These are the main points to check:
- Apply early for your student finance: It doesn’t matter if you aren’t sure what university you will be attending or what course you will be doing; apply anyway. It is much easier to change or cancel an existing application than start a new application too late.
- Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA): If you think you will need DSA to provide for additional support arising from a disability, you should apply for this as soon as possible. There is a very long lead-in time for putting this support in place. Further information for disabled students is available here.
- Receiving payments: Make sure that the bank account you nominate to receive your student finance maintenance payments and your Leeds Financial Support (LFS) does not have an unauthorised overdraft, otherwise you may find that the bank ‘swallows up’ your payments. It might be useful to consider opening a separate bank account for your student finance.
- Accommodation: If you are choosing accommodation, take time to check that it’s affordable for you. Accommodation varies widely in price and in some cases can swallow a large chunk of your student finance. We advise modelling your likely student finance package from the government by using the Student Finance Calculator Add in your likely Leeds Financial Support (LFS) award to give a rough guide to your probable living costs budget for the year and then check this against the rent for your preferred accommodation to ensure that you can cover it and still have money left for other living costs.
- Potential problems: Many student finance applications to Student Finance England (SFE) are processed and approved without any problems; the fee loan is paid to the university and the first instalment of your maintenance support arrives safely in your bank account. However, in a minority of cases, problems arise which can cause serious delays to the processing of your application and may result in delayed payments, causing financial difficulty.
So, if any of the following apply to you, please read on to find out more.
- You are not originally from the UK
- You don’t have a current UK passport
- You have been known by more than one name during your lifetime
- You don’t have a National Insurance Number
- You have lived or worked outside the UK during the last three years
- You have applied for student finance in the past or have supported someone else applying for student finance (e.g. as a partner or parent)
- You have ever been in higher education before
- You are aged under 25 but don’t want to be assessed for student finance based on your parent(s)’ income
- SFE has requested evidence to order to process or assess your application for student finance
- SFE says your course is not eligible for support
- It’s more than 6 weeks since you applied for student finance (or sent additional evidence) but you have heard nothing from SFE
- No scheduled payments from SFE are showing on your account by the start of the first term
Issue: You are not originally from the UK
It is important to check at an early stage that you meet the ‘personal eligibility’ requirements for financial support. Being given ‘Home’ status for fees does not necessarily mean that you are automatically eligible for student finance. You may need to apply for your student finance in a different way, and/or provide additional evidence of your status in the UK, so investigate this now.
Issue: Identity evidence
Unless you can prove who you are to the satisfaction of SFE, your application will not be processed.
- The easiest way is using a current UK passport. If you don’t have one yet, or it’s expired/going to expire, apply for one or renew your existing one now. You do not need to send the passport off to SFE; just quoting the passport number and expiry date is all that is required. However, if your passport is in a different name from that which you are using for your student finance application, you will need to send evidence of why your name has changed (e.g. marriage certificate, divorce papers, deed poll papers etc). Start checking that you have this evidence now.
- If you don’t want to apply for a passport, you can prove your identity using your birth certificate. However:
- You will need to send your original birth certificate to SFE, so find it
- Your birth certificate must be from the UK.
- If the name on your birth certificate is different from the one you are using for your student finance application, you will need to send additional evidence of how and why your name has changed (e.g. marriage certificate, statutory declaration, deed poll papers etc). You should check that you have this evidence
- Your birth certificate needs to be accompanied by a declaration form signed by a person who (a) has known you for at least 2 years (b) is a current UK passport holder and (c) belongs to one of the professions listed on the form. So download the form and start thinking about who can sign it for you.
Issue: You don’t have a National Insurance Number
If for some reason you’ve never had a National Insurance Number or you’ve lost it, you need to get one or find out what it is now. No student loans will be approved without a National Insurance Number because this is the means by which repayments are taken.
Issue: You have lived or worked outside the UK at any time during the three years prior to 1 September 2017
In order to be eligible for student finance, you must have been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for the three years prior to the start of the course i.e. from 1 September 2014 to 1 September 2017. It is all right to have been temporarily absent from the UK (e.g. working abroad on a short term contract) but you may be asked to prove why you were abroad and that you were only abroad temporarily. You should therefore get your student finance application in as soon as possible to find out in good time whether (and what) evidence is required so that you can sort this out (e.g. you may have to contact previous employers). You need to start thinking about this now.
[EU students seeking a tuition fee loan should note that SFE will require evidence that you were at the address(es) you state as your residence(s) in the three years prior to 1 September 2017 e.g. utility bills, wage slips, bank statements showing transactions in particular locations etc; it is not enough just to give the address. If you are an EU student seeking a maintenance loan, you need to have been ordinarily resident in the UK for five years prior to the start of the course and be able to provide evidence of this]
Issue: You already have a Student Finance England account
SFE does not allow its clients to have more than one account with them. Therefore, if you have ever received student finance (however long ago, and even if it was from a local authority at the time), you must use this account for your application. If you cannot remember your Customer Reference Number and/or the password for your account, you need to ring SFE to find this out. If you have had an Advanced Learner Loan for further education prior to applying for university, you should continue to use this account.
The same applies if you have ever supported a student finance application – for example, if you have provided evidence of household income to SFE in order for your child(ren) or partner to receive student finance. You cannot open a new account; you must use the existing one.
Think very carefully about this and if you think you may already have an account, ring SFE now in order to check this and if necessary get details of it.
