ACCESS TO LEARNING FUND 2008-09
This guide is aimed at helping students understand the Access to Learning Fund (ALF), and particularly seeks to explain how we are asked by the Government to assess applications. For general help on how to complete the form, please refer to the Guidance Notes which are now included within the application form. When you hand the form in you will need to set aside a little time to run through it with a member of the Student Financial Support Unit (SFSU). If some documents are missing you will be given the form back and will be asked to resubmit it when all relevant information is available.
What is the Access to Learning Fund?
The Access to Learning Fund is Government money distributed each year by the University to those students experiencing genuine financial hardship. The Fund cannot provide the main financial support for your studies, as you will be expected to have explored all means of financial help before applying. However awards do not have to be repaid and can contribute to meeting the costs of: childcare; accommodation; books and equipment; a disability; travel and utilities.
Who can apply?
As the Access to Learning Fund is money from the UK Government, you must meet certain residence requirements. The application form will give you more details about these requirements, but essentially we are only able to help home students, we are unable to help international students and non-home students, even if they are paying the home-rate of tuition fees or are eligible for tuition fee support. You must also be fully enrolled on an under- or postgraduate course at the University of Wolverhampton in 2008-09 and be studying a minimum of 50% of a full-time course (60 credits). Disabled students, who study less than 50% because of their disability, may also apply if they study at least 25% (30 credits) of a full-time course. Although the Fund cannot be used to meet the cost of tuition fees, students with little or no previous experience of Higher Education wishing to undertake a single ‘taster module’ of less than 10% of a full-time course, can apply to ALF for support towards the module fee and some of the course-related costs. Also, any continuing part-time undergraduate student who received fee exemption in 2003-04, whose circumstances remain unchanged and who qualify for the maximum grant and fee support relevant to the intensity of their course from their Local Authority in 2008-09, but whose fee exceeds the maximum fee support available, can apply to the Fund for the difference between the statutory support available through their LA and the
actual fee charged by the University. Part time undergraduates studying 50% or more should apply to their Local authorities for fee support. The university part time fees exemption scheme is for part-time students (undergraduate and postgraduate) studying less than 50% of a full time course and students may apply directly to the University (not through ALF) for fee exemption assistance. Please note if you already have an equivalent qualification you will not be eligible. Further details can be found on http://www.wlv.ac.uk/Default.aspx?page=7604 Students with dyslexia may apply for help towards the cost of a diagnostic test through the Access to Learning Fund. The University Student Enabling Centre must confirm the test is recommended, and if you only require the cost of the test from ALF, we will not insist you have taken out a loan or means test your application. If you require help with the cost of a test and you are experiencing financial hardship, we can consider you for a further award from ALF, but you must complete the form fully and provide supporting documentation. When we allocate awards, we are asked to give priority to the following groups: Students with children (especially lone parents) Disabled students (especially where DSA is unable to meet particular costs) Mature students, especially those with existing financial commitments Students who have entered higher education from care Students from Foyers or who are homeless Students from low income families Students receiving the final year loan rate and are in financial difficulty.
If you are not in one of the priority groups you can still apply but you must provide as much evidence as possible to show why you have a particular need.
Bursaries from ALF
The University of Wolverhampton is offering two bursaries for 2008-09 to provide extra assistance to Non Final -Year students whose household income is below £25,000. They must be a full-time home student in receipt of the full Student Loan, and all or part of the Maintenance Grant. The bursaries are designed to assist students who find themselves in financial hardship. These are: The Wolverhampton Access Bursary (WAB) worth up to £200 The Extra Course Costs Bursary (ECCB) worth up to £100.
The Extra Course Costs Bursary is also designed to assist with extra costs associated with fieldwork and it must form a compulsory part of the course (please note that we will
require a letter from your tutor to confirm this)
The above awards are part of the Access to Learning Fund Scheme and certain other eligibility criteria may apply. Please note that funds are limited so we cannot guarantee all applications will be successful. To apply for the above bursaries you must complete an Access to Learning Fund application and enclose a completed ECCB form.
How do I apply?
The application forms for 2008-09 are available from the Student Financial Support Unit (SFSU) in the Gateway (MB Building, City Campus or WA Building, Walsall Campus), the Students’ Union Advice and Support Centre, and can be downloaded from our website: www.wlv.ac.uk/money4students. Completed application forms, together with copies of ALL the evidence required should be sent to us at the SFSU. Please mark your envelope ‘Private and Confidential’. Our full contact details are printed on the back page of this guide. Complete application forms will be processed within four working weeks. If additional information is required, it may take longer to give you a decision.
