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Disabled People: Student Allowance

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 25 February 2010


Asked by

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills what changes are going to be made to the administration of student disability allowance.

My Lords, the Government provide generous financial support to disabled students in higher education, but I recognise that the first year of the centralised student finance service has not gone well. Following the recommendation from Professor Hopkin, who was commissioned to review the delivery of student support for 2009-10, the Student Loans Company is reviewing the service that it provides to disabled students, in consultation with relevant organisations and special interest groups.

I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Does he accept that the proposal from the organisation on 9 February that standard packages, which do not have an initial assessment, should be given to dyslexic students, who form 70 per cent of the student body, is a guarantee for not only giving the wrong type of package but for wasting a considerable amount of money? Is that organisation fit for purpose?

My Lords, I have said that the performance of the organisation is not good enough. That has been confirmed by the independent review. The Government have a good record in giving support to disabled students because we firmly believe that disability should not be a barrier for anyone trying to gain access to higher education. In 1997-98, 10,700 disabled students were offered £13.3 million in support. Provisional figures for the academic year 2008-09 show that more than 45,000 higher education students in England are in receipt of in excess of £100 million in support. That does not mean that the system is operating adequately for all disabled students. I will make sure that those in my department who are responsible for administering this look very carefully at what the noble Lord said and at the ways in which he believes we can remedy the situation and make a poor service better.

My Lords, can the Secretary of State explain why by the end of January, almost four months after the autumn term started, no less than two-thirds of the 19,000 students who had applied for student disability allowance had still not received the money to which they are entitled? Is that what the Secretary of State means by a good record?

My Lords, because these applications rely on specialist needs assessments, we encourage students to apply for student disability allowance well before the start of their course. I am afraid that not all do so, which leads to the problems that some encounter. More than 21,000 applications were received for 2009-10, and 30 per cent of them were received since November, which is well after the start of term. I accept that 9,000 of this year’s applications are still pending information from the student or the specialist and have not been fully processed. It is possible that they relate to students who did not get a university place or who have changed their plans and not told the Student Loans Company. None the less, I entirely accept that the performance has to be improved, and we are undertaking the measures necessary to make sure that that happens.