16 to 19 Bursary Fund guide for academic year 2015 to 2016

Guidance for all institutions administering the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund in 2015 to 2016.

This guidance was withdrawn on

This page contains information related to the 2015 to 2016 academic year. Please visit our student support page for the most up to date guidance.

The 16 to 19 Bursary Fund

The 16 to 19 Bursary Fund was introduced in the 2011 to 2012 academic year. It is money the government has given to local authorities, schools, colleges and other education and training providers (institutions) to give to disadvantaged students. Its purpose is to provide financial support to help students overcome specific barriers to participation, so they can remain in education.

There are 2 types of 16 to 19 bursaries:

  • a vulnerable bursary of up to £1,200 a year for young people in one of the defined vulnerable groups
  • discretionary bursaries that institutions award to meet individual needs. For example, transport, meals, books and equipment

Education institutions are responsible for managing both types of bursary. Students who want to apply for support from the bursary fund should contact their chosen institution as soon as possible to make an application. There should also be information about applying for the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund on institution websites.

Who this guide is for

This guide is for all institutions that administer the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund. This includes schools, academies, FE colleges, sixth-form colleges, training providers, specialist independent providers and local authorities. Education Funding Agency (EFA) calls all of these ‘institutions’ throughout this guide.

This guide is non-statutory and sets out the arrangements the Secretary of State intends to make under Section 14 of the Education Act 2002. Although the guide is not statutory, we expect institutions to use it as the basis of their bursary policies.

A guide for young people and their parents is available on the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund page.

Where institutions have questions about the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund not answered by this guide, they should contact EFA.

If you are enquiring from or regarding an academy

ESFA enquiries

For all enquiries for the Education and Skills Funding Agency

For other institutions

16 to 19 Bursary Fund

Changes for the 2015 to 2016 academic year

From late-May 2015 the Learner Support Service will be known as the Student Bursary Support Service (SBSS) and will continue to administer the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund for vulnerable students on behalf of EFA. The new online system will be easier to use, more responsive and will be accessible via most web-enabled devices (PC, smartphone, laptop or tablet).

Universal Credit and the 16 to 19 vulnerable bursary

Universal Credit (UC) is being rolled out across the country. It will gradually replace Income Support and the Employment and Support Allowance, which are both qualifying benefits for the vulnerable bursary. You may soon start to see students claiming vulnerable bursaries based on receiving UC instead of these benefits. Universal Credit award notifications do not include any information on the benefits they replace, so you will not be able to tell from the document whether a student meets the Income Support or Employment and Support Allowance criteria.

For the academic year beginning in September 2016, you should ask any student claiming a vulnerable bursary based on a UC award to tell you which benefit it has replaced, so that you can complete the SBSS claims form correctly. Those who say that their UC award is in place of Employment and Support Allowance must also be receiving Disability Living Allowance or its replacement, Personal Independence Payment. If the student is unsure why they have been awarded UC, treat it as a replacement for Income Support. You should then send the claim to the Student Bursary Support Service (SBSS) in the usual way.

Funding claims for vulnerable students in the 2015 to 2016 academic year will be made online using the SBSS portal.

Institutions will be able to submit vulnerable bursary funding claims for the 2015 to 2016 academic year from 1 August 2015.

To reduce bureaucracy, we have decided to stop the annual voluntary MI collection. Data fields for the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund are included in the ILR and the school census, and we encourage all institutions to complete these fields so that we are able to evidence take-up of the bursary.

Managing the bursary – responsibilities of education institutions

Education institutions that receive an allocation of 16 to 19 bursary funding from the EFA have the following responsibilities:

  • they must have a policy that sets out who is eligible to receive the discretionary bursary in their institution and what the eligibility criteria are
  • they must publicise the bursary and their policy so that students are aware of it and how to apply. Arrangements for applying should be straightforward and students should be reassured that they are confidential, so they are not put off by stigma
  • they must assess each student who applies for the bursary and obtain evidence to back up each application
  • they must retain evidence of the assessment so that it is available if the institution is audited by the EFA or the Skills Funding Agency
  • they must claim vulnerable bursaries from the Student Bursary Support Service for each eligible student
  • they must pay the bursary to students. Payments can be cash or in-kind and institutions must retain records of these
  • they should set conditions for receiving the bursary, such as regular attendance, punctuality, good behaviour etc

Vulnerable bursaries

Most students who get support from the bursary will receive a tailored award from the discretionary bursary. Students in one or more of the groups below need more support and can apply for a vulnerable bursary of up to £1,200. Institutions do not receive an allocation of funds for vulnerable bursaries. They need to draw down the funds from the Student Support Bursary Service (formerly the Learner Support Service), using the relevant claim form.

The eligible groups are students who are:

Please note that to qualify as eligible for a vulnerable student payment the young person does not have to live independently of their parents; they can claim ESA or UC in their own right. Parents should note that they will not be able to claim Child Benefit for them if the young person’s claim for ESA succeeds.

How are children in care and care leavers defined?

For the purposes of the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund, the definitions are:

“children in care” means:

  • children looked after by a local authority on a voluntary basis (section 20 of the Children Act 1989) or under a care order (section 31 of the Children Act 1989). Section 22 of the Children Act 1989 defines the term ‘looked after child’

“care leavers” means:

  • either young people aged 16 and 17 who were previously looked after for a period of 13 weeks consecutively (or periods amounting to 13 weeks), which began after the age of 14 and ended after the age of 16.
  • or a young person who is aged 18 or above who was looked after prior to becoming 18 for a period of 13 weeks consecutively (or periods of 13 weeks), which began after the age of 14 and ended after the age of 16.

In legal terms these children are called relevant children or former relevant children.

Foster care, including privately arranged foster care

Any young person placed with a foster carer by the local authority, including where the foster carer is on the books of an independent fostering agency, is classed as looked after. They are therefore in a defined vulnerable group for the bursary.

