Benefits for Students in Scotland Handbook
Part 1: Benefits and tax credits
Chapter 7: Income support
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Chapter 7: Income support

This chapter covers:

1. What is income support (below)

2. Who is eligible (Cross reference)

3. Basic rules (Cross reference)

4. Amount of benefit (Cross reference)

5. Claiming income support (Cross reference)

6. Challenging a decision (Cross reference)

7. Other benefits and tax credits (Cross reference)

Basic facts

– Income support provides basic financial support for people who are not expected to 'sign on' for work.

– Part-time students are eligible if they are a lone parent with a child under five, a carer, pregnant (and sick or nearly due), and in some other circumstances.

– Full-time students under 20 on non-advanced courses may be eligible if they are a parent, an orphan or estranged or separated from their parents, and in some other circumstances.

– Other full-time students are eligible if they are a lone parent with a child under five, and in some other circumstances.

– The amount is usually affected by any grant, loan or other income you may have.


1. What is income support

Income support (IS) provides basic financial support for people under pension age (see Cross reference) who are not expected to 'sign on' as available for work. Students who are lone parents with a child under five may be eligible for IS, as may some younger students on non-advanced courses who are estranged from their parents or who are parents themselves. Most other full-time students are not eligible. See Cross reference for which students can get IS.

Note: you cannot usually make a new claim for IS as it is in the process of being replaced by universal credit. However, an exception applies if you get, or got in the past month (and continue to satisfy the rules for it), a severe disability premium in your IS, income-based jobseeker's allowance, income-related employment and support allowance or housing benefit.

The amount you get is based on your circumstances - eg, whether you have a partner or whether you (or your partner) have a disability or care for someone with a disability. The amount you get is usually affected by any grant, loan or other income you have.

2. Who is eligible

As new claims cannot usually be made (see above for exceptions), most students getting income support (IS) will be those who were already on IS before starting the course, and who are eligible for IS as a student. If you cannot claim IS, you may be able to get universal credit (UC) instead - eg, if you are a parent (see Chapter 11).

To qualify for IS, you must be in one of the groups eligible to claim and you must satisfy all the basic rules described on Cross reference.

Only certain groups of students are eligible for IS, depending on your age and your course. To check whether you can get IS if you are: under 20 and in 'relevant education', see below; or 19 or over and a full-time student, unless you are aged 19 and count as being in relevant education, see Cross reference; or under 19 in full-time advanced education, see Cross reference; or studying part time, see Cross reference.

Under 20 in relevant education

Generally, you cannot get IS if you are under 20 and in 'relevant education', but there are exceptions.Footnote

What is relevant education

You count as being in relevant education if you are a 'qualifying young person' for child benefit purposes (see Cross reference) – ie, you are 19 or under and attending a full-time course of non-advanced education or an approved training course (see Cross reference) which you were accepted on, enrolled on or started when you were under 19.Footnote  If you are accepted on, enrol on or start a full-time course of non-advanced education on or after your 19th birthday, you are not in relevant education. The rules on Cross reference apply to you instead.

 Full-time non-advanced education

Your course is classed as 'full time' for IS purposes if it is for more than 12 hours a week during term time. These 12 hours include classes and supervised study, but not meal breaks or unsupervised study either at home or at college.Footnote

'Non-advanced education'is anything below degree, Higher National Certificate (HNC) or Higher National Diploma (HND) level, and includes school-level courses.


Non-advanced courses  Advanced courses
National Qualifications (NQ) Nationals 1 to 5 HNC
NQ Higher or Advanced Higher  HND 
Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) levels 1–3  SVQ level 4 or 5
National Progression Awards   
National Certificate  Degree level 
Scottish Wider Access Programme  Postgraduate 

You may still count as being in relevant education for a period after your course ends (see Cross reference).

Who can get income support

If you are aged 16, 17, 18 (or, in some cases, 19 – see above), and in relevant education, you are eligible for IS if you are in one of the following groups.Footnote

You are an orphan and no one is acting in place of your parent. You do not qualify if, for example, you are living with a foster parent or being looked after by the local authority. You must live away from your parents or anyone acting in their place because you are estranged from them. Decision makers should believe you if you say you are estranged unless there is valid evidence that this may not be the case.Footnote If a decision maker questions what you say, s/he may, with your permission, seek further evidence.Footnote It is possible to be estranged from a parent even if you do not both feel the same way about it.Footnote You must live away from your parents because there is a serious risk to your physical or mental health, or because you are in physical or moral danger. Decision makers are advised to accept your own evidence of physical or moral danger unless there is stronger evidence to the contrary.Footnote You are living away from your parents and anyone acting in their place, they cannot support you financially, and: they are chronically sick or physically or mentally disabled; or they are in prison; or they are not allowed to enter Britain. You are a parent and your child lives with you.