Issue: You have been in higher education before
It doesn’t matter how long ago this was, where it was, whether it was full-time or part-time, whether you received any financial support for it, how long you spent on the course or whether you received a qualification; it may affect your eligibility for student finance. Ring SFE now with details of your previous study for an initial discussion and guidance about how you might be affected. However, the only real test of this is to have an application fully assessed so you should apply for student finance as soon as possible to get a formal decision on this.
If your previous study will affect your eligibility for financial support, it may be possible to have the previous study disregarded if you left the course for ‘compelling personal reasons’ (CPR) such as illness, disability, bereavement etc. However, you will need to provide independent evidence of CPR from a professional person/organisation, which may take time, so you are advised to find out how your previous study might affect your eligibility as soon as possible.
Issue: You are under 25 but you want to be assessed as an ‘independent’ student, not on the basis of your parental household income
All full-time* students under the age of 25 are deemed to be ‘dependent’ on their parents unless there are special circumstances. An assessment of your eligibility for student finance will therefore be based on the household income of your parent(s) (regardless of whether you live with them or not). It is possible to claim ‘independent’ status below the age of 25 and have your spouse/partner’s income assessed instead, but only if at least one of the following applies:
- You are/have been married or in a civil partnership before 1 September 2017 (even if that marriage or civil partnership has ended)
- You are responsible for the care of a child under 18 on 1 September 2017
- You have no living parents, or your parents cannot be traced, or it’s not practical or possible to contact them
- You have been looked after by a local authority throughout any 3 month period ending on or after the date you turned 16, and before 1 September 2017
- You have supported yourself for at least 36 months before 1 September 2017 (i.e. in paid employment or on benefits)
- You have not communicated with your parents for one year before 1 September 2017 and/or you are permanently estranged from your parents (it is not enough to have fallen out with them or for them to refuse to have their household income assessed)
If you wish to be considered for independent status you will have to provide evidence of how you qualify. This may be relatively simple (e.g. marriage certificate) but can be quite complex. In particular, proving economic independence or estrangement from parents can be challenging and time-consuming, so you need to allow time for this. For economic independence you will have to provide paperwork to support your claim to have been in work/on benefits for at least 36 months (wage slips/P60s, benefits letters), so you need to start putting these together now. A claim of permanent estrangement from your parent(s) has to be supported by an independent, professional person such as a social worker, tutor, advice worker, counsellor or similar, so you need to start gathering evidence for this now.
*part-time students are automatically considered to be independent, irrespective of age.
Issue: Student Finance England has requested additional ‘evidence’ in order to process/assess your application
You will note from the above that there are many situations in which SFE may request additional evidence. This evidence is usually in paper format (e.g. letters, certificates, financial documents) and so must be posted to SFE at Darlington; you are strongly advised to send this by Special Delivery so that you can track that it has arrived safely. Once there, it must be scanned before it can go forward to be part of your application and this can take up to 10 working days, depending on the time of year. Your application can then take up to 30 further working days to be processed and assessed, depending on the time of year. This means that it could take up to 2 months for a piece of evidence to be considered as part of your application, so if you have been asked to provide additional evidence, do not delay – submit it as soon as possible.
Issue: Student Finance England has notified you that your course is not eligible for financial support
It is important that you get information about your course correct when applying for student finance. It is easy to make minor mistakes on the online application form:
- Have you applied for finance for Higher Education? The online application form allows students to apply for finance for Further Education as well; make sure you haven’t clicked this choice by mistake.
- Have you applied for the right academic year i.e. 2017-2018? Applications for 2016-2017 are still open and you may have clicked on this choice by mistake.
- Have you applied for full-time/part-time study as appropriate? There are different application forms for the two modes of study and you may have chosen the wrong one by mistake.
- Have you selected the right course title from the drop-down menu? Common mistakes include:
- Confusing ‘Foundation Year’ with ‘Foundation Degree’
- Applying for support for PHE or Preparation for Higher Education; the correct title for this programme is BA Interdisciplinary Studies. More information about this here.
- Applying for funding for a Foundation Year alone instead of applying for funding for the whole of your degree by choosing the appropriate ‘Generic Degree with Foundation Year’ More information about this here.
Issue: You have submitted an application, and any additional evidence requested, but have not received any further correspondence from Student Finance England
Once your application (and additional evidence) has been assessed by SFE, you should receive an Entitlement letter, indicating how much financial support you will receive. This should normally arrive within 6 weeks of your application or 6-8 weeks after any additional supporting evidence has been submitted. If you haven’t heard anything after 6 weeks, you should ring SFE to check that everything is progressing satisfactorily and continue to ring on a weekly basis until you receive your Entitlement letter. No news is bad news: you need to chase up your application on a regular basis until your Entitlement letter arrives. After 1 September, you need to be checking your online SFE account every day for your Entitlement letter (it will be sent by post but an e-version will available earlier on your online account).
Issue: It’s the start of term, but no scheduled payments are showing on your SFE online account
- Have you signed and returned your Declaration to SFE? This was enclosed with your Entitlement letter and must be signed and returned before payments will be released.
- Are you eligible to register for your course? You will only be able to register if you have fulfilled all of the conditions of your offer of a place. So, if the university has requested evidence of your qualifications such as your GCSEs), or requested references as part of your conditional offer you will not be permitted to register until these are received.
- Have you completed registration for your course, including collecting your Student Card? Until this is done, your attendance cannot be confirmed and no payments will be released.