A child who is privately fostered (the arrangement is made between the parent and the person who will care for the child) is not classed as a looked after child, as this is a private arrangement. Local authorities should have published policies stating what support they will provide in these circumstances.

Where a student has been in the care of the local authority and that care is transferred to another party via a permanent form of fostering, e.g. a Special Guardianship Order. The student is deemed to have left care and is now a care leaver. They are entitled to a vulnerable student bursary as a former relevant child/care leaver.

Responsibilities of the institution – vulnerable bursaries

It is the responsibility of the institution to assess if students are eligible to receive a vulnerable bursary payment.

Young people in the defined vulnerable groups are eligible for a bursary of up to £1,200. EFA would not usually expect students in the vulnerable groups to be awarded less than £1,200, if they are on a course lasting 30 weeks or more and are participating full-time. Institutions should pay a pro-rata amount for courses of less than 30 weeks.

Institutions can pay a student more than £1,200 if they need extra help to remain in education. It should be paid from their discretionary allocation, or from their own funds.

The vulnerable bursary is payable for each academic year the student is in education or training, as long as they continue to meet the eligibility criteria of the scheme.

Vulnerable bursary payments

The funding for vulnerable bursaries is held centrally by the SBSS. Institutions need to draw down vulnerable funding on demand, whenever new students are identified who meet the vulnerable student criteria.

To draw the funding down, institutions need to complete and submit a funding claim. This must be done via the SBSS online portal. The online claim form mirrors the existing form and has guidance notes built in throughout.

The SBSS will process the claim form, and if successful will send out a funding statement confirming the amount to be paid. The payment will be processed and remittance advice will be issued within 2 weeks of receiving the funding claim.

How to identify vulnerable students

Institutions are responsible for identifying students in the defined vulnerable groups who are eligible for a vulnerable student payment.

Institutions should be aware that students who are in care or are care leavers might not want to say so because of fear of stigma. They should ensure confidentiality to reduce these concerns. For example, institutions should tell students how their information will be used and shared and do not make students identify themselves publicly.

Institutions can take the initiative to identify students eligible for the vulnerable bursary by working with the local authority, looked after children’s education services and care leaver services, to help and encourage students to apply for a bursary. Institutions and local authorities can also set up local data sharing agreements to share information on which students might be eligible and who should be supported to make an application. For example, institutions might want to ask their local authority if a young person received free school meals in year 11.

Good practice

Examples of working with local stakeholders to identify eligible young people:

  • one college works with student advisors and the council’s social services team to identify young people in the defined vulnerable groups. They encourage them to enrol at the college and apply for bursary funding
  • one college works closely with the local care teams. The teams refer young people in care or care leavers to them and encourage them to apply for vulnerable bursaries during enrolment. Clear and simplified information is available to all staff and students about vulnerable bursaries and is also displayed throughout the college and on the college website and social media
  • in one area, information on the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund is included in a bulletin to social worker contacts. This is published three times during the academic year, and ensures social workers are updated on the bursary and important dates to be aware of
  • young people who might be eligible for a vulnerable bursary are identified by another college’s Inclusion Manager, who has developed links with local agencies that work with vulnerable young people (eg YMCA, Social Services and Youth Offending Teams). This helps the college to identify eligible young people before enrolment so they become aware of this support early on. They are then assisted in completing the application process

Evidence of eligibility for a vulnerable student payment

Institutions will need proof that students are eligible. Institutions should ask for and retain copies of evidence from the student, for example:

  • for students in receipt of qualifying benefits, ask for a letter from DWP saying which benefit the young person is entitled to. The letter should confirm that they can be in further education or training. Some young people getting benefits are not allowed to participate. Institutions should check this does not apply
  • for students who are in care or a care leaver, get written confirmation of the young person’s current or previous looked-after status from the relevant local authority. This is the one which looks after them or provides their leaving care services. This could be a letter or an email, as long as it is an official document from the local authority

Students must receive these benefits in their own right to be eligible for a vulnerable student bursary.

Document the assessment process and retain copies of the evidence provided. Institutions may find it is helpful to include a list in their application forms where students can certify their eligibility, as long as it is backed up by the relevant evidence.

Once a student has been assessed as eligible for vulnerable student payments, the funds can be drawn down from the SBSS. Institutions can submit a funding claim for vulnerable bursaries via the SBSS portal.

Pro-rata bursaries for vulnerable group students

Institutions can give a qualifying vulnerable student who is on a course lasting less than 30 weeks less than £1,200:

  • a 30 week course attracts a vulnerable bursary of £1,200. If paid weekly, the bursary is £1,200 ÷ 30 = £40 per week
  • so, for example, if a student is on a course lasting 10 weeks, the bursary would be £40 x 10 = £400

Where a vulnerable student is on a part time course, the institution can make a reduction based on an hourly or daily rate.

For example:

  • a vulnerable student is on a full-time course lasting 20 weeks; their bursary should be calculated at the rate of 20 x £40 = £800
  • a vulnerable student is on a part-time course (2 days a week) lasting 20 weeks. Here, if the daily rate for the bursary is £8 (£40 ÷ 5 = £8), then £8 x 2 days = £16 a week; £16 x 20 weeks = £320

EFA would not usually expect students in the vulnerable groups to be awarded less than the relevant pro-rata amount if they are part-time, or on a shorter course.

Young people in the defined vulnerable groups who do not need bursaries

There can be cases where a young person is eligible for a vulnerable bursary, but their financial needs are already met or they have no relevant costs.

Examples could be:

  • where a student is attending specialist residential provision where all costs are covered
  • where a student is taking a distance learning course and there are no barriers to participation, such as transport or meal costs
  • where a student is in local authority care and their costs are covered

If a student in these circumstances still wants to claim a vulnerable student bursary, institutions can decide to award a reduced bursary or no bursary at all. If institutions decide to do this, they must ensure all relevant parties are told why.

Discretionary bursaries

Discretionary bursaries are awards made by institutions to individual students. They are targeted on overcoming the individual barriers to participation a student faces. They can be for whatever amount is deemed necessary to do this.