NB: If you do not reply to our requests for further information, we will close the file after a period of 28 days.
Applications can be made throughout the academic year until Friday, 22nd May 2009. If resources permit, we may be able to help continuing students from the Access to Learning Fund over the summer period (2009). Details will be publicised before the end of the academic year.
How is my application assessed?
Period of assessment
In accordance with Government criteria, we will assess income for single students over the academic year, i.e. a 39-week period. We will assess income for students with dependants or those unable to work due to ill health/disability over 43 weeks as this group of students may be entitled to state benefits and we need to be consistent with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) who assess student income over a 43-week. Assessments for this group are however commuted to 39 weeks when in their final year. Exceptions also apply to students on courses lasting longer than 45 weeks, such as Diploma Nurses, PGCE and other postgraduate students. They receive student support for 52 weeks and will therefore have their income assessed over a 52-week period. Any ‘additional need’ is payable over the period of assessment, i.e. 39, 43 or 52 weeks. Awards can backdated and are intended to cover an applicant’s shortfall for their full academic year. Support for the summer vacation will be considered separately, except for those students assessed over a 52-week period or who are in their final year.
When deciding whether we can make an award, we will consider both your income and your essential expenditure to assess your shortfall. Due to a substantial reduction in funds this year, there is no guarantee we will be able to match your shortfall in full, and for some groups of students we may only be able to award a percentage of their annual deficit. Where payments are made, the minimum award will be £100 and the maximum £3,500. Large payments will be paid in up to four instalments, with checks being made that you are still in attendance on your course before payments are released. Where the award has been linked to debt, you will need to demonstrate that you have sought debt management advice from a licensed Financial Adviser in the Advice and Support Centre in the Students’ Union, or Citizens’ Advice Bureau. Where a debt has been included in the ALF calculation, the ALF Panel will not consider that same debt in any subsequent applications. Before applying to the Fund, you are expected to have explored all avenues of financial help to maximise your income. For example if you are eligible to take out a student loan but choose not to, you are not eligible to receive help from the Fund. Postgraduate students will be expected to show that they can pay their tuition fees and have made reasonable provision to support themselves throughout their course. Most students will be able to supplement their income from other sources. Therefore to treat all applications fairly, if you are a full-time student, we do not look at actual earnings from part-time work but apply an ‘assumed income’ figure, set by the government according to your circumstances. For non-final year, undergraduate students we will assume an income of £1575 per year. For final year students this figure is reduced to £525. Also, if your parents contribute to your tuition fees, we will reduce these assumed income figures by £210 and by £525 if they have been assessed to make no contribution at all. This system is designed to benefit students from low- income backgrounds and with the lowest levels of household support, therefore if your parents have been assessed to make a contribution to your living costs, we will count this in full. If they are not paying this contribution, you will need to provide reasons explaining this. Assumed levels of income are not applied to full-time undergraduate students who cannot work because they have children to look after, have full-time caring responsibilities or because of their disability. For postgraduate students we will apply a notional weekly income of £150 for those without children and £120 for those with. For part-time post and undergraduate students, we count actual income from earnings and benefits and do not use an assumed level of income. Income from some state benefits will be disregarded. For example, if you or your partner receives non-means tested benefits that relate to specific circumstances such as Child Benefit or Disability Living Allowance, we will disregard them.
To ensure consistency, we apply a standard composite figure for living costs for all students to cover basic expenditure on food, household bills, clothing and social costs. The standard amounts we apply are set out in full in the ‘Application Form Guidance Notes’. They are set by the government in-line with state benefit rates and are adjusted according to household status, i.e. if you are single, a couple or have dependants. We also apply capped and fixed amounts relating to housing, transport and study costs. These thresholds are also noted in full in the Guidance Notes. The Fund is a ‘hardship fund’ and a limited resource, therefore we can only consider expenditure on essential items. We cannot for example, reward lifestyle choices or subsidise excessive spending and payments on mobile phones, satellite TV subscriptions, gym membership and entertainment activities. The running of a car instead of using public transport must be justified unless you have children, a disability or caring commitments. Close examination will be given to your outstanding payments or debts. The Government asks us to distinguish between priority and non-priority debts, where a priority debt is one where ‘non-payment would give the creditor the right to deprive the debtor of her/his home, liberty, essential goods or services’ (The Debt Advice Handbook, by the Child Poverty Action Group, 4th ed, p.116). Secured loans, rent arrears, council tax, gas and electricity charges are examples of a priority debt. The Fund will consider priority debts but will not assist with car loans or ongoing credit/store card repayments that reflect non-priority lifestyle choices. If you are facing a financial ‘emergency’ or there are special circumstances attached to your application, we will look at this on an individual basis. In addition to your income and expenditure details, we will also need your partner’s and if you have children please include costs relating to them. For example the food total for the household is likely to be higher for a student with children than for a single student. Please also include details of any additional financial responsibilities as a result of a disability or caring for adults. Decisions regarding support are taken on a year-on-year basis, with no guarantee in future years. The criteria and procedures adopted may be modified at short notice to reflect funds available and instructions received from the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills.
