant.
As a student parent, you will be eligible for Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits while studying. In addition to this, single student parents and student parent couples may be eligible for income-related benefits, including housing benefit and some elements of Universal Credit. JobcentrePlus and your Local Authority only consider the following loans and grants when working out your income in terms of eligibility for benefits –
- Most of your maintenance loan
- Any maintenance grant
- Adult Dependants’ Grant
- Any bursaries you receive that are unrelated to your course or child-related costs.
This means that your tuition fee loans, the Special Support Grant if you qualify (this sometimes applies to single student parents and student parent couples), the Childcare Grant, Parents’ Learning Allowance and any bursaries for costs relating to your course or children are not counted as income.
Note: Both full- and part-time student parents with disabilities can apply for Disabled Students Allowance. I’ll hold my hands up and say that I don’t know a huge amount about DSA, which is why I haven’t included it in this guide – I don’t want to give you information I’m not confident in myself – but the links below have really useful information if you think you may be eligible for DSA.
Gov.UK – This is where you can apply to Student Finance England. It has documents with the terms and conditions of loans, information about eligibility and the all-important eligibility calculator, and the really useful Student Finance England guides I mentioned earlier.
The Student Room – The Student Room’s Student Finance Zone is brought to you by Student Finance England. The forum gives you a space to ask questions if there’s anything you’re unsure about, but most questions seem to be covered pretty well by the guides.
Turn2Us – Turn2Us has a great grant search feature, allowing you to check if there are charity or private grants and bursaries that you could be eligible for.