It is up to institutions to decide which students will receive a discretionary bursary and how much they will receive. However, they should be targeted at students who cannot stay in education without financial help for things like transport, meals, books and equipment. Institutions should not make blanket or flat rate payments to all students.

Responsibilities of the institution – discretionary bursaries

Students that apply should be assessed individually and awarded a bursary based on their actual financial need. This assessment should be documented and the evidence obtained to support the amounts being claimed should be retained for audit purposes.

Institutions should:

  • assess each student’s actual need for financial help before deciding to make an award, and if so how much
  • document the assessment, get evidence to support the amounts being claimed and retain it for audit purposes

Institutions set their own eligibility criteria for discretionary bursaries, but they must comply with the basic eligibility conditions of the scheme. Institutions must also comply with the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 when setting their eligibility criteria. They must not discriminate against their students, either directly or indirectly, on the basis of their protected characteristics.

Institutions must manage the number and size of discretionary bursary awards to keep within their budget. Institutions may decide to retain a small emergency fund from their discretionary allocation to be used to support students who experience exceptional circumstances during the academic year which impact on their ability to participate.

EFA is not usually able to give more funds to institutions that run out of money. However, there is nothing to prevent institutions from topping up the bursary with their own funds to support students who are in need. Further information on the Equality Act 2010 is available online.

Institutions are encouraged to work with other local institutions and the local authority to agree a common approach to the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund taking into account the needs and circumstances of students locally. This could include institutions working together to pool funds and centrally manage and administer the bursary.

Good practice

  • schools across one area have a collaborative approach to the bursary fund supported by the local council. Post-16 teams in the schools help students to complete a simple application form which is passed to the local authority to assess against common criteria and arrange for awards to be made
  • a group of colleges has created a Learning Executive with representatives from each local college. This meets regularly and sets a consistent approach to financial support across all colleges in the area

Setting eligibility criteria for discretionary bursaries

Institutions can use various ways of deciding who should get discretionary bursaries, but they should always ensure that discretionary funding reaches students most in need of financial support.

Please note that institutions can take into account any unearned income such as shares/investments, savings and rental income, when assessing whether students should receive a discretionary bursary.

Students can apply more than once if their circumstances change. If this happens they are reassessed, including a one-to-one interview to determine if there are any exceptional circumstances which need to be taken into account.

Some examples of eligibility criteria are given here, but there will be others.

  • some institutions use household income as the main eligibility criterion, using Tax Credits forms (TC602), evidence of income from self-employment, a P60, or 3-6 months’ worth of bank statements as evidence
  • some use household income, but differentiate between students with different support requirements. Some students from low income households get more support depending on their needs such as bus or train passes, money for educational visits and contributions to the costs of university open days and interviews
  • some look at wider family circumstances, including whether the student is from a single parent family or where the student is a carer, or where there are a lot of other children in the family
  • some use free school meals eligibility or receipt of benefits to decide who should get a bursary. Young people eligible for free school meals are not automatically entitled to a bursary, but it is a good indicator of family income
  • others give more support to students doing courses with high costs. This includes courses where specialist equipment or clothes are required

Institutions can take into account whether the student is from a single parent family, the number of dependent children in the household or if a student has any caring responsibilities for relatives or is a teenage parent.

Using income bands to assess income

This is an example of how one college uses income bands.

  • band 1- annual household income of £16,190 or less - these students receive a contribution towards the cost of a bus pass if they live over two miles from college, payment for educational visits during the year, a contribution towards exam re-sits, and reimbursement of the cost of visiting university open days or interviews. Students with annual household incomes of less than £12,000, and between £12,000 and £16,190, receive tiered weekly payments subject to attendance and behaviour conditions
  • band 2 – annual household income between £16,190 - £20,817. These students receive the same allowances and contributions as Band 1 – but smaller contributions towards bus travel and educational visits
  • band 3 – annual household income between £20,817 and £25,521 - these students receive a contribution towards the cost of a bus pass if they live over two miles from college.

Good practice

  • in one college, students with a household income less than £20,000 a year are eligible for discretionary bursaries. The college asks for proof of income for working families, and for non-working families evidence of household benefits. The college also looks at individual family circumstances which may affect household income. For example, whether the young person lives in a single parent household, or if there are other children or young people living in the household
  • in one school sixth form free school meal eligibility is used as the basis for eligibility for discretionary bursaries. The local authority provides data on year-eleven free school meals eligibility for all students enrolling in year twelve. This saves on administration time, and means new students who may be eligible for bursaries are easily identifiable. Recognising that not all young people who are eligible for free school meals take up the offer, discretionary bursaries are also available for young people who were entitled to free school meals but who did not apply for them. Therefore, the criteria for discretionary bursaries are
  • free school meal take-up in year eleven, or
  • free school meal entitlement in year eleven and twelve (ie the young person is entitled to free school meals but has not taken up the offer). Students are asked to provide evidence of receipt of benefits in their household ­

How institutions receive an allocation of bursary funds

For institutions that already have a contract or funding agreement with the EFA, a discretionary allocation will be made annually as detailed below. These institutions should use the claim form to draw down vulnerable bursaries for eligible students.

Institutions that are new to the EFA should check the section on getting a discretionary bursary allocation.

Where an institution operates out of more than one location across England, or through sub-contracts, the allocation will be made to the lead office for distribution to each site.

Discretionary bursary allocations from the EFA

For most institutions, the discretionary bursary allocation for the 2015 to 2016 academic year has been calculated on:

  • the number of students that received £30 a week EMA in the 2009 to 2010 academic year, as a percentage of the 2010 to 2011 funded student numbers
  • this percentage has been applied to institutions’ 2015 to 2016 allocated student numbers and multiplied by the 2015 to 2016 standard funding rate of £298

For example: if the percentage is 40%, and there are 500 allocated student numbers in an institution, that would mean an allocation of 200 x £298

The discretionary bursary will be paid in 2 parts. Two-thirds will be paid in August 2015 and a third will be paid in April 2016.

