Policy Position: Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) Reforms

The procurement of needs assessments, assistive technology and training for DSA

March 2024

What has changed?

The Student Loans Company (SLC) has introduced a new process for students applying for Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA). The new process came into effect at the end of February 2024 and aims to create a more effective process for the delivery of needs assessments, assistive technology and assistive technology training for Disabled Students’ Allowance in England and Wales.

The delivery of needs assessments, assistive technology and assistive technology training will now be delivered on behalf of SLC by two suppliers, StudyTech and Contact Associates (Capita). The suppliers will be a single point of contact for students for their DSA journey.

DSA provision has been split into four regions and the supplier that a student will be allocated to will depend upon the students address at the point of application:

  • Study Tech will deliver DSA support in: Northwest England; Northeast England; Yorkshire and the Humber; South West England; South East England.
  • Contact Associates will deliver DSA support for students in: East England; the Midlands; London and Wales.
  • If a student’s university is located in Northern Ireland and they are from England or Wales they will be assigned Contact Associates.
  • If a student’s university is in Scotland and they are from England or Wales, they will be assigned to StudyTech.

The reforms highlight the importance of quality and accountability and are focused on delivering an improved DSA process.

Students still need to apply to the SLC in the normal way to determine eligibility for DSA, but they will then only have one point of contact to organise the rest of their support for the above services. Students will continue to have a role in organising their non-medical help and travel as these are not covered by these reforms.

There are no changes to DSA policy and students DSA entitlements remain unaffected.

What issue are the DSA reforms trying to address?

The DSA reforms are a result of blind and partially sighted student’s experiences of navigating, what can be for some, a difficult journey through the DSA process. The aim is to improve the student journey, and to address a number of ‘pain points’ (long process, having to contact multiple companies, lack of clarity of where they are in the journey, no straightforward complaints process).

These issues and many others have been highlighted by blind and partially sighted students. See our report ‘Our right to study’, for further information. The one message that continues to be clear from students is the importance of DSA in enabling them to engage with their studies.

The Student Loans Company (SLC), which administers DSA, has also said it would like to improve value for money for the taxpayer.

Our position

We welcome any changes to the DSA process that make the journey easier and less stressful to navigate.

We are pleased to see a focus on quality and accountability within the reforms. SLC has introduced a number of Key Performance Indicator targets for the new suppliers and have a thorough quality assurance process in place. If the quality of delivery by either of the suppliers is not at standard, and the new quality process works as planned, SLC should be aware quickly and be able to take action. We will continue to work closely with SLC to feedback on any quality issues that might arise.

Our Student support service continues to be there for blind and partially sighted students who need help navigating the DSA process. We encourage any blind or partially sighted student experiencing challenges with DSA to contact us.

Whilst we welcome the reforms and hope they will result in better experiences there is still work to be done. Non-medical help is not part of the current reforms and we hear regularly of the challenges faced by blind and partially sighted students in securing the right support. We also know that awareness of DSA continues to be low, often resulting in students applying late which then creates delays in getting support in place. We continue to use raise this with SLC and call for further reforms to the DSA process.

All blind and partially sighted students should have access to the support they need to achieve their full academic potential and the opportunity to obtain the same skills and experiences as their peers.

What will happen next

These reforms will apply to students applying for DSA from 26th February 2024.

Students who’s needs assessments were carried out before 26th February 2024 will continue to be supported by their existing needs assessment centre and suppliers. If students experience any difficulties with securing support from their existing supplier they should contact SLC.

Thomas Pocklington Trust looks forward to engaging with the SLC to discuss the needs of blind and partially sighted students within this new framework.

You can read more about the reforms on:

Student Loans Company’s practitioner webpage

Non-medical help

We often hear from students about the challenges they face in securing the right non-medical help (NMH) support through DSA and continue to raise this as a priority with the Department for Education.

In July 2024 we submitted a response to the Department for Education’s call for evidence about disabled student experiences of DSA funded NMH. Our evidence was submitted on behalf of the Vision Impairment sector and highlights the challenges that students regularly report to us, including a lack of trained NMH professionals and the heavy burden the current process places on students. We will continue to engage in discussions about the future of NMH to help ensure this essential support meets the needs of BPS students. You can read our evidence here.

What is DSA?

DSA is a grant that helps university students meet the extra cost they may face because of their disability.

Find out more about DSA, the application and assessment processes and tech support in our handy Disabled Students’ Allowance guide!

For further information

Please contact: EducationPolicy@pocklington.org.uk or StudentSupport@pocklington.org.uk

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