Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) is a grant intended to cover the extra costs of having a disability, long-term illness, mental health condition, autistic spectrum condition, or a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD. This section explains DSA, why it could be relevant to you and how to claim it.
NB: We recognise that not everyone who has an autistic spectrum condition would use the word ‘disabled’ about themselves. This includes a lot of the students we spoke to in our surveys. However, Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) is the main way to access support for your study needs at the start of your course and beyond, so it is important to know all about it.
Most autistic students who have been officially diagnosed with an autistic spectrum condition are entitled to DSA – it is not related to any other benefits (even DLA or PIP) and it isn’t means-tested. DSA does not have to be repaid and any equipment you receive through the allowance belongs to you.
DSA helps to pay for any extra study-related costs which you incur at University due to a disability. It can help with the costs of:
- having a support worker to support you, such as a specialist support and guidance mentor.
- specialist equipment to help you with your studies. This might include a computer or software, such as mind mapping software to help you to make sense of a topic and note taking sofware. You are also likley to be given training in how to use the specialist equipment.
- travel to and from University (getting taxis when public transport is too difficult to use for reasons relating to your autism).
- and other study-related costs.
DSA won’t cover costs that all students would have to pay, like buying textbooks or standard laptops or tickets for the bus to and from university.
DSA is not usually paid directly to the student. Instead, the money goes directly to the providers of the support recommended for you, whether that is support workers or the company who supply your software or equipment. The main exception would be if you are entitled to funding for ‘consumables’ like the cost of printing, as some students need to print more than the average student in order to meet their study needs. In that case, you pay yourself for these things and keep the receipts and the money would be paid back into your bank account later.
In England you have to pay £200 towards the cost of a new computer if you need one to run any recommended assistive software. Sheffield University students who have paid (or need to pay) the £200 personal contribution towards equipment, following their DSA assessment, can apply for a reimbursement of up to £200 from the University.
The process of applying for DSA might seem a bit daunting but you can contact the Disability and Dyslexia Support Service if you would like any help at any stage of the DSA process, including help with evidence or how to arrange your needs assessment. If you encounter any problems at any stage of the DSA application process, please don’t give up on applying for DSA!
How could this affect me?
Autistic students who claim DSA are less likely to drop out of university and more likely to achieve their full potential.
Whether or not you received or felt you needed support during school or college, university life is very different from the type of study you have been used to and getting the right support in place can make your life a lot easier. DSA is intended to level the playing field for students who have a disability. Students in our Autism&Uni surveys who told the university about their autism and got support early in their course were more likely to enjoy their time at university and graduate with good grades than those who didn’t get any support.
The timing of the support is important too – students who had all their support in place before the end of the first semester struggled a lot less than those who had to wait. This means applying for DSA as early as you can is a very good idea – it doesn’t matter if the university you end up going to changes – but you can apply later in your course, too, even if you haven’t told the university about your autism yet.
It might be appropriate for other recommendations for DSA support to be made later in your course if you find your needs have changed or if you don’t think your current support is really working for you. You can meet with your university disability adviser to discuss this.
What to do next?
Start the process of applying for Disabled Student Allowance
It takes approximately 15 weeks from the time of completing your DSA application to receiving your equipment and software so it’s important that you apply as early as possible to ensure that you begin your course with your DSA in place.
You apply to your funding body for DSA. When you apply online to your funding body for other student finance (maintenance and/or tuition fee loans) you will be asked if you are applying for DSA – we recommend that you complete your main application and then apply for DSA. Applications for student finance and DSA usually become available towards the end of February onwards. You do not need to know which university you will be attending when you apply for DSA.
If you’re not applying for any other type of student finance then you won’t be able to apply for DSA online and you’ll need to complete a paper application form which you can download from your funding body using the links at the end of this page.
If you have already started a university course, you can apply for DSA at any time during your course – we would encourage you to apply as soon as possible so that you can start using your DSA to support you.
Who is your funding body?
In the case of the majority of undergraduates and self-funding postgraduates the funding body they apply to is determined by where their home address is, with English students applying to Student Finance England, Welsh students applying to Student Finance Wales and Northern Irish students applying to Student Finance NI. However, students enrolled on particular courses will instead be eligible for funding from NHS bursaries (e.g. Medicine or Dentistry degree programmes, or postgraduate Social Work courses) or Research Councils (generally students on PhD programmes who have funding in place). Specific information on different funding bodies’ DSA application processes can be found here.