Institutions should manage the discretionary bursary to keep payments within budget.

Discretionary allocations via local authorities

Maintained schools’ sixth-form allocations will continue to be made through local authorities, who are asked to pass the funding to the school. The school is then responsible for administering the funds.

Local authorities may also be allocated funds to cover students in other maintained institutions such as Pupil Referral Units and a small number of other institutions who EFA do not have a direct funding relationship with.

Where a student has been placed by a local authority in independent provision and the local authority is funding that place, the institution should work with the local authority to access the appropriate support from the bursary.

Local authorities will be responsible for drawing down the funding for vulnerable students placed by a local authority in independent provision from the SBSS. By submitting a claim for funding for vulnerable students through the SBSS portal, the local authority is confirming that those students fulfil all the eligibility criteria of the scheme.

Allocations for converter academies

EFA allocates discretionary bursary funds to open academies directly, in September and April in a two thirds / one third split.

The process for making payments to converter academies is:

  • where a school converts on the first day of the month in which a bursary payment is due, the academy will receive that payment directly from EFA
  • where a conversion occurs at any other time in the month that a bursary payment is due, payment will be/already have been made to the local authority, so the local authority will be responsible for passing it to the institution. Any payments after that will be made to the academy directly from EFA
  • where a school converts to an academy in a month where no payment is due, then any bursary payments after that month will be made to the academy directly from EFA

How institutions new to the EFA can get a discretionary bursary allocation

Institutions that newly start delivering education and training for the EFA in the 2015 to 2016 academic year, or that will be continuing with their market entry programme (e.g. zero-funded provision) will be considered for a 2015 to 2016 16 to 19 Bursary Fund allocation - depending on the nature of the programme being delivered - at the point that an EFA contract is generated.

To be eligible for an allocation of the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund, the institution must be publicly funded and subject to inspection by a public body that assures quality, such as Ofsted.

The institution must also be either:

  • funded by Education Funding Agency directly or via a local authority
  • funded or co-financed by the European Social Fund
  • publicly funded and lead to a qualification (up to level 3) that is accredited by Ofqual or is pursuant to Section 96 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000

Where institutions offer valid provision, and would like to apply for an allocation of the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund to support their eligible students, they may need to complete a ‘new institutions’ form – which is available on request from EFA.

Academies should request a form from

ESFA enquiries

For all enquiries for the Education and Skills Funding Agency

Other institutions should use

16 to 19 Bursary Fund

Note that EFA may need to undertake a financial health assessment of the institution before allocating funding.

The general eligibility criteria for the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund

This section covers basic eligibility requirements of the scheme and mirrors eligibility for publicly funded 16 to 19 education and training. It applies to both types of bursary – discretionary and vulnerable.


To be eligible to receive a bursary the student must be aged:

  • over 16
  • under 19 at 31 August before the academic year in question

If a student turns 19 during their programme of study, they can continue to get the bursary to the end of the academic year in which they turn 19, or to the end of the programme of study, whichever is sooner.

The only students aged 19+ who are eligible to receive a bursary from the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund are those who have a Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA) or an Education, Health and Care Plan (ECHP) due to their High Needs and who attend a Special Post-16 Institution (SPI). These students can receive a discretionary bursary while they continue to attend their education, as long as their eligibility continues and the SPI considers they need the additional support in order to continue their participation.

Examples of how the age eligibility criteria should be applied to students include:

  • a student starts an FE study programme on 1 September 2015. His 19th birthday is on the same day. He will be eligible for the bursary for the full academic year as long as he meets the other eligibility requirements. He will not be eligible for the bursary if he continues to study in the next academic year (2016 to 2017)
  • a student is in the second year of her A levels when she turns 19. She has been getting a discretionary bursary. She fails one of her exams and wants to repeat it the following year. She will not be eligible for the bursary during that year


Students must meet the residency criteria in the EFA funding regulations for post-16 provision 2015 to 2016. The regulations set out the evidence that institutions must see to confirm eligibility.

Accompanied asylum seeking children (under 18 with an adult relative or partner)

Generally, asylum seekers are not entitled to public funds. Accompanied asylum seeking children (ie those under 18 with an adult relative or partner) and those aged 18 and above are entitled to education, but not to public funds. If they are destitute they can apply to the Home Office for suitable housing and cash for essentials, but they are not eligible for other income.

As long as an asylum seeker has not had their application refused, institutions can provide in-kind student support such as course related books, equipment or a travel pass. Under no circumstances should an institution give cash to an asylum seeker who is not an unaccompanied asylum seeking child (UASC).

Unaccompanied asylum seeking children

Unaccompanied asylum seeking children do not receive cash support from the Home Office. They are the responsibility of the local authority. They are treated as looked-after children and are eligible for a vulnerable bursary.

When these young people reach legal adulthood at 18, then unlike ‘citizen’ children in care, institutions must consider their immigration status. If their asylum claim is decided in their favour the local authority will have to provide them with the same support and services as care leavers. As such, they will continue to be eligible for a vulnerable bursary until they reach the upper age limit.

Where an asylum claim is not supported, they may not be able to stay legally in the UK. When asylum claims have been fully heard and the appeals rights exhausted, they have no entitlement to public funds. There are a few exceptions where the withdrawal of support would be seen as a breach of human rights.

Young offenders

Young offenders can apply for a bursary if:

  • they are serving a non-custodial sentence
  • they have been released early from a custodial sentence (except on temporary license)
  • they have been remanded to a non-secure institution It is expected that a very small number of students will fall into the above category. Young Offenders cannot apply for a bursary if:
  • they are serving a custodial sentence
  • they have been released from a custodial sentence on temporary license
  • they have been remanded to a secure institution

Institutions should provide in-kind support to young offenders, rather than cash wherever possible.

