Disabled students allowance

Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) is additional funding which may be available to meet any additional study-related costs that a student may incur, as a result of their disability. Students with a range of disabilities can apply, including those with visual or hearing impairments, physical disabilities, mental health diagnoses, autism, some unseen disabilities and specific learning difficulties such as ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia.

DSA funding can only be used to cover the cost of things that you need directly related to your disability and how it affects your academic studies.  It cannot be used to pay for things that all students need, like rent or tuition fees.

DSA is non-means tested, and is an award paid for by your Funding Agency.

More information is available from your Funding Agency by visiting the links below:

Application for Disabled Students' Allowance is open to UK-domiciled students only; the Republic of Ireland also has a ‘Fund for Students with Disabilities'. Students who are eligible for support but do not have access to this funding will have their needs assessed and will receive appropriate support from Heriot-Watt University.

We have prepared some answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about DSA funding:

Am I entitled to DSA?

If you meet the UK residence criteria, are studying at degree level and have a disability, illness or specific learning difficulty then there is a good chance that you could be eligible.

Generally, you have to be:

  • A full-time undergraduate student, studying for HNC, HND, a degree or equivalent.
  • A full-time postgraduate student, studying for a full-time post-graduate course.
  • A part-time degree student, working to at least 50% of a full-time Higher Education qualification.

There are some exceptions to the above. Please contact your Disability Advisor if you are SAAS funded or your Funding Body for further advice on your individual circumstances.

What can DSA funding cover?

DSA funding through SAAS is divided into three parts:

  • Basic Allowance (sometimes referred to as 'Small items of equipment') - These are general costs related to your course and incurred as a result of your disability e.g. photocopying and other consumable expenses, Braille paper, etc. This allowance is claimed annually.
  • Equipment Allowance (Large items) - This allowance is used to buy any recommended equipment required to undertake your course, due to your disability. This can include computing equipment, software and other technical aids. This claim is usually only made once for a course being undertaken and the equipment purchased under DSA remains the property of the student upon completion of the course.
  • Non Medical Personal Helpers Allowance (NMPH) - This pays for personal helpers e.g. note takers, proof readers, study skills support and mental health mentors.

DSA does not cover disability-related expenditure that you would need even if you were not a student.

Please note that every DSA application and assessment is individual to the student, and recommendations are based on that individual student's needs, related to their disability and course.

How do I apply for DSA?

Applying for DSA funding can be a lengthy process, so you should try and set things in motion as soon as possible. If you are not funded by SAAS, you should click on the relevant Funding Agency above which will allow you to start the DSA process.

If you are SAAS funded, you should contact the Disability Service at the Edinburgh campus, or the Student Adviser at the Scottish Borders campus, and they will advise you on your eligibility and help you apply for funding.

You will have to provide evidence of your disability or learning difficulty. This might be a letter or medical certificate from a doctor or other health professional, or a report from an Educational Psychologist. Do not be concerned if you do not have this written evidence. A Disability Advisor will advise you where and how to get this. In the case of specific learning difficulties, the Disability Service at Heriot-Watt can arrange for you to be assessed by an Educational Psychologist.

A DSA application form needs to be completed and signed by a member of staff in the Disability Team at Heriot-Watt, regardless of which Funding Agency you are applying to.

In order to claim DSA from your funding authority, you are required to have a Needs Assessment carried out. At Heriot-Watt, this is carried out by your Disability Advisor or an external Needs Assessor employed by HWU.

What is a Needs Assessment?

First-time applicants for DSA have to undergo a needs assessment to determine what additional expenses arise because of disability, impairment or specific learning difficulty.

A Needs Assessment is part of the DSA application process and is essential for identifying any barriers you experience with learning and studying so that recommendations can be made about how to best support you.  This might include a range of one-to-one support, equipment and software. 

The Needs Assessment will include a short demonstration of equipment and software, and web links to short video demonstrations can be emailed to you for feedback. More information on the needs assessment process for SAAS students can be found on the ‘Your Needs Assessment’ webpage.

When can I apply for DSA?

You can apply for DSA at any time. If you are a new student, you can start the process of applying for DSA as soon as you have a firm offer of a place at Heriot-Watt University.

