Welsh Government proposes changes to the Disabled Students’ Allowance

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DSAs were set up to help those with disabilities enter university and colleges, in an effort to promote social mobility and widen access to higher education. They have been in use across England and Wales since the mid-seventies.

If granted, DSAs can cover the cost of additional helpers, computers, travel costs, and special equipment. The government wants to ensure that the support offered is more efficient, delivered quicker, and that money is used effectively. DSAs are non-repayable grants, and are non-means tested – so students will qualify if they meet the eligibility criteria, regardless of their income or capital.

It is hoped that a DSA will also be available for eligible postgraduate students, to help them pay the extra costs they incur as a direct result of their disability.

Responses to the consultation should be sent by email to HEDConsultationsMailbox@gov.wales, or posted to Higher Education Division Skills, Higher Education and Lifelong Learning Welsh Government, Cathays Park Cardiff CF10 3NQ by 17 February 2020.

The consultation asks four key questions:

  1. Do you agree that one allowance would be better than four separate allowances?

The four current allowances are:

  • non-Medical helper Allowance (Up to £22,472 per year)
  • specialist equipment (up to £5,657 for the whole course)
  • general allowance for disability-related expenditure (up to £1,894 per year)
  • additional expenditure incurred for the purpose of attending an institution, for example travel costs

Students are not allowed to use funding from one allowance (apart from the general allowance) towards costs that should be paid for under a different one. The Welsh Government hopes to offer greater flexibility for DSA recipients, so that instead of four separate allowances, eligible students would be provided with one package worth up to a maximum overall amount, which will be dependent on each student’s needs.

  1. Could a DSA ‘package of support’ be awarded rather than requiring every disabled student to undergo a study needs assessment?

Every student currently undergoes a study needs assessment, which costs the taxpayer at least £660 plus VAT per student. A study needs assessment is where a specialist advisor discusses the student’s disability and the impact it has/is likely to have on their studies. It is conducted regardless of the student’s disability or condition.

The Welsh Government is asking whether this is necessary and is exploring additional options, such as “off the shelf support” for some students with readily identifiable needs.

  1. Should the student’s HE provider be responsible for arranging DSA funded support?

Currently, the DSA process can happen independently and separate from an HE provider – the student would have to apply for DSA from Student Finance Wales. Although an HE provider can contribute to the needs assessment, for example by providing detail of the student’s course provision and the types of assessments they would need to complete, a decision on eligibility is communicated directly to the student and not the HE provider. If there is any delay in the system, the HE provider may have to put in place additional reasonable adjustments to ensure a disabled student is not treated less favourably and can access their educational services whilst a decision on DSA is outstanding.

  1. Would improving the awareness of DSA’s, particularly within schools and the medical profession, increase their uptake?

Although the Additional Learning Needs (“ALN”) system – the new statutory support system for children and young people in Wales aged 0 to 25 – is not due to come into force until September 2020, there has already been a shift by government to raise awareness, and aspirations, for pupils with ALN or disabilities.

Making students much more aware of the support and facilities available at school and further education levels, would encourage them to have greater expectations over what support they would like to be available, should they choose to progress onto higher education.

Students need to know what exact support and individual sub-allowances are available to them under a DSA, especially since they won’t receive like for like support. Indeed, the legal obligations upon schools and further education providers to cater for ALN are arguably more onerous than those placed upon higher education providers for catering for disabilities.

If you would like further information, please contact Trish D’Souza (t.dsouza@capitallaw.co.uk).