Eligible education provision

Students should be participating in provision that is subject to inspection by a public body that assures quality (eg Ofsted). That provision must also be either:

  • funded by the EFA directly or via a local authority
  • funded or co-financed by the European Social Fund
  • otherwise publicly funded and lead to a qualification (up to level 3) accredited by Ofqual or is pursuant to Section 96 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000
  • on the list of employers, training organisations and subcontractors eligible to deliver the traineeship programme

Distance learning courses

Students on distance learning courses are not automatically excluded from applying for a bursary. However, institutions should only award a bursary where there are specific financial barriers preventing the student from taking the course. This is because most students on distance learning courses do not have the kinds of costs which the bursary fund is intended to cover, for example transport, equipment and uniforms.

The most appropriate way of helping these students is often through in-kind support. For example, providing or lending equipment, or funding a temporary travel pass to enable the student to attend exams or university interviews.

Students who should not receive bursaries

Students aged under 16

Institutions can generally only pay bursaries to students aged 16 or older. However, in exceptional circumstances institutions may use their discretion to pay bursaries to younger students. For example, where a student is following an accelerated programme they may receive a bursary. This does not apply to 14 to 16 year olds attending college as part of their Key Stage 4 programme.

Students aged under 19, studying higher education qualifications

The bursary helps students with the costs of continuing in further education only. Separate student finance arrangements have been made to support students in higher education – young people can find out more details on this website.

Students aged 19 and over at 31 August in the year they start their study programme

This includes students starting the second year of their course. Students who are 19 and over should contact their institution to see if they can access Discretionary Learner Support provided by the Skills Funding Agency.

Students on apprenticeships

Students on apprenticeship programmes, or any waged learning or training, are not eligible to apply for a bursary.

Students on a traineeships programme are non-waged, so may be eligible to apply for a bursary.

Paying the bursary to students

The bursary was set up to remove specific barriers to participation, so it should be spent in a way that removes these barriers. Institutions can insist that bursary funds are spent on travel costs, meals during the day, or equipment, or any other support that has been identified as necessary to enable the student to benefit from their education.

Institutions are free to decide how often vulnerable and discretionary bursary payments are made, taking into account the purpose of the bursary, the student’s circumstances and local arrangements. We know from the evaluation that students prefer regular payments, especially weekly, as this helps them to manage their finances. It also means that if a student has a payment withheld due to failing to meet conditions, they will not be left without support for a long period.

It is good practice to pay in-kind bursaries rather than cash where possible. This helps to ensure that the bursary will help students to participate. There are no restrictions on what in-kind payments can be for, examples could include:

  • travel passes
  • meals
  • course materials

However, in the case of students in the vulnerable group, the value of in-kind payments and how the cost is deducted from the £1,200 should be made clear to students.

There are no limits set for the amount of discretionary payment that can be awarded to students who need support from the bursary. Institutions can award discretionary bursaries of £1,200 or more as long as they stay within their overall budget.

Bursaries should be sufficient to help students meet the costs related to participation e.g. transport, books and equipment, field trips and other course-related costs and may also be used towards the costs of attending university interviews and open days.

Where transport costs have been identified as a specific barrier to participation, the bursary can be used to help meet these costs. However, this does not replace the statutory duty on local authorities, who need to set out in an annually published transport statement the arrangements they will make to facilitate the participation in education or training students of sixth-form age.

Where the bursary is paid directly to the student, it is good practice to pay by BACS transfer to their own account. It is not recommended that large or lump sum payments are made to students. Evidence from the independent evaluation of the bursary is that students prefer more frequent payments (weekly) as they find them easier to manage.

Students aged 16 can open a basic bank account. The basic bank account will allow BACS transfers and allow the student to withdraw money. More information on basic bank accounts can be found at British Bankers’ Association.

EFA would not expect the bursary to be paid into another person’s account, except in exceptional circumstances where a student is unable to administer their own account. If the student is in one of the vulnerable groups and cannot manage their own funds, the institution will need to consider who is going to manage the bursary on the student’s behalf.

Students and their families should direct all payment queries as well as queries about eligibility to their institution. Institutions are responsible for deciding who is eligible for the bursary fund, as well as how much a student should be awarded, and when the payments will be made.

Examples of different payment regimes introduced by institutions:

  • bursary awards to students in the vulnerable groups are tailored to meet the needs of individual students. In some cases carers and social workers are involved in establishing the most appropriate way of getting the funding to the young person. At the beginning of term, if specialist equipment and/or a travel pass is needed, this is purchased by the college and the cost is deducted from the student’s overall award. The remainder is paid to the student monthly or termly depending on need. In cases where a carer has responsibility for the young person’s finances, meetings are set up with them to decide how payments should be made. In these situations, the funding can be paid to the carer every month, with the requirement that they will pass it on to the student
  • discretionary awards are made to students not in the vulnerable groups based on parental income and the cost of student’s individual programmes. Awards are also made towards the cost of travel passes
  • vulnerable student bursaries are tailored for each recipient. Every student who qualifies for a vulnerable student bursary is offered an interview with a financial support advisor to decide together on the best way to deliver their support. Priority areas are addressed first; travel to college, equipment costs and support with studies. Additional expenditure such as university visits is also discussed, and where money remains, an amount is retained for unforeseen costs
  • students receiving a vulnerable student bursary receive £20 per week via BACS. Additional funds are also given at the start of their course so that students can pay for equipment and course-related items. Those in the vulnerable groups are also offered travel vouchers as part of their payments. The Student Services Team meet with these students regularly to help them with budgeting and to identify any barriers to learning that could be overcome through bursary funds. A percentage of the total fund is kept back as a hardship fund to respond to emergencies that may arise for the student throughout the year

Conditions to receiving bursary funding

Receipt of a vulnerable or discretionary bursary should be conditional on the student meeting some agreed standards. These standards are set by the institution and could relate to attendance and standards of behaviour. These standards need to be clear accessible and understood by students.

Institutions should also ensure that their policies on pro-rata awards and their conditions of payment are clear and accessible to students, and should explain these policies as part of the induction process.