Will an award affect my benefits?
If you are entitled to claim State Benefits, you are advised that payments from the Access to Learning Fund may affect your benefit payments. Any payment from the Fund that is for course-related costs, such as childcare, will be fully disregarded for means-tested benefit purposes. An award paid in instalments for these costs will also not affect such benefits. If your award is paid to you in one instalment it will be treated as capital, but note that as the capital limit is now between £6,000 and £16,000, any award from the Fund should not affect your claim. Where ALF payments are for everyday living costs, such as rent, food, utilities or clothing and are paid in instalments they will be taken into account for benefit purposes, with a £20 per
week disregard (this may overlap with other disregards on your loan income, hence please note that a combined maximum disregard of £20 is allowed). For students eligible for State Benefits, a letter is available from the Student Financial Support Unit to present to your Job Centre Plus/Housing Benefit Office. This will detail what the Access to Learning Fund payment was for and how it was paid.
If your circumstances change
Awards made from the Access to Learning Fund are intended to cover the full academic year 2008-09. It should therefore not be necessary to apply to the Fund again unless your circumstances change. However if you do experience a significant reduction in income or increase in expenditure, do not complete a new ALF form, simply write to us again using the ‘Re-assessment Application Form’ (available on-line and from our office) explaining your new situation. You will need to supply relevant supporting information.
If I withdraw or suspend my studies
If you are suspending your studies and not attending your course due to illness, bereavement, family illness, caring responsibilities or pregnancy but have not permanently withdrawn from your studies and intend to return after your time out, you can still apply for help from the Fund. If you withdraw from your course of study after having been awarded a grant from the hardship fund, you must inform us immediately. You may be asked to repay any outstanding award.
Can I appeal the Panel’s decision?
We hope this leaflet has helped explain the criteria the Government ask us to use to assess your application to the Fund. However if you disagree with the decision and believe we have made an error in your assessment, you may appeal in writing within 14 days to the Chair of the Access to Learning Fund Panel, who can be contacted through the Student Financial Support Unit. Please explain clearly why you disagree with the decision and note that the appeal may result in the award remaining unchanged.
The Student Financial Support Team
The following staff work in the Student Financial Support Unit: Jackie Nolan – Access to Learning Fund Co-ordinator Tel: 01902 322425; E-mail: J.Nolan2@wlv.ac.uk Meena Verma – Access to Learning Fund Administrator Tel: 01902 322048; E-mail: M.Verma@wlv.ac.uk Liz Williams (Term time only) – Access to Learning Fund Administrator Tel: 01902 322716; E-mail: E.M.Williams@wlv.ac.uk Manjit Sangha – Assessing Officer (Access to Learning Fund) Tel: 01902 322295: E-mail: M.Sangha2@wlv.ac.uk
We are based in the Student Services Gateway, MB Block, City Campus, our address is:
Student Financial Support Unit
Student Services Gateway (MB029) University of Wolverhampton City Campus South Stafford Street WV1 1LY T : 01902 32 1070 F : 01902 32 2972 E : ALF4students@wlv.ac.uk We can give information on a wide range of money matters, or visit our website at www.wlv.ac.uk/money4students for helpful information and application forms for the Access to Learning Fund.
Other useful contacts
The Higher Education Shop Tel: 01902 321032 Email: email@example.com Student Services Gateway Reception MB Building (ground floor) City Campus Tel: 01902 321020 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org SU Welfare & Advice Centre Student’s Union City Campus Tel: 01902 322038 E-mail: email@example.com