The Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) is a non-repayable grant available for students at university in the UK whose studying is impacted by one or more disabilities which they experience. DSA is funded on behalf of the UK government and can be awarded in a number of forms, such as grants, reimbursement for equipment, assistive technology and more. Unlike the student finance tuition and maintenance loans, DSA does not need to be paid back. Today I will be sharing with you a step-by-step guide on how to apply for DSA as a student at university.
1. Determine whether you are eligible to apply for DSA
In order to begin the application process, it is worth confirming you meet the requirements to avoid wasting time. The official list of criteria include:
- A long-term/chronic health condition
- Learning difficulty
- Physical disability
- Mental health condition
- Sensory Disability
- Or any disability classed under the Disability and Equality Act 2010 that is likely to affect you for more than 12 months and affect how you study and are assessed.
The course you are studying will also need to be taken into consideration, factoring in the level, length and whether you study as a full or part-time student. If you are unsure about your health levels or diagnosis I would recommend getting in contact with your GP or other healthcare professional to gain further clarity on whether you are meeting any of these criteria. They will have a full record of your medical history and will also be able to put you on the right path for any new symptoms and health concerns that are impacting your studies at present. It is important to note that unfortunately DSA is unavailable to international/EU students at this time.
2. Fill out the DSA Application Form
The DSA application form can be completed in a number of ways. The easiest way (if you have already applied for student finance) is to log in to your Student Finance England account and click “change circumstances” on your account and it will appear in your “To do” list. If you have not applied for student finance, you can apply for DSA by filling in a DSA1 form here.
If you have a diagnosed disability you can submit your diagnosis letter or records as evidence for your application. If you don’t have a diagnosis (you may still be in the process of obtaining one or for any other reasons) you will need to fill out the medical evidence form (see here). I would recommend speaking with your trusted health professional to ensure that you submit all necessary and correct details relating to your disability. The more evidence you can provide the better level of help you are likely to be offered.
4. Book your needs assessment
Once your application has been processed and approved by the DSA team you will receive an email with the request to book a needs assessment. This appointment does not determine your eligibility – you are now approved for the funding and this meeting will simply be an informal discussion between you and an experienced assessor where you will discuss the disability you outlined in your application, how this is impacting your studies and what levels of support you hope to receive through the DSA programme. The email you receive will outline how to book your needs assessment which may be done at a centre local to you or via online.
When preparing for your needs assessment, I recommend sitting with a friend or family member and having a similar discussion and reflection on your disability and how it impacts your life. Take notes of every struggle you can think of and how this affects you as a student. By making notes you will give yourself more time to ensure you aren’t forgetting any important details and will get the best chance of help from your appointment. When you go for the official assessment you will then be familiar with the questions and topics so if you struggle from a disability such as anxiety or experience memory loss or brain fog, this won’t impact your session as much.
5. Review your offers
Once you have completed your needs assessment you will receive an email outlining the DSA you are to be offered. Please note that DSA is not solely an additional form of payment. The support offered will be based on the results of your assessment and your individual needs. Often this support may come in the form of assistive technology to aid learning, such as a Jamworks Pro account. This can help students to reduce their stress levels during lectures as they are able to be more present in class while the Jamworks app creates highlight clips of their lectures for them. For students with visual learning difficulties, the audio clips work as a great way to listen back to lecture content for integrated learning. The app comes with a wide range of accessibility features to adapt to students’ individual needs, including revision quizzes and a transcribing and note summary feature to adapt lecture content into a number of forms.
Other forms of assistance you may receive include technology such as a printer, laptop, Dictaphone, study-related software, BSL interpreter, sensory-friendly equipment, one-to-one study skills training, additional travel expenses and ink/printing credits.
A key point to note is that whilst you will receive funding, many of the offers require you to purchase the items and services and then the DSA team will reimburse you. Therefore, it is vital to keep record of all receipts and proof of payment and don’t purchase anything you expect to be reimbursed for before you receive confirmation from DSA to do so as this may not be funded.
How long does it take to apply for DSA?
When we look at the overall process, the timeframe in which it takes to apply and receive DSA can vary for each student, depending on their individual needs and circumstances. The DSA application form online takes about fifteen minutes to complete, however you may need to wait on receiving evidence from a health practitioner or GP to aid your application. Following the submission of your application, it can take up to six weeks for the DSA team to process your form and request before being offered the ability to book a needs assessment. Following this appointment, it can take up to another further six weeks for your offers to be issued to you. I would recommend logging into your account regularly to make sure you don’t miss any important information sent your way.
Whilst you are in this waiting process it is useful to be aware that the Student Support/ Disability services team at your university may be able to help you with assistive technology during this time. If the waiting period is extensively long it can be useful to contact the offered assistive technology team, such as Jamworks, to ideally have early access. The Jamworks DSA team lead, Kieran can be contacted here. To summarise, the DSA application can potentially take up to 6 months to be completed, so make sure to start as soon as possible.
Differences between DSA in England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
It is important when applying for DSA that you take into consideration the country in which you are studying as the offers and requirements differ slightly.
The amount of DSA support you are offered will be paid into your bank account and you are required to order the services and software yourself. You will be provided with a list of what the grant issued to you is intended to fund so it should not be difficult to access these resources and services.
This differs from England, Northern Ireland and Wales as in most cases the services and products you are offered are ordered and paid for directly by DSA.
The Scotland DSA allowance is also determined differently from the other UK countries.
There is a:
- maximum basic allowance of £1725 per year.
- maximum non-medical allowance (NMPH) of £20,520 per year.
- maximum large items allowance of £5,160 for the duration of your course.
- maximum funding is £25,680 per year, plus an allowance of £5,160 for large items for the duration of your course.
The DSA allowance for England is capped at £25,575 per year.
The DSA allowance for Wales is capped at £32,546 per year.
The DSA allowance is capped at £25,000 per year.
The application process for DSA is long, but if you are a student who is experiencing difficulties that impacts their learning, it is important to take all the help that can be offered to you so that you have the same level of chances to succeed as neurotypical and non-disabled students.