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The Discretionary Fund

This information applies to Scotland

What is the Discretionary Fund

The Discretionary Fund is a source of financial help to students in further or higher education. In further education institutions, the Discretionary Fund is only available to students aged 16 or over.

The aim of the Fund is to help students who have financial difficulties or who may not be able to enter further or higher education for financial reasons.

Payments from the Fund are discretionary. If awarded, they do not need to be repaid.

Universities and colleges decide their own criteria for awarding discretionary payments from the Fund, subject to guidance issued by the relevant agency. An explanatory leaflet should be available on request from the institution to any student considering applying for help from the Fund.

Payments from the Discretionary Fund are different at further education institutions and higher education institutions. A payment can be made as a one-off lump sum, in instalments or as a short term loan, for example, where the client's first student loan instalment has been delayed beyond the start of term.

There are two separate bodies issuing guidance on how to administer the Discretionary Fund. The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council (SFC) issues guidance for further education institutions and the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) issues guidance for higher education institutions (see under heading Further information for the website addresses for SFC and SAAS).

What can the Discretionary Fund pay for

The Discretionary Fund can:-

  • meet particular costs which are not already being met from statutory or other sources of funding, for example, childcare, travel, books, field trips, and costs for some students with additional support needs
  • alleviate cases of financial hardship, for example, by giving assistance with priority debts
  • provide emergency payments to meet unexpected financial crises, for example, repairs to essential household equipment, travel costs for family bereavement or illness, hardship due to burglary or fire
  • help a student who may be considering leaving higher education because of funding problems, for example, with regular living costs such as rent, food and utility bills.

The Discretionary Fund cannot be used to meet the cost of tuition fees or to compensate for a lack of parental contributions.

Who is eligible

Subject to the residence requirements (see under heading The residence requirements), the Discretionary Fund can be used to help students in the following categories:-

  • full or part-time students (including distance learners) following a course of higher education
  • full or part-time students aged 16 or over following a course of further education.

This does not include nursing or midwifery students, as they are not eligible for support from the Discretionary Fund.

Higher education includes courses leading to a degree, Higher National Diploma (HND), Higher National Certificate (HNC), a professional qualification at or above degree level or a postgraduate qualification. Students at higher education institutions who are doing sandwich courses, periods of work placement or who are studying abroad as part of their course are also eligible.

Students who are eligible to apply for financial help from other government schemes will normally be expected to apply for such help before being assessed for help from the Fund.

For more information about other sources of government funding, see Student Awards Agency guide to support for students in higher education.

At institutions of higher education, students on part-time courses must study for at least 50% of a full time course during the academic year to be eligible for assistance. Further education institutions may have their own policies on the eligibility of part-time students. Clients should contact their institution for further details.

Responsibility for assessing eligibility in individual cases rests with the educational institution. The student's own income and expenditure will be assessed along with that of her/his partner. A parental contribution to the student's income will be assumed in some cases, depending on the level of parental income.

The residence requirements

The residence requirements for eligibility for the Discretionary Fund are summarised below. For full details of the requirements, students should contact the institution they are planning to attend or are already attending.

To be eligible for the Fund, the student must normally satisfy the following residence requirements on the first day of the first academic year of her/his course (see under Who does not have to meet the residence requirements (below) for exceptions). S/he must:-

  • be settled in the UK, that is, not be subject to any restriction on the period for which s/he may remain in the UK; and
  • have been ordinarily resident in the UK, the Channel Islands and/or the Isle of Man throughout the three year period preceding that date. The three year residence period should not include any part wholly or mainly for the purpose of receiving full-time education; and
  • be ordinarily resident in Scotland.

Who does not have to meet the residence requirements

Students in the following categories do not have to fulfil all the residence requirements:-

  • refugees who have been granted indefinite leave to remain, their spouses, children and step-children
  • people who have been granted exceptional leave to enter or remain in the UK, or humanitarian protection or discretionary leave, their spouses, children and step-children
  • EEA and Swiss migrant workers, their spouses, children and step-children
  • people who are seeking asylum in the UK and are on full or part-time non advanced course at a further education institution.

Students in these categories should contact the institution they are attending or planning to attend to check which residence requirements apply to them.

Who are the priority groups that can get help

Within the eligibility rules (see under heading Who is eligible), educational institutions are advised by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) and the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council (SFC) to target their HF allocation at the following priority groups:-

  • students with children, especially lone parents
  • mature students, especially those with existing financial commitments including priority debts
  • students from low-income families
  • some students with additional support needs
  • students who have been in care
  • students in their final year who are in financial difficulty.

Discretionary Fund and benefits

Payments from the Discretionary Fund may affect the client's entitlement to means-tested social security benefits, for example, income support or housing benefit.

Students who are worried about the impact of the Discretionary Fund on their benefits should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

How to apply to the Discretionary Fund

An application should be made to the individual educational institution where the student is following, or hopes to follow, her/his course. Each college will have its own procedure, application form and information leaflet.

A student should be able to apply at any time during the academic year. It may be possible to apply more than once, but usually only where circumstances have changed or an application is being made for assistance during the summer vacation.

Students cannot appeal to the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council (SFC) or the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) against a refusal to grant money from the Discretionary Fund. Each educational institution has its own procedure for appeals.

Further information

The National Union of Students (NUS) student welfare officer or the careers adviser at each institution will be able to provide further information about the Discretionary Fund and how the Fund is administered at that institution.

The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council (SFC) and the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) can provide copies of guidance issued to institutions of further education and higher education respectively. The SFC website is

www.sfc.ac.uk and the SAAS website is www.saas.gov.uk.

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