Evidence that a student has seen and agreed to the conditions should be kept for audit, for example in an agreement that is signed by the student.

Where there are concerns with attendance or behaviour, it is good practice to talk to the student about the issue. Because receipt of the bursary is conditional on meeting the agreed standards, institutions can withhold payments, but they should consider the individual circumstances of the student first. Evidence from the independent evaluation of the bursary indicates that some students have been sanctioned to the extent that their bursary funding for a whole term has been withheld. This is not recommended as it can stop students attending.

Institutions should consider the impact on attendance that might be caused by illness or other exceptional circumstances. This should be built into the payment conditions agreed between the student and their institution, so that both parties are aware of the possible affect to payments. Institutions should also be aware that payments should be stopped for students who have been absent for a period of four continuous weeks or more (excluding holidays, or if there is evidence of an intention of the student to return). Or for students who have made a decision to withdraw from a study programme. Institutions can take back money from students if they have not spent it for the agreed qualifying reason. However, institutions should consider the individual student’s circumstances first.

Examples of best practice for payment conditions include:

  • one college has very clear terms and conditions for receipt of the bursary, which are highlighted on the application form. The college monitors this to identify any issues and consider whether additional support is needed. A minimum 85% attendance is the current standard but support may continue if a student’s attendance falls below the requirement, and there is a valid reason for this, eg illness or family problems
  • at the start of their course, students sign a contract which states the rules that they will abide by – including truthfulness, attendance and behaviour. If the student does not comply, in particular if there are absences, they are sent a text message informing them that their bursary may be withheld. Before this happens they are given an opportunity to explain their absence

The impact of receiving a bursary on household benefits

16 to 19 Bursary Fund payments do not affect entitlement to DWP income-related benefits.

16 to 19 bursaries are paid directly to students in addition to other means-tested benefits paid to families, such as Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Child Benefit, Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit and does not affect them.

However, if the student is getting DLA (or Personal Independence Payments) and ESA or UC, parents can no longer receive certain household/family benefits for that child, eg child benefit. Bursaries are not a substitute for other sources of financial support such as childcare payments made under the Care to Learn scheme, or payments to meet residential costs under a Residential Support scheme.

Bursaries should not be regular payments for living costs, as they would then be subject to the Social Security Amendment (Students and Income-related Benefits) Regulations 2000.

Best practice information for administering the bursary

Administering the bursary fund

When assessing and paying students, institutions need to be aware that they are subject to equality legislation, which means that they cannot discriminate against any student, directly or indirectly. They are also subject to the public sector equality duty in Section 149(1) of the Equality Act 2010.

Institutions that offer standard academic year provision may want all applications for the bursary submitted by a certain date, so that they can assess the overall level of demand and make discretionary awards on a fair basis. However, they need to take into account that there will be some needs that come up later in the year and be flexible in their response. Consequently, there should be no absolute cut-off date for applications.

For institutions offering short-term or roll-on roll-off provision, students should be able to apply at any point during the academic year.

Bursary payments must also not be made too late in the year for students to use it to help them with costs to participate.

Administration fees

EFA expects institutions to spend no more than 5% of their total bursary allocation on administrative costs. As institutions no longer receive a vulnerable students’ bursary allocation, costs for administering vulnerable bursaries have therefore reduced and can be covered by the 5% of their discretionary allocation.

Raising awareness of the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund

Institutions should publish a statement setting out how they will use their bursary fund. This should be done early enough for students to be able to use this information when deciding what post-16 institution they are going to attend. The arrangements must be clear and available to students and EFA.

Because of the discretionary nature of the bursary, students are most likely to hear about it directly from institutions. Institutions need to make sure that information both printed and on their website is kept up to date. Institutions should work with local authorities to find ways to raise awareness of the bursary amongst young people, particularly those in the vulnerable groups. Institutions are also encouraged to work with their feeder schools to ensure young people are aware of the help available. This will mean young people can make better informed decisions about their education.

It should be clear to students that they are being supported by the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund and institutions should be mindful of this when considering developing their own financial support branding.

Good practice suggestions are to:

  • set up data sharing agreements with other agencies and individuals so that they can help identify students with the greatest need for support and raise awareness of the bursary as early as possible
  • set up processes that maintain confidentiality, so that students do not feel embarrassed about applying for support from the bursary

Examples of policies and procedures in place at institutions designed to raise awareness of the bursary early include:

  • there is information about the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund on one college’s website and in the prospectus, as well as on posters which are on display around the college throughout the year. Information is distributed at open evenings for year eleven pupils from local schools. Further information including an application form is included following enrolment, and all new entrants receive a text message and an email about the 16-19 Bursary Fund soon after the start of the academic year
  • information about the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund is publicised in prospectuses, at open evenings, in leaflets, at enrolment, on posters around college and in the college’s internal newsletter. Information, application forms and guidance are also sent out in application packs, and tutors are encouraged to pass information on during one-to-one meetings with students. The college also works with local support services to target potential students who are homeless and provide them with information on vulnerable group bursaries
  • a college employs a variety of methods to ensure eligible students are aware of the vulnerable group bursary. Aside from information in marketing materials, the college promotes the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund and other support through partner organisations, social services, foster parent networks, schools, asylum support teams and youth offending and health services. Within the college all staff are informed about the support available and the needs of young people in the vulnerable groups. The college works with these organisations to identify and engage with young people considering further education and to provide opportunities to discuss the support they may need
  • the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund is publicised on another college’s website, and in all publicity literature, including the prospectus and newsletter. All students are given a leaflet about it as part of their enrolment pack. It is also advertised on the local radio, and year eleven students are informed about the financial support available during school visits
  • the college markets the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund proactively by providing information to prospective students prior to enrolment at open evenings, talks at schools etc. Any young person who attends a pre-enrolment interview gets a card with brief information on the bursary and pointers directing them to the full information on the college’s website. Information is also provided in enrolment packs, in conversations with tutors and via the website. In addition, social workers who work with the most disadvantaged young people help the college to identify potential vulnerable bursary recipients
  • the college uses text messages throughout the year to inform students of the financial support available to them. In the summer term, text messages are sent to inform students that application forms are available to download and complete. Comprehensive information about the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund is also available on the college website, on power point presentations that appear on screens throughout the college, and on dedicated noticeboards in the college. The 16 to 19 Bursary Fund is also promoted on Open Days, parents’ evenings and in the college prospectus

The bursary fund and free meals in further education

Institutions are only permitted to use the free meals funding allocated to them by the EFA to support students who meet the free meals criteria as set out in the Free Meals guide.

