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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Students and housing benefit

As the new university term approaches, Ursula Toner takes a look at student eligibility for housing benefit.  

Any additional financial help is a huge boon to students who are struggling with the costs of education.  We are often contacted by students who are not sure if they will be able to afford their accommodation and want to know if they’re entitled to housing benefit.  The rules regarding student entitlement to housing benefit are complex and contain various exceptions and caveats.  It is critical to find out specific information about the person’s personal circumstances and the type of course they are planning to undertake when advising students on their entitlement.

Who is a student?

For housing benefit purposes, a student is ‘anyone attending or undertaking a course of study at an educational establishment’.

A ‘course of study’ includes further education undertaken by students over 16 right up to postgraduate level higher education. Guidance suggests that educational establishment does not just include schools, college and universities but can include other ‘education establishments’ used for the purposes of training education or instruction.

Students who are pension age are entitled to housing benefit and any income from grants or student loans will be disregarded when calculating their entitlement.

Is the course full or part time?

Part time students can be eligible for housing benefit so it is important to understand whether the course is classed as being full or part time.

There is no set definition of ‘full time’ for housing benefit purposes and a number of factors are taken into consideration:

  • the number of attendance hours required per week,
  • how the educational establishment defines the course and
  • the type of grant/student loan the student is in receipt of.

Further or higher education?

It’s important to understand whether a student is engaged in further or higher education.  Some young people whose courses are classed as “further” education may be entitled to housing benefit. 

Further education means any education after the age of 16 up to and including GCE A Level or BTEC National Diploma or National Certificate, whether or not this leads to a qualification.

Higher education means any education beyond this and includes university courses, BTEC HND or HNC, teacher training and courses for training youth and community workers.

Full time students who can get housing benefit

Whilst the general rule is that full time students are not entitled to housing benefit, there are some exemptions.  The following categories of full-time student are entitled to claim housing benefit:

  • students on income related ESA, income based JSA or Income Support
  • students under 21 where the course of study is not higher education and 21 year old students who are continuing such a course
  • students aged under 20 who are on approved training which began or they were accepted or enrolled on before the age of 19
  • students in a couple who are responsible for a child or young person
  • lone parents
  • single students who are responsible for a foster child
  • students who qualify for a disability premium or a severe disability premium
  • students who have a UK grant with an allowance for deafness
  • students who are absent from studies, with educational establishment’s approval, due to an illness or providing care and who are unable to get a grant or student loan.  Note that in this case, housing benefit will only be paid for a maximum of 12 months

Getting advice on housing benefit

The information above is not exhaustive.  Prospective students should speak to an adviser to find out if they can claim housing benefit.  If the student is part of a couple, the student’s partner may be able to claim, but any maintenance grants, loans or bursaries received by the student will be included in the income assessment.

Students who are struggling with their rent payments or other costs should speak to the welfare officer at their students union.  There may be emergency loans or grants available to help students in financial difficulties.

You can get advice about housing benefit and other housing issues by calling Housing Rights on 028 9024 5640 between 09.30 and 13.30 Monday to Friday.

Tagged In

Benefits, Social Tenancies, Private Tenancies, Affordability

This article was written on 19 August 2015. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.