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Benefits information for students (COVID 19)

Most full-time students are generally excluded from any entitlement to means-tested benefits unless they meet an exception, these can include parents, disabled students and some young people who are undertaking further education courses.

The definition of 'full-time' is determined by the education provider and is not related to the number of hours you attend the educational establishment, unless you are a 'Qualifying Young Person' (see below) doing guided education for at least 12 hours per week. If you do not know whether your course of education is classed as full-time or part-time you will need to check with your provider.

WARNING: This information is for students who have to claim a means-tested benefit for the first time. If you are currently a student undertaking a course of education and receiving a legacy benefit: income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Job Seekers Allowance, Child Tax Credit and/or Working Tax Credit or Housing Benefit, always seek independent advice before making a claim for Universal Credit as you could be much worse off. This is because:  

  1. No new claims for legacy benefits (except Housing Benefit for some temporary or supported accommodation) can now be made.
  2. As soon as you make a claim for Universal Credit any entitlement to legacy benefits ceases and you cannot cancel your claim for Universal Credit eg a student who was claiming Child Tax Credit submits a claim for Universal Credit. Their claim for Child Tax Credit is stopped. They are not entitled to a payment of Universal Credit because income from student loans and grants is taken in to account when calculating entitlement. They have nil entitlement to Universal Credit - they cannot re-claim Child Tax Credit.

Are you a 'qualifying young person' receiving education?

You are a 'qualifying young person' if before you reached your 19th birthday, you have been accepted or enrolled on a course of non-advanced education or training, of at least 12 hour per week. Non-advanced education is up to 'A' level or NVQ level 3. Most qualifying young people count as dependents of their parents (or someone acting in place of their parents) and will be included in their parents entitlement (or not) to benefits and it will be the parents who require a benefit check, as the young person is not entitled to benefits in their own right. However there are exceptions to this and some 'qualifying young people' who are in non-advanced education can claim benefit in their own right.

Are you a full-time student in higher education?

If you are studying advanced education or training, usually above 'A' level and your course of study has been defined as full-time by your college or university and are entitled to a grant or loan for your maintenance (this does not include people receiving Education Maintenance Allowance or the Welsh Government Further Education Grant) you are not entitled to means-tested benefits and count as a student 'receiving education' until the end of your course, unless you fall into an exception.

Even if you are currently not going in to your college, you are still a student if your course has not ended.


For the majority of students, if you are claiming a means-tested benefit for the first time, you will have to make a claim for Universal Credit. The following groups can claim Universal Credit whilst 'receiving education':

  • Disabled students - to claim UC as a disabled student you need to be in receipt of any rate of PIP or DLA and have been assessed as having limited capability for work. The Government have changed the rules and new regulations now state that a disabled student (already 'receiving education') cannot make a new claim for UC unless they have already been found to have limited capability for work or if they are already receiving UC, they have been found to have limited capability for work before they start 'receiving education'.
    • If you need to claim a means-tested benefit for the first time, you will need to make a 'credits only' claim for 'New-Style Employment and Support Allowance', before you can claim UC and ask them to assess you as soon as possible. This is a contributory benefit and if you do not meet the national insurance contribution conditions you will not receive any payment of this benefit. But you need to make the claim in order to have a 'Work Capability Assessment' of your capability for work.
    • You can make a 'credits only' claim for 'New-Style Employment and Support Allowance' even if someone else is claiming benefit for you because you are either a child or qualifying young person in relevant education/approved training within their claim for benefits (e.g. on your parents' claim). It will not affect their benefit entitlement providing it is not paid and is credits only. This is a complex area and independent advice should be sought.
    • This is currently even more problematic, as currently all face to face medical assessments for the Work Capability Assessment are suspended due to coronavirus, therefore the advice is to supply as much supportive evidence as possible and request a paper assessment or a medical assessment over the phone.   
    • If you are not a qualifying young person or a higher education student, you may be entitled to claim UC straightaway if it is accepted that your course is compatible with your work related requirements (see below).
  • Responsible for a child or qualifying young person:
    • If you have a partner, either one or both of you can be a student.
    • The child can be your own, adopted or a foster child.
  • Your partner is eligible for UC:
    • Even if you cannot claim UC because you are receiving education, if your partner is eligible for UC, you are entitled to claim as a couple.
  • You are a qualifying young person without 'parental support':
    • You are over 16.
    • You are not looked after by the local authority - seek further advice.
    • You are on a non-advanced course, under 21 or turned 21 whilst on the course and do not have parental support (or anyone acting in place of your parents):
      • Have no parents
      • Cannot live with your parents because you are estranged from them or it would be a serious risk to your mental or physical health or you would suffer significant harm if you lived with them.
      • Cannot be supported by your parents because of their physical or mental health, they are in custody or are unable to enter Britain (due to immigration status not coronavirus).
      •  You may need further advice to show that you fit into one of these groups.
  • Taking time out from your course:
    • This only applies if are no longer eligible for student finance, have now recovered from illness or time out for caring which you took in the last year which was agreed by the University and are waiting to return.
    • Unless you are one of other the exceptions, you will usually count as still receiving education and not eligible for UC.
  • Abandon your course:
    • This does not just mean that you feel like it has ended due to the current situation.
    • You need to have completely left and will usually need to supply proof of this.
    • Some students may want to consider if this is the best solution for the current situation?

