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Disabled Student Allowance (DSA’s) Changes 2016/17- A simplified guide

09/11/2016

Disabled students who have started this year at university will have been affected by the highly controversial changes to disabled student allowances (DSA’s) which the government has decided to introduce after a consultation.

The changes were decided to try and make disabled students more independent whilst at university. The changes were designed to make institutions provide more funding and support towards their disabled students rather than the students having to rely on DSA’s funding and support. These changes are currently set to go ahead after a consultation with students, institutions and support providers. The results were that those consulted decided that institutions could do more to support their students. Those consulted included current students, staff, parents, HE institutions and support providers.

Many institutions have now put in place the resources to help their students receive the support they need. As institutions are now required to support students who require basic support, specialist support is still available through DSA funding. Institutions are now expected to make reasonable adjustments for all disabled students. Institutions are expected to make provisions for student printing and where possible make it accessible to disabled students. In case where the institution cannot provide sufficient services, a printer may be given to the student. If this is the case the student may receive a multifunctioning device (Printer and scanner) along with a consumables’ allowance. Institutions have been tasked with providing as much support as possible to their disabled students, using the DSA system where support is outside of their scope. In some cases the DSA and institution may discuss who’s responsible for the support or equipment in question. Depending on the outcome a number of appeals may be required before a final decision is made. This decision will determine if the student needs the support or equipment due to their disability and if so who is responsible for it- the institution or DSA funding.

The government would like to see the majority of support and equipment need for all disabled students be provided by their relevant institution and the DSA system to be used when an excess of funding is needed for certain equipment and support. The DSA system in affect will be a “top up” system. The government wants to use the DSA system in a fairer more cost effective way given that the number of disabled students heading to university is steadily increasing this is to try and eliminate some of the costs the DSA system is currently being used to pay for. It wants to see the system used as a way of paying for specialist support and equipment.

Basic support and equipment the government sees as entry level or standard should only be funded through DSA’s if the institution cannot provide the student with equipment or support they need through their own standard services and then it will only be granted if the student is seen as an exceptional case. The DSA funding will only be put in place for computers, printers and other support and equipment if the case is seen as an exception.

Each category is designed to pay for a certain aspect of the student’s recommended support. The specialist equipment category is for computers, furniture, other equipment and any assistive software the student may need. Whilst the non-medical helper allowance is for the human support aspect of the recommendations, this allowance is split between the four bands discussed below with being used to provide the support recommended such as mobility support or note taking both as electronic notes and handwritten notes. The general allowance is for anything not covered by the first two categories such as a consumables allowance. If the student is recommended transport they will be given an uncapped travel allowance, the recommendation will quote the price per journey and the assumed number of journeys on a weekly basis. The student does have the ability to ask for this to be altered if the circumstances arise i.e. quote is for four days but the course is five days a week. The student may be asked to contribute a stated amount towards the costs or they may have to pay the cost before being reimbursed by student finance. If this is the case it is likely the student will be billed on a monthly basis with the reimbursement covering the cost minus any contributions the student has to make (if any) per invoice.  This will also be minus the cost of public transport equivalent e.g. weekly or monthly ticket.

 

The government has been considering altering the current disabled student allowances system for the academic year 2016/17 these alterations will only affect new students and not those continuing their studies.

DSA funding can be used to cover the costs of travel to and from the institution to the student’s home address, if a different mode of transport other than public transport is required due to their disability. If the student is to make these journeys by taxi then an account should be set up with an appropriate taxi firm. Payment will be made direct to the company on receipt of an invoice. In some cases the student may be responsible for paying the invoice before they receive a reimbursement from student finance. The reimbursement will take into account any contribution the student must put towards the overall cost. In this case the student will receive the invoice and will be responsible for acquiring a receipt from the taxi firm as evidence that it has been paid. The contribution the student will be expected to make will be decided according to their student finance application and the quotes received by the assessor.

