Continuing your studies might give you some much-needed stability but it’s important to get the right support as it can be a big challenge. Student life doesn't come cheap, especially if you're living away from home. The good news is that there are government benefits available to take the pressure off.
Finding the right support
Carrying on with further or higher education after a cancer diagnosis won’t always be easy but by getting the right support and arranging flexibility with your studies it is often possible to continue with your course.
However, with the added costs of travelling for treatment or paying for extra clothes and general outgoings, you may need to apply for some financial support to help you get by.
Student finance options
If you are a new full-time student you can apply for:
- Tuition Fee Loan: paid directly to your college or university
- Maintenance Loan: for your living costs
- extra help from universities or colleges if you're on a low income, for example, a bursary, grant or scholarship.
If your course started before 1 August 2016 you can also apply for:
- Maintenance Grant: based on your household income and any payments will reduce the Maintenance Loan you can get
- Special Support Grant: will not reduce the Maintenance Loan. Apply if you qualify for Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit or the housing element of UC.
If you are a part-time student you can apply for a Tuition Fee Loan if your course has an ‘intensity’ of 25% or more – meaning how much you complete per year compared with an equivalent full-time course. Check this with your university or college.
Extra financial help - students on a low income or who have a health condition
Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs)
DSAs are grants to help you cover extra costs if you have an ongoing health condition, disability (cancer is classed as this), mental health condition or learning difficulty.
They can be used for added costs such as specialist equipment, readers, note-takers or extra travel costs.
The amount you get will depend on your individual needs, rather than your family's household income. They can also be in addition to any help received with travel costs.
Bursaries, scholarships and awards
You can apply for money through your university to cover the costs of things like books and laptops. They’ll have their own rules about who qualifies but you won’t need to pay any of it back.
16 to 19 bursary
If you are in full-time training or education in England you may be able to apply for a bursary of £1,200 a year if you are facing genuine financial hardship. This benefit does not apply if you're studying at university. Students aged 19+ could also get a bursary if continuing on a course they started aged 16 to 18 or if they have an Education, Health and Care Plan.
Education Maintenance Allowance
Students in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland may be eligible for an Education Maintenance Allowance. You could get up to £30 a week (paid fortnightly) to help with the cost of learning.
Discretionary Learner Support (DLS)
Further education students who are aged 19 or over and facing financial hardship can apply for DLS to help pay for a range of expenses, including accommodation and travel, course materials and equipment, childcare, if you're 20 or over (if you're 19 you will need to apply for Care to Learn instead) and other hardship needs.
The funding may be paid as a loan, a direct payment (that won't need to be paid back) or be paid to someone else, for example, a landlord.
Extra financial help - students who are parents
Care to Learn
If you are a parent under the age of 20 and studying full or part-time, then you may be able to receive up to £160 per week (£175 in London) per child towards your childcare or travel costs.
If you're living in England and studying full-time you may be eligible to receive the Childcare Grant. This could cover as much as 85 per cent of your childcare costs during term time and holidays. The grant doesn’t have to be paid back and is paid on top of your student finance, which you must be eligible for to apply.
Parents' Learning Allowance
If you are a full-time student, the Parents' Learning Allowance could offer you between £50 and £1,617 a year depending on your household income. These could be put towards costs such as travel, books or course material.
If you need to take time off
Your student loan and refund policies
If you need to take time off from college or university, and you've already received a student loan payment, you can speak to your student finance body to find out next steps.
You may decide to nominate a guardian or good friend to have access to your Student Finance account. To find out more contact:
- Student Finance England - 0300 100 0607
- Student Finance Wales - 0300 200 4050
- Student Awards Agency Scotland - 0300 555 0505
- Student Finance Northern Ireland - 0300 100 0077
Whether or not you will have to repay any of your funding back will depend on your circumstances. If you can provide written evidence of your 'compelling personal reasons' such as poor health, Student England Finance says it will take this into consideration.
Speak to the student welfare adviser at your university or college to find out if they can help you avoid any charges or interest if you have to take time off.
If you've paid tuition fees and you have to take time off or withdraw altogether, what will happen to the money? Unfortunately, there is no set answer to this because each university has its own set of rules.
It can depend on whether you are an undergraduate or postgraduate, if a course is modular or not, if you're paid back on a weekly or monthly basis, and how many weeks there are in the academic year.
However, in most cases, students will be entitled to a refund if they've paid their tuition fees and subsequently withdrawn.
Speak to the student finance team or welfare officer to find out the rules and regulations.
If you have to move back home, or spend long periods in hospital, the best thing to do is to speak to your accommodation officer as soon as you know your situation.
It could be that providing you return your keys and give at least four weeks' notice, you may not need to pay the rent for the rest of the period. You could also receive a refund for any overpayment – but again, this depends on your university policy.
If you are unhappy with your university or college refund policy then you should start by discussing it informally with the relevant member of staff. You can also find details in your student handbook or website about how to make a complaint.
If you are living in private accommodation it will be up to the good will of your landlord to decide if you can leave your contract early.
In reality, you may be expected to pay the rent until the end of a signed contract or lease. If this is the case, you could try calling Shelter’s free housing advice helpline on 0808 800 4444.
If you are moving home for the summer and bought a TV licence at the beginning of the academic year, you will have three months remaining on your licence that you can claim back. To be eligible you need to be leaving halls or rented accommodation and moving to a licensed address.
Find out more by visiting the TV Licensing website or calling 0300 790 6113.
Change in circumstances
It's important that you keep in touch with the office or department which pays out any benefits to keep them up-to-date with any changes.
Some benefits are only payable while you remain in education. This means that you may be liable to pay some of it back if you don't keep them informed.
For more information on claiming benefits contact the Disability Rights UK student helpline on 0800 328 5050.
- Look at our Education and training section for detailed advice about your options and how to access other forms of support
- If you are studying and are also a parent, there are a number of benefits you might be entitled to claim.
Updated August 2016, next review due 2017.