If an institution determines that it is necessary to enhance the £2.41 free meals funding rate, ie to provide a meal with a greater value, from the Bursary Fund or other sources, they have the discretion to do so.

However, if institutions choose to enhance free meals funding from the Bursary Fund, they must ensure that they do so in a way which ensures the Bursary Fund continues to provide sufficient help to students facing the range of barriers to participation (the cost of transport, books, equipment, etc). Free meals funding should not be enhanced to the detriment of these other needs.

Students who are eligible for a free meal may receive additional support from the Bursary Fund, if the institution assesses that they meet the criteria for a defined vulnerable group bursary or that they are facing significant financial barriers to participation and require additional support from their discretionary bursary allocation.

Institutions should, however, ensure that the provision of a free meal or the funding provided to the student for the free meal is considered when assessing their need for support – this point applies both to the vulnerable group bursary and discretionary bursary.

Equally, institutions may use discretionary bursary funds, as they can now, to provide meals to students who are not eligible for free meals but for whom the absence of regular meals is proving a barrier to their participation and achievement.

Student declarations

Students and/or their families should sign a declaration when they apply for either a vulnerable or discretionary bursary. Seek their confirmation that any evidence given in support of the application is correct and complete to the best of their knowledge and belief.

Students and their families should be made aware that by signing the declaration they are agreeing to all the conditions and eligibility criteria of the scheme.

Students and their families should be made aware that giving false or incomplete information which results in an overpayment will mean that you will stop any future payments, and seek repayment of anything paid so far. The matter may also be referred to the police with the possibility of the student and/or their family facing prosecution.

Recycling vulnerable bursary payments

During the 2015 to 2016 academic year institutions may accrue some unused vulnerable bursary, for example:

  • if a student leaves early after only receiving part of their bursary
  • if the full amount is not paid to a student because they did not meet the agreed conditions

Up to 30 April 2016, institutions are expected to recycle this funding and use it to offset against claims to the SBSS for other vulnerable students.

Where funds from a previous student are being recycled and institutions require less funding (or possibly no additional funding), vulnerable students should still be reported to the SBSS to ensure EFA has accurate information on the numbers of vulnerable students.

From 1 May 2016, institutions can recycle any vulnerable bursary funding claimed, but no longer required, into their discretionary bursary funding.


Any underspends from the 2014 to 2015 academic year can be rolled forward into the 2015 to 2016 academic year and used with the discretionary allocation for 2015 to 2016. Rolled forward funds must be spent before institutions use their allocated discretionary funds for the 2015 to 2016 academic year.

Any underspends rolled forward to the next academic year must only be spent on participation costs for students assessed as eligible for support from the Bursary Fund.

If an institution does have an underspend they should check that they are being proactive enough in identifying the students that are in need, or if they are giving them enough money to cover the needs that they have.

If an institution has no need for their discretionary bursary allocation they should notify EFA and its return will be arranged.

Management information and data returns

To reduce bureaucracy, we have decided to stop the annual voluntary MI collection. Data fields for the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund are included in the individualised learner record (ILR) and the school census, and we encourage all institutions to complete these fields so that there is evidence of take-up of the bursary.

Purchasing IT equipment

If IT equipment, for example, a laptop or tablet is necessary and the student cannot complete the course without it, it can be bought with bursary funds.

IT equipment should be returned once the study programme has been completed so it can be used by another student. If keeping it on campus is the best way of ensuring that this happens, then institutions have the right to set this as a condition.

Institutions need to insure IT equipment, and must consider the costs of data cleansing when returned.

Sub-contracting arrangements and institutions operating from more than one site

Where an institution operates out of more than one location across England, or through sub-contracts, the allocation will be made to the lead office for distribution to each site.

Institutions should ensure that any young people attending provision that is delivered by sub-contractors are able to apply for the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund. It is the institution’s responsibility to ensure that the scheme’s objectives are met at each site and by any sub-contractors.

Exclusions - what the bursary can’t be used for

The bursary fund should not be used by institutions for any reason that would give them a competitive advantage over other institutions, such as:

  • enrolment or administration fees imposed by the institution
  • fees for access to facilities in the institution
  • block subsidy of the canteen
  • block subsidy of transport
  • block provision of equipment, material or books
  • paying bonus payments to reward attendance or achievement

Block payments to students for attendance irrespective of their actual financial need should not be paid. The bursary fund is for supporting students who have a genuine financial difficulty that might prevent them from continuing in education, rather than acting as an incentive for attendance.

Fraud, error and audit

Misuse and fraud

The DfE takes all concerns relating to financial irregularity or impropriety seriously and will instigate an investigation where it considers that concerns have been raised in good faith and there is sufficient evidence to warrant it. Further guidance and contact details are available on this website.

It is the responsibility of the institution to investigate instances of fraud when students are applying for a bursary. Where evidence is found that misleading or fraudulent information has been knowingly submitted, by a student or parent, resulting in the student receiving a bursary that they should not have received, the institution should attempt to recover the overpayment from the student

If significant fraud is identified it should be reported to EFA. Significant fraud involves one or more of the following:

  • the amount of money is over £1,200
  • the particulars of the fraud are novel, unusual, systemic or complex
  • there is likely to be great public interest because of the nature of the fraud or the people involved

Error criteria

If the criteria below are not met during a Risk Analysis Division visit EFA will recover funds.