Accommodation

Funding cannot be put towards the cost of accommodation if the accommodation in question is owned, maintained or controlled by the institution. Funding available if the accommodation is private or where costs are incurred due to the student’s disability. Any additional costs to the institution should not be passed on to the student in question at any point. The assessment should also take into the consideration of the student moving between institution owned accommodation and private accommodation. In certain instances it may be possible for the student to remain in institution owned accommodation for the duration of their course if they have a permanent disability.

The DSA funding does also take into consideration the cost of consumables that the student may incur if the student needs a hard copy that is additional to that of an able bodied student or they have been recommended a printer or the student already owns a suitable printer. Additional consumables if required can be funded but only if justified and the usage is required by the student. If the student requires funding for books, DSA funding is only available if the books required cannot be supplied in a suitable format. Funding is not available for core or additional books as these are a cost incurred by all students. The student should speak to their institution about getting the books they need in a suitable format.

When considering important books for its students, institutions should consider accessibility and have books available through electronic sources, scanned copies or made available from the book publisher. DSA funding should only be made available for non-core text books when they are essential and unavailable through other sources.

Students who have a disability such as diabetes and require a fridge to store their medication can acquire a fridge through DSA funding but only where it is essential and their current facilities such as a  communal fridge are unsuitable for the purposes of storage.

Exceptions

Exceptional cases are heard on a case by case basis and are dealt with by the exceptional case procedure team (ECP). This where a conclusion cannot be reached and the equipment is only available by exception, if agreed by the ECP then student will receive the equipment otherwise the student can appeal if it is not approved.

More information can be found at: http://www.dsa-qag.org.uk/document-hierarchy/assessors-tab/2002-dsa-guidance-new-dsa-students-in-ay-2016-17-0916/file

It is still not known how these changes will affect students who become disabled during their course, it also remains to be seen how these changes will affect future students as they look towards going to university.  To summarise the information above the government wants HE providers to take over and fund the cost of basic support as well as equipment. Anything above this the DSA will fund but in some cases equipment will only be considered on a case by case basis and then the HE provider may be responsible. I hope this information has been useful to you in explaining the new changes that the government has implemented.

Further technical details of the key changes that will take affect from the 2016/17 academic year:

The government has set some key changes that will take affect from the 2016/17 academic year:

