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Just 29% Of Students In England With Disabilities Receiving DSA Allowance – Analysis

March 11, 2022

Support for students with disabilities should be improved, the government has been urged, after analysis showed that fewer than a third receive the disabled students’ allowance (DSA) meant to help them access and thrive in higher education.

According to a report, just 29% of students in England and Wales with a known disability received the allowance in 2019/20 while those who have been through the application process complained of bureaucracy, long delays, inconsistent quality of support and a lack of communication.

“A nightmare,” said one student, “a full-time job” said another describing the challenge of coordinating support which is rarely in place at the start of a course and can take months to secure, delaying students’ progress and putting them at an unfair disadvantage.


The report by ex-paralympic swimmer Lord Chris Holmes described the DSA as “a gem of a policy”, but too many potential recipients are unaware of its existence. He also saidthe 30-page application and lengthy assessment process are daunting and the “administrative burden can act as a barrier to study rather than the support intended by the scheme”.

The DSA is intended to cover study-related costs a student may incur because of a mental health problem, long-term illness or any other disability. It is dependent on individual need rather than household income and does not have to be repaid.

As of the next academic year, undergraduate and postgraduate students can receive up to £25,575 a year to pay for specialist equipment or non-medical helpers, for example a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter, a note taker or additional travel costs incurred as a result of a disability.

Based on data from the Student Loans Company, the report found that 75,900 students from England and Wales received DSA in 2019/20. Yet, figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show the total number of students with a known disability – who were domiciled in England and Wales and studying in a university in any one of the four home nations – was 261,620.

The SLC said there were a number of reasons why students may not apply for or be eligible for DSA. Students need to be eligible for student finance and they need to have a disability defined under the Equality Act. It also pointed out they may not require DSA support as their university may already have provision in place.

An SLC spokesperson said reforms were already under way to improve and speed up the DSA application process. “It will remove key pain points in the customer journey, provide the student with a single point of contact and support throughout the process, and contractual control to ensure consistent quality of service.”


The Holmes report makes 20 recommendations including an awareness campaign for schools, a digital “passport” to be carried through from school to higher education and beyond to work, greater flexibility in provision and improved communication and quality assurance processes.

Lord Holmes, who won nine golds, five silvers and one bronze medal across four paralympic games, said: “DSA has such inherent possibilities, to enable, to empower all our disabled young people. When it works well, it really works.

“As this report illustrates, with a series of carefully considered changes, DSA could go even further, enabling hundreds of thousands of disabled students to fulfil their potential.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “There are valid reasons why some students with a disability would not need to apply for DSA, for example because their needs have already been fully met by their university. Work is under way with the Student Loans Company to improve students’ experience, by making the application process easier, and working to shorten the journey between applications and support being received.”

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