  • all individual students applying for a bursary (both a vulnerable student bursary and a discretionary bursary) must be assessed to determine their eligibility. Funds will be recovered if you are not able to demonstrate at audit how your students meet the eligibility criteria of the bursary fund
  • institutions must be able to demonstrate that bursary payments have not been claimed for duplicate students


16 to 19 Bursary Funds are subject to assurance as part of the normal assurance arrangements for 16 to 19 education and training. Audit guidance is available for institutions on GOV.UK. Institutions should have ways that record bursary applications and awards (including the number, value, purpose, whether awarded or not, and brief justification).

For audit purposes, institutions can either:

  • record (for example, on an eligibility checklist)
  • photocopy/scan the documentation presented to them to prove eligibility

Where documentation is recorded as having been seen, institutions need to be fully aware of the implications of the document they are approving.

Hard or scanned copies of all documentation for the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund should be kept for a period of 6 years (records can be kept electronically).

This documentation should include evidence of the application process, documents relating to how the student was assessed (including copies of any evidence presented for the purposes of determining eligibility) and the funds issued. Where institutions have undertaken to evidence a student’s agreement to their conditions for payment, for example in a written agreement, copies of this agreement should be kept.

Institutions should keep records to show what payments they have made from the bursary fund.

For vulnerable bursaries, this should include:

  • copy of the vulnerable claim form
  • evidence showing that the student is eligible. For example, letter from DWP or the local authority
  • evidence of payment received from the SBSS, for example bank statements and remittance advice
  • evidence of payments made to the student

For discretionary bursaries, this should include:

  • copies of evidence used to assess entitlement, such as, letter from DWP, or evidence of household income
  • a copy of the student’s individual assessment of actual financial need
  • receipts for purchases made, for example, bus pass, lunch receipts or book receipts

In addition, institutions should also ensure the bursary fund eligibility criteria is applied correctly to all students.

The Student Bursary Support Service

The SBSS is responsible for processing 16 to 19 Bursary Fund Vulnerable Student claims, making payments to institutions and providing advice and support through the helpline.

Submitting a funding claim for vulnerable bursaries – Eligible institutions

All EFA funded institutions in receipt of a 2015 to 2016 academic year discretionary Bursary allocation can submit a 2015 to 2016 funding claim for defined vulnerable students. Though payment may be dependent on whether an institution has signed and returned their main 2015 to 2016 academic year EFA funding contract.

Institutions delivering 16-18 Traineeships through the SFA in 2015 to 2016 may also submit a funding claim for defined vulnerable students.

Institutions not in receipt of a 2015 to 2016 academic year discretionary Bursary allocation may also submit a 2015 to 2016 funding claim for defined vulnerable students. However further checks will need to be made before any funding can be released

Processing vulnerable bursary funding claims

Eligible institutions must submit a 16 to 19 Bursary Fund vulnerable student claim through the SBSS online portal. The person completing and submitting the form will be sent a funding statement on submission of the claim, if successful.

Guidance notes on how to complete the funding claim form are built in throughout the form. Institutions must read this information fully to ensure they are completing the funding request correctly. If the institution needs further help in completing the claim, they can use the online Webchat option or contact the SBSS Team on 0300 303 8610 or at

Checks will be completed by the SBSS to verify that institutions are eligible to claim, and the claim has been completed correctly.

The SBSS will normally respond within 2 weeks and if the funding claim is successful, will issue a funding statement. This provides details of the amount to be paid.

Payments from the Student Bursary Support Service

Payments for vulnerable student bursaries claimed by the institution will only be made to the institution’s bank account as held by EFA. No other bank account or method of payment is acceptable.

Notification of a change of bank account details: any institution requesting that their bank account details be changed must complete the BAN1s form, or the BAN1a form if it is for an academy. It must be sent to

Remittance advice

Remittance advice will be sent to the institution by the SBSS for each successful funding claim.

The remittance advice provides a breakdown by student ID (as shown on the claim form) of the payments to be made. It also includes a payment reference number. This will be shown as the payment descriptor that institutions will see on their bank accounts, enabling easy tracking of payments. The remittance advice will confirm the total amount of funding to be paid.

Frequency of payments

Payments will usually be made to the institution within 2 weeks of the funding claim form being submitted through the SBSS portal. Payments are processed every Wednesday and are paid to institutions within 3 working days.

BACS rejects

If this occurs, the SBSS may need to contact an institution to check their bank account details. Payments will be delayed until the details have been verified.

Complaints or appeals about the bursary fund

If a student is unhappy with the way their request for a bursary was handled, they should follow the institution’s complaints procedure.

Bursaries are administered by institutions and local authorities. EFA does not have a role in this, and does not usually get involved with complaints and may only get involved if the allegation is that the guide is being seriously disregarded.

The escalation of complaints about the bursary should be handled in the same way as any other complaint to an institution. Institutions must have their own procedures in place, which must be exhausted before the EFA is approached.

Complaints and appeals process

All complaints or appeals must be made in writing.

Complaints and appeals fall into 2 categories which are:

  • if the complaint or appeal concerns operational processes or customer service for a vulnerable bursary funding claim, the SBSS will deal with the case in the first instance according to their own operational complaints and appeals procedure. If the case is not resolved following this, it will be passed to EFA
  • if the complaint or appeal concerns 16 to 19 Bursary Fund policy, it must be referred to the EFA

If you are an academy please contact

ESFA enquiries

For all enquiries for the Education and Skills Funding Agency

Other institutions should contact

16 to 19 Bursary Fund

How to ask a question about the Bursary Fund

If you have a question that is not answered by this guide, there are a number of ways that you can contact people who will be able to help.

If you are enquiring from or regarding an academy

ESFA enquiries

For all enquiries for the Education and Skills Funding Agency

For other institutions:

16 to 19 Bursary Fund

Institutions can also contact the SBSS provider helpline on 0300 303 8610 for questions about funding claims for vulnerable student payments

Published 29 May 2015