  • DSAs will retain primary responsibility for funding Sighted Guides, for those students that need such support to enable them to get around campus effectively.
  • DSAs will retain primary responsibility for funding Sighted Guides, for those students that need such support to enable them to get around campus effectively. HE providers will be expected to take primary responsibility for the remainder of the non-medical support roles that are classified as bands 1 or 2 in the Student Loans Company non-medical help (NMH) manual. The government will seek further information from stakeholders, including from disabled students and their representatives, on whether specific exceptions to this general rule should apply. In addition, HE providers are expected to consider how they deliver information to students and whether strategies can be put in place to reduce the need for support workers and encourage greater independence and autonomy for their disabled students. NMH roles taken over by HEI’s include general support assistants, Library support, reader/scribe, laboratory assistant, proof reader. These are all classed as band 1 roles, band 2 roles have also been handed over these include: Study assistant, examination support worker, note taker. As these roles are being handed over to HEI’s it is up to them to fund the support need by each student if the support falls into one of these categories.
  • DSAs will retain primary responsibility for funding the most specialist non-medical help support, that are set out in the SLC NMH manual under bands 3 and 4, with the exception of Specialist Transcription Services. HE providers will be expected to take primary responsibility for the provision of Specialist Transcription Services, other than by exception.
  • DSAs will meet the additional costs of accommodation where that accommodation is not provided by the HE provider or its agent. DSAs funding will not be available where specialist accommodation is provided by the HE provider or their agent, other than by exception. HE providers should no longer pass any additional costs for accommodation onto the student.
  • Devices for printing and scanning will continue to be funded through DSAs. However, HE providers are expected to strive to meet the needs of their disabled students to reduce the need for the purchase of individual devices for printing and scanning. The assessment process will be more robust and individual devices will only be funded if the need cannot be met through other measures. This means HEI’s need to make it easier for disabled students to have access to printing and scanning facilities.
  •  Devices for printing and or scanning can be funded through DSA’s but only in exceptional circumstances or where the device is replacing a malfunctioning device that the student is unable to use. Recommendations have to fully evidenced and justified with a comparison against that of an able bodied student. Justification should also been as to why the institution’s services cannot meet the needs of the student. If recommended and approved DSA funding is also available for the required consumables (ink and paper). When devices are recommended for printing and scanning they will be a multifunction device rather than two separate devices unless the student’s disability means they need them separate. In this case the recommendation needs to fully evidenced and justified as to why the student needs separate devices.
    • Standard computer peripherals and other accessories will now be funded by exception only. Laptop carry cases will continue to be provided as standard to help students protect their equipment if they are recommended a laptop.   Standard computer peripherals and other accessories will now be funded by exception only. Laptop carry cases will continue to be provided as standard to help students protect their equipment but only up to the value of £20 for a carry case, which will form part of the initial quote. Audio capture devices such as Dictaphones, digital voice recorders (DVR) and microphones are available through DSA funding but other avenues such as mobile device or institutional recordings are available. Funds can be used to allow the student to acquire recording apps on their existing mobile device. These should be recommended and justified and students should expect to either have a DVR or note taker but not both if one of them is recommended. Funding for computer equipment such as a (keyboard and mouse) if a desktop computer is recommended is available for a mouse and keyboard that meets the student’s needs, otherwise a standard keyboard and mouse will be provided as part of the quote. The same rule applies to headsets if the student has been recommended for the use of speech assistive software such as dragon software. If DSA funding is used to give the student assistive software on the recommended laptop or desktop computer then standard software will be given alongside it. Standard software is given with any recommended laptop or desktop. Funding in not available if the standard software is obtainable elsewhere as it is considered to be outside the scope of DSA’s due to being mainstream.
    • When the assessor believes the need for additional equipment such as viewing software, scanning pens and magnifying equipment is essential then the assessor needs to justify their beliefs using the following questions:
    • Is there an additional need? due to their disability that goes above and beyond that of a non-disabled student
    • If the student does have a need for additional item(s) can it be met through the common facilities provided by the HE provider?
    • If the need cannot be met through common facilities, can the need be met by reasonable adjustments made by the HE provider?
    • If all three questions can be answered and evidenced to say that the HE provider cannot meet the additional need(s) of the student then the equipment has been fully justified. Otherwise the additional equipment/ support (if any) should be sourced through the HE provider rather than the DSA system or another source depending on the outcome of the questions.
    • Other equipment such as keyboards, mouse, viewing equipment and scanning pens are available if recommended the equipment should have a specification that meets the student’s needs and no higher. The equipment specified should meet the student’s needs and be fully justified as to why they need the additional equipment. Justification is achieved using the three questions above. These questions look at the HE  provider and what they can do before using DSA funds. The additional equipment should meet the needs of the student and should not be a specification which surpasses the needs of the student.
    • Recommendations of computers and laptops are now on a case by case basis for exception cases only. If a computer or laptop is recommended then the student is expected to contribute the first £200 towards the total cost of the laptop or computer. These are considered to be standard computers these have the capability of handling speech recognition software. Entry level computers allow students to word process; have access to the internet and minimal assistive software. High cost computers e.g. above standard level computers are not available through DSA funding unless the case is considered to be exceptional. Low weight computers are available but on a case by case basis where the need has been fully evidenced. The need for a high specification computer has to be justified other than using the student’s chosen course as reason why.
    • DSAs will meet the additional costs of accommodation where that accommodation is not provided by the HE provider or its agent. DSAs funding will not be available where specialist accommodation is provided by the HE provider or their agent, other than by exception. HE providers should no longer pass any additional costs for accommodation onto the student.

The government may announce more changes as and when they are agreed.