Students who are not in an exception and entitled to a higher education grant/loan

This is the group who may have been likely to in normal times, top up their grant/loan with part-time work.

  • If you were working and have been furloughed, and were in receipt of tax credits you can continue to receive these benefits;
  • If you have been temporarily laid off or your hours of employment have been temporarily reduced, the government has confirmed that you will still receive your usual tax credit payments providing that you are still employed or self-employed, this will not apply if you lose your job, are made redundant or cease trading. HMRC will continue to treat you as working your normal hours until the Job Retention Scheme closes at the end of September 2021, even if you are not using scheme.
  • If your employment has been terminated, you can qualify for tax credits for a 4 week run on.
  • If you are not in receipt of any of the legacy benefits mentioned and do not meet the exceptions and are not entitled to make a new claim for Universal Credit your options are very limited. Check the following:
    • If you have been working at some point during the last three years there may be options:
      • Please see our updated information about the extension to the Job Retention Scheme
      • Are you working and earning at least £120 from 06/04/20 and are off sick due to either coronavirus or another reason, you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from your employer.
      • Do you have an employment history and have earned at least £118pw (2019/20), £116 (2018/19), £113 (2017/18) at some point during the last three years?  If so you may have paid or been credited with sufficient National Insurance contributions for New-Style contributory Employment and Support Allowance.  You must not be entitled to SSP and need to be incapable of work due to sickness (either coronavirus or another reason for sickness).
    • You should contact your College or University about help from their hardship fund, any help will be at their discretion:
    • You could apply for an Emergency Assistance Payment, this would only be very short term help with living expenses and only one application can be made within 28 days with a maximum of three applications in a 12 month period.  Be warned they are currently very busy and the following criteria need to be met:
      • have experienced an emergency or disaster or extreme financial hardship
      • be resident in Wales
      • be at least 16 years old
      • have no access to other money and tried all other affordable sources of funding
        • For people who have been affected by Coronavirus greater flexibility has been introduced until the end of September 2021.
        • The 28 day restriction on applications has been lifted and 5 grants are allowed in a 12 month period if the emergency is caused by Coronavirus.
        • Help may be awarded if Coronavirus has caused:
          • Lost income and help needed for the interim period whilst making a new benefit claim or changes to an existing claim.
          • A drop in income and you are not eligible for benefits such as Universal Credit, for example the Coronavirus may have meant you or your partner has lost their job and lost all their income.
          • Incurred additional essential living expenses due to having to spend more on gas, electric and food as a result of self-isolating and impact of children being home.

How to apply

Other students

If you don't meet one of the above exceptions, but you are a student you may be able to qualify for Universal Credit provided:

  • Any course of study or training that you are undertaking is compatible with any work-related requirements imposed on you. This can be an area of dispute and can vary on what your work-related requirements actually are, whether your study could be considered as part of your work-related requirements, whether your requirements to be available for work and actively seeking work could be reduced, these factors will be at the discretion of your work coach.
    • This decision may depend on whether your course is full or part-time.
    • Seek further advice if you are in this category.

Student finance

Even if you fit into an exception where you can claim Universal Credit, higher education grants and loans (whether you take one out or not) are taken into account as income when calculating entitlement to Universal Credit. This can mean that even if you are a student who can claim this benefit, you may not be entitled to receive any payment. It is always a good idea to check that any student income you have has been assessed correctly. Because student income is not taxable, it is not counted as income when calculating entitlement to Tax Credits, this can result in students being much worse off if they claim Universal Credit when they had entitlement to Tax Credits - always seek advice - because once UC is claimed you cannot cancel the claim.