Students and benefits ebulletin - June 2020 | CPAG

Students and benefits ebulletin - June 2020

Date: 
08 December 2020

Hello and welcome to the June 2020 edition of CPAG in Scotland's students and benefits ebulletin, keeping you up-to-date with changes to benefits and tax credits which are relevant to students.

In this issue:

NEW Students and benefits online training course

We are pleased to announce that we are holding an online students and benefits training course (via Zoom) on Wednesday 1 July. This is the students and benefits update course for experienced advisers, and will include relevant issues arising due to coronavirus. Book your place here.

See a full list of CPAG in Scotland’s recently announced online training courses.

NEW Coronavirus and universal credit for students briefing and video

We recently produced a new briefing on universal credit for students in light of the coronavirus crisis. There is also a short video which covers the same information. The briefing is here under Scotland briefings and the video will be on the AskCPAG web page soon.

Online student handbook update and new factsheets

CPAG’s Benefits for students in Scotland handbook free online version has been updated with changes to benefit rates and other changes from April 2020 . Four benefits for students factsheets have also been updated.

Universal credit and students - coronavirus changes

There have, so far, been no specific government announcements regarding benefits for students during the coronavirus crisis. Therefore, it remains the case that only a minority of students will be eligible for universal credit (UC). This is mainly parents, some students with a disability, students with a non-student partner and further education students aged under 21 who are without parental support - eg, due to estrangement.

Due to a relaxation in some of the rules about looking for work, however, a small number of students who were not previously eligible for UC may now be eligible. This is due to the definition of who counts as a student (referred to as ‘receiving education’ in the UC Regulations 2013, regulation 12). Someone is receiving education if they are under 19 in full-time further education, if they are in full-time higher education, or if they are on a full-time course and getting a loan or a grant for maintenance. If none of these apply, they nonetheless count as receiving education if their course is not compatible with work-related requirements. Currently all work search and availability for work requirements are suspended due to coronavirus (initially until 29 June, but this may be extended). Therefore any students who previously only counted as receiving education because the course was not seen as compatible with their work-related requirements, should now no longer count as receiving education, and can therefore claim UC in the same way as any other non-student.

Note that for those students who are eligible for UC, the rate of the standard allowance has been increased temporarily due to coronavirus.

CPAG in Scotland's advice line for advisers and frontline staff is still running during lockdown, with advisers working from home, and we have increased the number of advisers available to take your call. Phone 0141 552 0552 if you want to check what benefits a student can claim, or if you have any other questions about social security benefits. The advice line is available Monday – Thursday 10am – 4pm and Fridays 10am - 12 noon. You can also email your enquiries to [email protected]

Discretionary funds and universal credit

Most student income, including discretionary fund payments, is taken into account for universal credit (UC). However, any one-off payments from discretionary funds count as capital rather than income. As such, if household capital/savings is less than £6,000 it does not affect UC at all, if it is between £6,000 and £16,000 UC is reduced, and if it is above £16,000 no UC can be awarded.

Regular payments from discretionary funds count in the same way as any other grant income, which varies depending on whether you get a loan or not, as set out below.

For students who are eligible for a student loan, a discretionary fund payment is ignored as long as it is not intended for the maintenance of your partner or child/ren, and not a specific amount to cover rent payments that are met by UC. Therefore, for higher education students who are eligible for a student loan, discretionary fund payments paid for anything other than the above two items will not affect their UC.

For students who are not eligible for a loan, a discretionary fund payment counts as income unless it is paid for books and equipment, course travel costs, childcare costs, tuition fees or exams, in respect of your disability, extra costs due to residential study away from your usual place of study during term time, the costs of your normal home (where you live somewhere else during your course) unless those costs are met by your universal credit, or the maintenance of someone who is not included in your universal credit claim. Therefore, for students who are grant-funded - eg, further education students, nursing and midwifery students, and care-experienced students, discretionary fund payments paid for anything other than those items listed above will count as income for UC, and reduce your award.

Note that student income is only taken into account during the period that someone is a student. Once the course has ended any payments from discretionary funds should be ignored, as someone can only count as having student income while they are undertaking a course (UC Regulations 2013, regulation 68(1)).

Claiming benefits in the summer vacation

Full-time students may, in some circumstances, be able to claim social security benefits over the summer vacation between years of the course. If you are doing a course which is longer than one year, the rules say that you still count as a student and can only claim benefit in exceptional circumstances.

You can claim universal credit (UC) between years of your course if you are a parent student. You can also get UC if you are a student who is ill/disabled (you must get DLA or PIP, and satisfy the DWP’s ‘limited capability for work’ assessment), or if you are a student with a partner who is not a student. Warning: claiming UC brings any tax credits award to an end, and this cannot usually be reversed. It is therefore important to get independent advice before claiming UC.

Often students claiming UC over the summer vacation would be required to look for work, but at the moment work search and work availability requirements are suspended (initially until the end of June, but this may be extended), so there is no requirement to look for or to be available for work at the moment.

You must usually claim UC rather than legacy benefits, but if you already get legacy benefits you can stay on them. Note: if you have a ‘severe disability premium’ in a legacy benefit already, you cannot claim UC, but can still make new claims for legacy benefits. See www.cpag.org.uk/content/sdp-gateway for more information about when this might apply.

You should get a better-off calculation to see if you are better off overall staying on legacy benefits or claiming UC.

For information on claiming benefits after a course ends, see the March 2020 ebulletin.

Student funding update

The care-experienced accommodation grant for higher education students which is normally available over the summer vacation is this year available early, from April 2020. The grant pays up to £105 per week towards rent. Students who get a social security benefit to help with their rent (housing benefit, universal credit housing element) cannot usually get the accommodation grant, but if there is a shortfall between the amount of rent and the amount your benefit pays then you can get an accommodation grant to make up the difference.

From the start of the 2020/21 academic year the age cap for the care-experienced bursary is removed, so you no longer have to be under 26 at the start of your course to qualify.

There is more information about both grants on the SAAS website.

Social Security Scotland - changes due to coronavirus

The timescales for introducing some Scottish benefits have been delayed, and some relaxations of the rules, for example the timescales for claiming, have been introduced as a result of coronavirus.

The Scottish child payment is still expected to be introduced by the end of 2020, with the first payments happening in early 2021. Winter heating assistance, which will provide help with fuel bills for families with a severely disabled child, is still due to be introduced in winter 2020. Child disability payment, which was expected to be introduced this year, and the introduction of other Scottish disability benefits, are delayed, with no timescale set at present.

Read more about these and other changes in our briefings ‘Scottish benefits and coronavirus’ and ‘Coronavirus and carers benefits in Scotland’ at askcpag.org.uk/publications/-216847/benefits-and-coronavirus.