Can students claim welfare benefits?
Being a student does not generally affect your eligibility for non means-tested benefits such as Child Benefit.
However most full-time students are not eligible to claim means-tested benefits whilst studying. This generally also includes students during any period of intermission. If you are a UK student though and you have children or a disability/illness, or if you are a UK part-time student, you may be eligible to claim some means-tested benefits and should check out the Student Advice Centre’s advice pages on the Students’ Union website.
If you are an international or EU student, note that there are only very limited circumstances in which you may be able to claim any benefits.
What about tax credits?
Being a student will not in itself affect your eligibility for tax credits providing you still meet all the relevant qualifying criteria.
Do the recent changes for Lone Parents claiming Income Support affect you?
Until now, lone parents have been able to claim Income Support up until their youngest child reaches the age of 16. From 24 November 2008 however, lone parents with a youngest child of 12 or over will no longer be able to claim Income Support solely on the grounds of being a lone parent and will instead be expected to seek employment. This is due to be extended further to lone parents with a youngest child aged 10 or over from October 2009 and a youngest child aged 7 or over from October 2010.
If you were already claiming Income Support and started a full-time course before 24 November 2008 these changes will not affect you and you will still be eligible to claim.
What about changes that affect full-time students who are ill and/or who have a disability?
Some full-time students are currently able to claim Incapacity Benefit or Income Support on the grounds that they are ‘incapable of work’ as a result of illness and/or disability. On 27 October 2008 however Incapacity Benefit and Income Support (on the grounds of incapacity) were replaced by a new allowance called The Employment Support Allowance (ESA). The new ESA consists of two elements; contributory ESA (which replaces Incapacity Benefit) and income-related ESA (which replaces Income Support on the grounds of incapacity).
Existing claimants of either Incapacity Benefit or Income Support will remain on these benefits for a transitional period but all new claims made on the grounds of illness/disability from 27 October 2008 will be treated as claims for ESA.
Students who would have satisfied the qualifying criteria for Incapacity Benefit are likely to be eligible to claim contributory ESA as the rules are broadly similar.
Full-time students who do not satisfy the qualifying conditions for contributory ESA however, and who previously would have been able to claim Income Support, will only be able to claim income-related ESA if they are in receipt of Disability Living Allowance. This means that, even if you have been incapable of work for a long period (28 weeks or more) you will not be able to claim income-related ESA unless you are already in receipt of Disability Living Allowance.
How will your student income affect your benefits/tax credits?
Whilst non-means-tested benefits such as Disability Living Allowance, Contributory ESA and Child Benefit are generally not affected by student income (student loan/grant), means-tested benefits and tax credits such as Income Support, income-related ESA, Housing Benefit and Child Tax Credit may well be affected.
You have a legal obligation to notify the offices handling your claim(s) of your student status and income each year and any other time when there is a change in your circumstances and/or your income. If you do not do this you run the risk of the relevant office claiming an overpayment of benefits/tax credits, or even accusing you of fraud.
The benefit and tax credits systems are complicated and confusing (especially when it comes to student claims) and the above is only intended as an outline. For more information and advice about benefits and tax credits have a look at the Student Advice Centre’s webpages or speak to an adviser during a drop-in session.
Student Advice Centre
1st Floor Falmer House