You are a refugee learning English in certain circumstances (see Cross reference).

You have left local authority care and you have to live away from your parents or anyone acting in their place. However, 16/17-year-old care leavers normally get financial support from the local authority social work department, and you cannot get IS in relevant education unless you are a lone parent.Footnote


Pete is 17 and studying cookery full time leading to a National Certificate. His father is in prison and his mother is chronically ill. Neither of them can support him financially and he does not live with them. He is eligible for IS.

Ginny is 18 and studying information technology for a National Certificate. She is the mother of a two-year-old child and they both live with Ginny's parents. She is eligible for IS.

Ahmed is 18 and studying full time for Highers. He is a refugee whose parents live in Somalia. It would be dangerous for him to return home. Ahmed is eligible for IS.

Kelly is 16 and studying full time for Highers. She has lived on her own since her father told her to leave home. She is estranged from both her parents. She is eligible for IS.

Laurie is 17 and has left local authority care. She is undertaking a full-time SVQ in beauty therapy. She is a lone parent and so is not excluded from IS as a 16/17-year-old care leaver.


Once you reach your 20th birthday, you are no longer classed as being in 'relevant education' and cannot get IS under these rules. You may be able to continue to get IS as a full-time or part-time student, but only if you are in one of those groups who are eligible (see Cross reference and Cross reference).

In particular, your claim for IS may be able to continue if you are under 22 on a non-advanced course and without parental support – ie, you are in one of the first four groups in the list above.

If you cannot get IS, you may be able to claim UC instead. Otherwise, you may need to contact your college for discretionary financial assistance.

Parents claiming for you

If you are in relevant education but are not in any of the above groups, you cannot get IS. Your parents may be able to get child benefit and UC (or child tax credit (CTC)) for you (see Chapters 2 and 12).

If you get IS for yourself, the amount of your parents' benefit may reduce, as: any child benefit, UC or CTC they get for you stops; any IS or income-based JSA they get for you stops;Footnote any working tax credit they get stops, unless there are other dependent children in the family or they qualify in another way.

When a course ends

You count as being in relevant education if you have finished a course of non-advanced education and are enrolled or accepted on another such course.Footnote This means you are still in relevant education during the summer vacation between courses. Otherwise, you still count as being in relevant education when you finish a course until the latest of the following dates, or until you turn 20 if that is earlier: 31 August after your 16th birthday;Footnote for 16/17-year-olds, 20 weeks after your course ends if you are registered with Skills Development Scotland. This is the 'extension period' rule in child benefit (see Cross reference). Note: if you are an orphan, estranged from your parents, living away from your parents because of a risk to your health or because they cannot support you financially, or a care leaver, the requirement that someone must have received child benefit for you immediately before the period started does not apply;Footnote  the last day in February, May, August or November following the date the course ends (an exception allows some young people finishing Highers in May to count as being in relevant education until the end of August).Footnote

19 or over and a full-time student

If you are a full-time student aged 19 or over, whether in non-advanced or advanced education, you cannot usually get IS during your 'period of study', but there are exceptions.Footnote If you are aged 19 and in relevant education, you come under the rules above.

Period of study

The 'period of study' starts on the first day of the course and ends on the last day of the course – ie, the last day of the final academic year.Footnote It only ends earlier than this if you abandon your course or are dismissed from it, in which case it ends on the day that happens. You are within your period of study during all vacations and, for sandwich courses, during periods of work placements. In your first year, you do not count as a student at all until you first start attending or undertaking the course.Footnote So if the course has already begun, you are not excluded from IS as a student until the day you actually start.

Who counts as a full-time student

You count as a 'full-time student' if you are 'attending or undertaking a full-time course of study at an educational establishment'.Footnote There are two definitions of 'full time' that apply: the first covers mostly courses of advanced education; the second covers most courses of non-advanced education. Advanced education. Your course is full time if it is classed as full time by the institution. If the institution describes the course as full time, you need convincing evidence to persuade the DWP otherwise, bearing in mind that what matters is the course itself rather than the hours you attend.Footnote This definition covers all courses of advanced education funded, in whole or in part, by the Scottish government, and any courses of non-advanced education that are not wholly or partly funded by the Scottish government at a further education (FE) college.

Non-advanced education. Your course is full time if it involves more than 16 hours a week classroom or workshop learning under the direct guidance of teaching staff, or 16 hours or less if your hours are made up of more than 21 hours a week of structured study hours.Footnote What matters is the number of hours specified in a document signed by the college. This is often called a 'learning agreement', but your college may refer to it by some other name. This definition applies if you are at an FE college, not undertaking a higher education course and your course is fully or partly funded by the Scottish government. Courses funded by the Scottish government include school qualifications like NQs from Access level to Advanced Higher, SVQs and National Certificates.

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