Disabled Students' Allowance

DSA is a funding source for students who have a disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010. Medical evidence of the disability is required to apply for DSA.

Students with specific learning difficulties such as ADHD, mental health conditions, physical disabilities, sensory disabilities and/or long term health conditions may be eligible for DSA support.

It helps with costs that are incurred due to a disability, that are specific to undertaking the course (not disability related costs that would have been incurred anyway if not studying).

As higher education institutions have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments for students, DSA should supplement but not replace these. 

DSA can provide non means tested funding for equipment, non-medical assistants, travel and other costs

A needs assessment identifies the support required, and this should consider placements as well as academic settings.

DSA can fund specialist equipment, non medical helpers, travel and general costs - awards are based on your situation, as established during the needs assessment. 

The total award is capped and varies for full time and part time students. Awards are not means tested. 

Students who are undertaking unpaid placements totalling 10 weeks or more in the academic year can get support with placement needs so as a nursing student expect to see placements considered in the assessment.

Examples of support provided to nursing students include:

  • Non medical helpers including British Sign Language interpreters, coaching.
  • Specialist equipment such as digital voice recorders, with portability considered if the equipment would be useful on placement as well as at university. 
  • Travel costs to attend placements by taxi.
  • Small fridges for essential medication storage. 

There is an approved supplier list for selecting non medical helpers. You do have the right to choose your supplier from the approved list, and you can change supplier if they are not meeting your needs.

If the support should be funded elsewhere (eg. mobility equipment via the NHS, reasonable adjustments by the university or placement provider) DSA will not fund it.

If you have a smartphone or computer that can be used, you shouldn't expect an alternative to be funded. For example, if you can record voice notes on your phone this would be an acceptable substitute for a digital voice recorder during lectures. However this almost certainly wouldn't be acceptable on placement as you would be carrying patient notes on a personal device. 

Rules around provisions of computers are complicated. If you require a computer to undertake your course and the need is due to your disability (eg. need for a very lightweight portable device) it may be possible and you may need to pay the first £200. 

Go to your needs assessment with an idea of what would help you and make notes of any queries you have. Raise anything you believe has been missed during your needs assessment and get clear information on why anything is out of scope.

DSA is for UK residents. EU residents who have lived here 3 or more years prior to study commencing, or international students with settled status or indefinite leave to remain may be eligible – so seek advice if in doubt. Funding bodies have their criteria online so this is a good place to start.

You will need to provide medical evidence of your disability from your doctor or consultant or for specific learning difficulties your diagnostic report. Visit the Gov.uk website for current information on eligibility and awards. 

Depending on where you currently live, you should apply to one of the following agencies for your DSAs:

In England apply to Student Finance England.

In Wales apply to NHS Wales Student Awards Services.

In Scotland apply to the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS).

In Northern Ireland contact Student Finance Northern Ireland for advice on where to apply for DSA. 

Note: If your nursing degree started before August 2017 and you have been in receipt of the NHS bursary you should access DSA this way using the NHSBSA BOSS portal. From August 2017, new nursing degree students instead apply through student finance (as above). 

You should start the application process for DSA before you start your course as the process takes time. You can start once you have a place confirmed by UCAS.

If during your course you realise you need equipment it is possible to apply at any time although after the first 9 months of the academic year, further evidence may be required. 

Once your application is assessed, if it is agreed that you have a need for assistance, you then have an appointment with a Needs Assessor. They will establish what will help you, and put this proposal back to the funding agency. Once the funding agency approve this proposal (or parts of it), they will send you the agreement that details how to put support in place.

You have to apply again for each year of your course.

If you change courses, you can apply for DSA but awards already made will be taken into account.

You should expect to keep hold of any specialist equipment awarded to you.

Health Education England has a resource detailing the process including the assessment which you can see here

If your DSA application is fully or partially refused, you can appeal to the funding body you applied to. 

If your situation changes for example you think you need more support with your disability to continue studying, contact the awarding body (eg. Student Finance England if in England) to discuss this.

Don't forget that your university has a legal obligation to provide reasonable adjustments for those who have a disability under the Equality Act 2010. If DSA doesn't cover a requirement, explore if your university should be providing this for you. For example support for Dyslexic students should be expected as many students present with Dyslexia at university. 

If you are facing difficulties because of your disability, speak to your university's disability support team, your student's union and follow any specific guidance issued by your university in the first instance. This is because each university has different processes. However, if this doesn't work please contact the RCN for support.

Our student advice guide covers common practice placement questions. 

RCN student members can get support and advice on placement issues by contacting RCN Direct. This include support if you feel you are being treated differently because of your disability (ie. discrimination).

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