The Discretionary Fund
This information applies to Scotland.
What is the Discretionary Fund
The Discretionary Fund is a source of financial help to students in further or higher education. In further education institutions, the fund is only available to students aged 16 or over.
The fund aims to help students who have financial difficulties or who may not be able to enter further or higher education for financial reasons.
Payments from the fund are discretionary. If payments are awarded, you don't need to repay them.
Universities and colleges decide their own criteria for awarding discretionary payments from the fund, subject to guidance from the relevant agency. You can ask your institution for a leaflet about the fund if you're a student considering applying for help.
Payments from the Discretionary Fund are different at further and higher education institutions. A payment can be made as a one-off lump sum, in instalments or as a short-term loan, for example if your first student loan instalment has been delayed beyond the start of term.
The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council (SFC) issues guidance on the fund for further education institutions, and the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) has guidance for higher education institutions.
What can the Discretionary Fund pay for
The fund can:
- meet particular costs which aren't already met from statutory or other sources of funding, for example childcare, travel, books, field trips and costs for some students with additional support needs
- reduce financial hardship, for example by helping with priority debts
- provide emergency payments to meet unexpected financial crises, for example repairs to essential household equipment, travel costs for family bereavement or illness, or hardship due to burglary or fire
- help a student who may be considering leaving higher education because of funding problems, for example with regular living costs such as rent, food and utility bills
You can't use the Discretionary Fund to meet the cost of tuition fees or compensate for a lack of parental contributions.
Who is eligible
Subject to the residence requirements (see below), the Discretionary Fund can be used to help students in the following categories:
- full- or part-time students, including distance learners, following a course of higher education
- full- or part-time students aged 16 or over following a course of further education
This doesn't include nursing or midwifery students, as they're not eligible for support from the Discretionary Fund.
Higher education includes courses leading to a degree, higher national diploma (HND), higher national certificate (HNC), a professional qualification at or above degree level or a postgraduate qualification. Students at higher education institutions who are doing sandwich courses, periods of work placement or who are studying abroad as part of their course are also eligible.
Students who are eligible to apply for financial help from other government schemes will normally be expected to apply for that help before being assessed for help from the Discretionary Fund.
At institutions of higher education, students on part-time courses must study for at least 50% of a full-time course during the academic year to be eligible for assistance. Further education institutions may have their own policies on whether part-time students are eligible. You should contact your institution for further details.
Responsibility for assessing eligibility in individual cases rests with the educational institution. Your own income and expenditure will be assessed along with that of your partner. A parental contribution to your income will be assumed in some cases, depending on the level of parental income.
To be eligible for the Discretionary Fund, you must normally satisfy the following residence requirements on the first day of the first academic year of your course. You must:
- be settled in the UK - that is, not be subject to any restriction on the period for which you may remain in the UK
- have been ordinarily resident in the UK, the Channel Islands and/or the Isle of Man throughout the three years preceding the first day of the first academic year of your course. The three-year residence period shouldn't include any part wholly or mainly for the purpose of receiving full-time education
- be ordinarily resident in Scotland
For full details of the residence requirements, you should contact the institution you're planning to attend or are already attending.
Who doesn't have to meet the residence requirements
Students in the following categories don't have to fulfil all the residence requirements:
- refugees who've been granted indefinite leave to remain, their spouses, children and step-children
- people who've been granted exceptional leave to enter or remain in the UK, or humanitarian protection or discretionary leave, their spouses, children and step-children
- migrant workers from the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, their spouses, children and step-children
- people who are seeking asylum in the UK and are on a full- or part-time non-advanced course at a further education institution
If you're in one of these categories, you should contact the institution you're attending or planning to attend to check which residence requirements apply to you.
Which priority groups can get help
Within the eligibility rules, the Student Awards Agency Scotland and the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council advise educational institutions to target the following priority groups:
- students with children, especially lone parents
- mature students, especially those with existing financial commitments, including priority debts
- students from low-income families
- some students with additional support needs
- students who've been in care
- students in their final year who are in financial difficulty
Discretionary Fund and benefits
Payments from the Discretionary Fund may affect your entitlement to means-tested social security benefits, for example Income Support or Housing Benefit.
If you're worried about the impact of the Discretionary Fund on your benefits, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example at a Citizens Advice Bureau. Find out where to get advice.
How to apply to the Discretionary Fund
You should apply to the educational institution where you're following, or hope to follow, your course. Each college will have its own procedure, application form and information leaflet.
You should be able to apply at any time during the academic year. You may be able to apply more than once, but usually only if your circumstances have changed or you're applying for assistance during the summer vacation.
You can't appeal to the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council or the Student Awards Agency Scotland against a refusal to grant money from the Discretionary Fund. Each educational institution has its own procedure for appeals.
The National Union of Students (NUS) student welfare officer or the careers adviser at your institution will be able to provide more information about the Discretionary Fund and how it's administered at your institution.