Funding for Higher Education

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This advice guide gives a brief overview of financial, and other help you may be entitled to if you are a single parent studying, or considering studying, a course of higher education (HNC, HND, degree, etc.). Students studying health related courses are funded differently. Seek advice from the Student Awards Agency Scotland.

Note: This is meant as a guide only. There are exceptions to the basic entitlements given here so always check with the Student Awards Agency Scotland,or with a student financial adviser at the university or college, for more Information before committing yourself.

Student Award Agency Scotland:

Eligibility and residency requirements

Scottish students, and students who have been resident in Scotland for three years or more immediately before the first day of the first year of study and are doing a first degree do not normally have to pay fees. EU students who are studying full-time in Scotland and who resided in the EU for the three years immediately before the course started, may be eligible for fees to be paid.

Students who do not fulfill these conditions may still be entitled to some support.

Proof of circumstances

The Student Awards Agency Scotland will ask you for proof that you are a single parent when applying for financial support. A tax credit award letter, or council tax bill, indicating that you are a single parent is acceptable. If you cannot produce these a letter from a professional, your GP for example, may do. You will also need to supply the birth certificate of a dependant child/young person. Continuing students will have to prove they are single parents at the start of each academic year.

Financial support

The money you get to live on while studying generally comes in the form of:

  • Student Loan
  • Lone Parent Grant
  • Independent Students’ Bursary
  • Child tax credit
  • Working tax credit
  • Child benefit
  • Earnings

Which of these, and how much you get, depends on your circumstances.

Earned income, child benefit and child tax credit do not affect the loan and bursary but other unearned income (working tax credit, bank interest, income from a pension etc.) does.

Applications should be made online to the Student Awards Agency Scotland before 30 June each year to ensure funding is in place for the start of your course.

The table below shows the total support package available for single parent (independent) students based on household income:

Household income
£0 to £18,999£875£6,750£7,625
£19,000 to £23,999£0£6,750£6,750
£24,000 to £33,999£0£6250£6,250
£34,000 and above£0£4,750£4,750

The loan must be repaid once gross income is more than £17,775 per year. Repayment does not commence until the April after the course is completed and is made through HM Revenue & Customs. The amount owed will be uprated annually in line with inflation from the date the loan is taken.

The following table illustrates the monthly repayments at different income levels:

Income level
Monthly repayments
£0 to £18,330£0

The repayment of student loans will be considered a ‘priority’ and will take precedence over other financial commitments (i.e. mortgage, living expenses etc.).

Lone Parent Grant

The Lone Parent Grant is for students bringing up at least one dependant child on their own. Unearned income above £1,067 will reduce the grant pound-for-pound. The maximum amount is £1,305 per year. It does not need to be paid back.

The first payment of the Lone Parent Grant is usually made at the start of the course. If this causes hardship the Student Awards Agency Scotland can issue the grant earlier. If you receive the grant early and fail to start the course you will be expected to pay it back.

Lone Parent Childcare Grant

Help to pay for registered childcare is administered by the college or university you attend. Single parents have an entitlement to the Lone Parent Childcare Grant of up to £1,215 p/a. The amount received is dependent on the actual cost of your childcare. The grant is not means tested but you will need to prove you are a single parent. If this is not enough you can also apply for help from the discretionary fund. The money available from this is limited so is not guaranteed although single parents are given priority.

  • Apply directly to the college/university.

Discretionary funds

You may be entitled to financial help from discretionary funds, especially if you are having difficulties meeting living costs.

  • Ask the student financial adviser at the college/university where you are studying for details.

Disabled Students’ Allowance

Students who have a disability may be entitled to extra financial help to cover personal help and specialist equipment they may need while studying. Help can be substantial.

Part-Time Fee Grant

Generally loans and grants are not available to part-time students. If this is the case part-time students can claim, depending on their circumstances, jobseeker’s allowance or income support on the grounds that there is no other financial support available. Any study would need to be compatible with your claimant commitment.

You can apply to Student Awards Agency Scotland for up to £1,820 towards the cost of your course fees for part-time study for degree level courses.

Applicants must have an income of £25,000 a year or less, not be receiving any other government funding for study or training (including the ITA 200, Employability or Apprenticeship Funds) and be studying between 30 and 119 (120 for university courses which are not campus based) Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework credits during this academic year.

The money does not have to be paid back.

Postgraduate Support

There is a loan available from SAAS, of up to £5,500, to help pay for both full-time and part- time postgraduate courses fees.

There is also a loan for full-time post graduate students, of up to £4,500, to pay for living costs.

There is no help from SAAS to pay for living costs for part-time post graduate students.

Additional help and financial support

Student financial adviser

Universities and colleges employ student financial advisers who give students information on the money they may be entitled to while studying.

Any student unsure of their entitlement, or who is in financial difficulty, should speak to their adviser before making any decisions or taking any actions regarding their course.

Benefits and tax credits

Child benefit

Anyone with children can claim child benefit.

Child benefit rates:


First child£20.70
Second and subsequent children£13.70

Income support and jobseeker’s allowance

Jobcentre Plus will assume that a single parent has taken out the loan and grants if they are entitled to them. Therefore anyone studying full-time at college or university will not have the option to remain on income support if their course qualifies for the loan and grants as their income from these will be too high.