However, if you have complex support requirements (whether you have a conditional or unconditional offer), you should contact the Disability Service at Heriot-Watt as soon as possible. You can also apply once you have started, or even if you are a number of years into your course at Heriot-Watt.

It can take several weeks for you to go through the DSA process, depending on when you apply, and for your application to be fully processed and all support put in place.

If you need support before your DSA is finalised, speak to the Disability Service and we will try to help.

Can I claim DSA for every year of my course?

If you have been recommended “large items” such as equipment, these can only be claimed once. Small items, such as funding towards printing costs, can be claimed every year.

Any Non Medical Personal Help (NMPH), such as the allocation of Study Skills Tutors, Autism Mentors or Mental Health Mentors, is reviewed and applied for each year when you complete the DSA re-application form provided by SAAS. The Disability Service will email all students who have claimed DSA in the past to remind them to complete the form for the next academic year.

Students who are funded by a different funding agency, do not have to re-apply each year.

If I have been recommended equipment, how do I get/pay for this?

This can differ depending on what Funding Agency you are applying to.

If you are a SAAS student, the simplest way is to agree to Heriot-Watt acting as your supplier. There are several advantages to you going this route, and these will be explained to you during your needs assessment.

If you choose to purchase the items yourself, you have to make sure you order everything on the recommended equipment list which SAAS have approved. This will be emailed to you when your DSA award is approved.

More information on HWU acting as the supplier along with you ordering the items yourself, can be found on the ‘Your Needs Assessment’ webpage.

If you are SFE, SFW or SFNI funded, the process for purchasing your equipment and software will be explained to you in your needs assessment appointment. Please also refer to your DSA awards letter which advises on the next steps you should take. If you have any questions, please contact your Disability Advisor.

If I received equipment as a result of my Needs Assessment, do I get to keep it?

Yes, the equipment was bought with your DSA funding, so it is yours to keep even after the duration of your course.

I have Non Medical Personal Help recommended. How do I arrange this?

If your needs assessment recommends that you receive some Non Medical Personal Help (NMPH), this is normally arranged via a member of the Disability Service at Heriot-Watt for any SAAS-funded students.

The cost of NMPH support is usually paid in arrears by your Funding Agency, after sending in receipts showing hours worked, and rate of pay per hour, and signed by the NMPH. If your NMPH support is arranged through Heriot-Watt, we will deal with all invoicing to SAAS.

It may be possible to employ your own NMPH, and for them to be paid directly by your Funding Agency.  Please speak to a Disability Advisor about this.

What should I do if I am not happy with the final assessment and recommendations?

At the end of your assessment, the assessor and the student should have agreed on all aspects of the recommended support, so there should be no surprises once you are emailed the report to read over and approve.

The assessor has an obligation to make a fair assessment of your needs, based on their experience, guidelines set by The Scottish Government, and all the information you give them.

If you have any concerns at all, or disagree with your report, please contact the assessor before approving the report. You can then go over the recommendations again, and explain how they were reached, in an effort to reach agreement.

If you still cannot reach agreement with the assessor, you will then be directed to the manager of the Disability Service, who will discuss the report with you and the assessor.

If necessary, and as a last resort, the report can be referred to your Funding Agency, who may appoint an independent arbitrator to look at your assessment.

I’m a final-year student - am I still entitled to apply for DSA?

Final-year students can make an application for DSA as per the above guidance. You should speak to your Disability Advisor with regards to what can and cannot be funded through DSA. For example, SAAS may not fund any equipment for final-year students, especially as you make your way into your final semester.

What support will be offered to me if I am not eligible for DSA (e.g. an International or some Part-time students)?

Heriot-Watt will still be able to provide some advice and support for EU and International students, or UK students who do not qualify for DSA. Please contact the Disability Service for more information. We will discuss your individual requirements to determine what provision you require. 

The Disability Service has a small equipment loan bank and some funding which may be able to be used to support disabled students who are not eligible for DSA. Relevant supporting evidence is required, and each request for loan equipment is assessed on an individual basis.

International students should also contact their home government for information on any funding that may be available to you as a student with a disability or medical condition.

As International students do not have access to the financial support that the UK Government provides for students who are residents of the United Kingdom, it is essential that you take into account how you may have to cover some or all of the costs of any support you may need while at university, from the financial resources that are available to you.

Key information

Disability Service

+44 (0) 131 451 3386