Follow these steps to apply for DSA:
- Complete an online DSA application through your funding body. Alternatively, complete a paper application form if you’re not applying for other types of Student Finance (maintenance loan/tuition fee loan) which you will need to download from your funding body’s DSA website.
- As part of your application you will need to send written evidence of your autism to the funding body.
The evidence could be a medical letter or report from a GP or other medical consultant which confirms your diagnosis of an autistic spectrum condition and gives some information about the impact this condition has on your day-to-day life and studies. If you do not yet have medical evidence confirming that you have an autism spectrum condition – or you do not think that the evidence you already have will be sufficient – we recommend that you ask your GP or appropriate health care practitioner to complete a ‘Disability Evidence Form’.
You won’t be able to submit your evidence online with your application – you will need to scan and email the evidence or send a copy of it to your funding body with a cover letter or by sending it with the paper DSA paper application form. Do not send original documents, only copies.
If you’ve received any other diagnosis in addition to autism, you should also send in evidence of this as it might lead to you receiving other types of DSA support.
- Once you have submitted the DSA application form and evidence of your autism, your funding body will assess your DSA application and then write to you to confirm that you are eligible for DSAs and to tell you to book a Needs Assessment and provide you with some information about how to arrange this (or, they might let you know that further evidence is needed). If you have ticked the ‘consent to share’ box, a copy of the email will also be sent to the Disability Service at your first-choice university.
- The Study Needs Assessment is an essential part of the DSA process and it leads to decisions about what support DSA will fund for you, as every student is different and has individual study needs. You need to have a needs assessment to continue with your application for DSA.
The activity What is the Study Needs Assessment? provides you with more information about this process and support to help you prepare for it.
There are assessment centres across the UK where you can attend a needs assessment; it doesn’t matter which University you are going to, or whether you have decided on which one. It is your decision which assessment centre you go to although most students go to the assessment centre that’s closest to either their home or their first choice university. You can find an assessment centre here. One of the closest assessment centres to Sheffield University is Sheffield Regional Assessment Centre. You will need to choose an assessment centre and then contact them to make an appointment.
The needs assessment is not a medical assessment; it is a discussion between you and a study needs assessor which aims to ensure that any study-related disability support requirements you have can be met. You do not need to know what type of support you will need at university before you attend your needs assessment. Your assessor will discuss with you the support you’ve received at school or college, the demands of your university course, including what you think you will do well at and any possible challenges, and the impact of your disability. The assessor will talk to you about the different types of equipment and support available to help you to perform academically to the best of your abilities. Assessors are knowledgeable about the various types of equipment and human support available through DSA and they will help you decide what’s is most likely to meet your needs at university – it’s likely that the assessor will tell you about types of support that you didn’t already know about.
What happens next?
After your needs assessment meeting, the assessor will draft a needs assessment report. This document recommends an individually-tailored package of support which you should be provided with through DSA. After you have signed an agreement to indicate that you are happy with what the report says, copies of it will be sent through to your funding body and to the Disability Service at your first-choice university. A member of staff at your funding body will look through the report and write back to you to let you know what support funding will be made available for. The Disability Service at your first-choice university will also be sent a copy of this letter.
When you receive the letter from your funding body which confirms the support they have agreed to fund for you it is often possible to order equipment and arrange training simply through following the instructions given on the letter.
In most cases some of your support (such as referrals for support workers) will need to be arranged through your university so we recommend that you contact the disability adviser at your first-choice university so that they can start to organise this.
If you are an applicant and your first-choice university is The University of Sheffield, when our Disability Service receives confirmation of your DSA funding entitlement we will email you to invite you to speak with a disability adviser in order to talk through all of the support you’ve been approved funding for and set it up.
If you are yet to start your course at the University of Sheffield but have already received your funding letter please contact the Disability and Dyslexia Support Service so that we can advise you on what steps to take next.
Additional information and links
- Further information about how to apply for DSA can be found here.
- Disability Rights Uk DSA information page
- Student Finance England DSA page
- Student Awards Agency Scotland DSA page
- Student Finance Wales DSA page
- Student Finance Northern Ireland DSA page