Conversely, if for any reason a single parent does not qualify for the loan and grants, they may remain on, or claim, income support if they meet the criteria. Full-time students do not qualify for jobseeker’s allowance (however, see below about the exception during summer holidays).

Single parent students can make a claim for income support (if they have a child under the age of 5 years) or jobseeker’s allowance during the summer holidays as the student loan and grants does not normally cover this period.

Income support and Jobseeker’s allowance:

Lone parent under 18£57.90
Lone parent 18 or over£73.10

Employment and support allowance

Students in receipt of contribution-based employment and support allowance can continue to get it while studying.

Students in receipt of income-related employment and support allowance can only get it if they are also getting disability living allowance or if they are studying part-time.

Child tax credit

This money is paid to families with dependent children and is means tested however most single parent students will get a maximum award. It is administered by HM Revenue & Customs and can be claimed directly from them.

Working tax credit

Single parent students who work 16 hours or more per week can apply for working tax credit. Child benefit, child tax credit and earnings do not affect entitlement to the student loan and grants but working tax credit does.

Childcare element of working tax credit

If you work 16 hours a week or more as well as studying you can claim help with childcare costs through working tax credit. You can claim childcare costs for registered childcare used while working and studying but not for costs already covered by the childcare grant or discretionary fund.

Universal credit

Single parent further education students who live in a full service area can claim universal credit. If you are getting the loan and lone parent grant you will not have to take steps to look for work in order to qualify for universal credit but they will affect how much you get. If you are not in receipt of the loan and grant you can still apply for universal credit but will need to fulfill the terms of your claimant commitment while studying.

Carer’s allowance

Full-time students are not entitled to claim carer’s allowance.

Free school meals and passported benefits

Students not working or working less than 16 hours per week, receiving child tax credit and who have an income of under £16,105 can get free school meals for their children.

Students working 16 hours or more per week, receiving child tax credit and working tax credit and who have an income of under £6,420 also qualify for free school meals for their children.

  • Application forms can be obtained from the school.

Single parent students who get child tax credit, or both child tax credit and working tax credit, and have an income of under £15,276 can get passported benefits such as help with the cost of dental treatment, glasses and travelling to hospital.


Spousal maintenance is taken into account when calculating entitlement to benefits and student funding but maintenance paid for dependant children is ignored.

Contact the Student Award Agency Scotland:

Housing benefit

Housing benefit entitlement is affected by earnings, loan/grants and tax credits, but not child maintenance or child benefit.

How housing benefit is calculated

Housing benefit is calculated by comparing the minimum amount the government says you need to live on (applicable amount) with actual weekly income.

Case Study: Calculating housing benefit

Nina is a single parent with one child (aged 6 years). She has an eligible council house rent of £450 per month (£103.85 per week). This is how Nina’s housing benefit is calculated.

Calculate the weekly income for housing benefit

Note: The loan and grants are divided by the number of weeks the course lasts (usually 43) for benefit purposes. Child benefit is not taken into account.

Add up total yearly student income
Independent Student Loan£6,750
Independent Students’Bursary+ £875
Lone Parent Grant+ £1,305
Total yearly student income
Subtract books/equipment disregard (£390) and Travel Disregard (£303) from the total yearly student income
Total yearly student income£8,930
Books/equipment disregard– £390
Travel disregard– £303
Yearly Income (adjusted)
Divide by 43 weeks to give weekly amount
Yearly income (adjusted)£8,237
Weeks in course year% 43
Weekly income
Subtract loan disregard
Weekly income£191.56
Loan disregard– £10.00
Weekly Income (adjusted)
Add child tax credit
Weekly income (adjusted)£181.56
Child tax credit+ £63.84
Weekly Income for housing benefit

Calculate the applicable amount

Add the appropriate allowances, credits and premium from the list below:

Lone parent under 18£57.90
Lone parent over 18£73.10
Dependant child allowances per child, birth to age 20£66.90
There are also a number of disability premiums.


Nina’s applicable amount is:
Adult allowance£73.10
Child allowance+ £66.90
Applicable amount

Apply taper, if necessary, to calculate housing benefit received

The total weekly income for housing benefit (£245.40) is greater than the applicable amount (£140.00), so a taper is applied.

Housing benefit is reduced by 65% of the difference between applicable amount and income.

Calculate difference:
Weekly income for housing benefit£245.40
Applicable amount– £140.00
Apply the taper to the difference:
Apply taperX 65%
= £68.51
Nina will receive housing benefit rent minus the reduction.
Reduction– £68.51
Housing benefit received

When to notify the housing benefit department

Your change of circumstances for housing benefit purposes takes effect from the first benefit week in September and concludes during the last benefit week in June. If your course starts before that week, your change of circumstances is calculated from the first benefit week of your course.

  • You should let your housing benefit department know before these dates.

Council tax

Full time students do not pay council tax unless they have other non-student adults living with them.

Useful contacts

Student Awards Agency Scotland
0300 555 0505

Tax Credit Helpline

0345 300 3900

Student Loans Company Ltd
0300 100 0609

Lone Parent Helpline

0808 801 0323

We have done our best to ensure that the Information contained in this factsheet is correct at the time of publication. Please check dates and details before use. This factsheet is not a comprehensive guide to the law, nor a substitute for legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss or damage that may arise from your use of services offered by third parties.

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