Financial support for students not supported by their family (estranged)

Relevant to

A key factor when making the decision to move into higher education is finance – for estranged learners, this can be a particular challenge. Knowing what is available and how to apply for it will help prevent delays and give you time to collect the required documents.

The charity StandAlone has created a detailed guide to financial support for estranged students.


Care leavers

If you have been in local authority care for at least three months covering your 16th birthday, you will be considered a ‘care leaver’ rather than ‘estranged'. Support is still available for you, but the way you access it may be slightly different.

More information for care leavers


Student finance

All applicants can apply for loans to cover tuition fees where applicable (paid directly to the university), and maintenance costs (paid directly into your bank account).

Find out what financial support you're eligible for

How and when to apply for student finance


Applying with independent status

Students aged under 25 at the start of the academic year are usually considered ‘dependent’ and are expected to declare their parents’ income. If these details are not provided, only the minimum level of financial support will be awarded – in some cases, this will only cover tuition fees. However, estranged students can apply as ‘independent students’ so their finance is calculated solely on their own income rather than their parents’ income – this allows them access to full financial support.

You will be considered independent for student finance if you meet any of the following criteria, as set by the Student Loans Company:

  • You have not communicated with either of your biological or adoptive parents for 12 months (this is flexible) before your course begins and the situation is irreconcilable.
  • You can show you have been financially independent for three or more years through employment or benefits (consecutively or non-consecutively) before your course begins.
  • Your parents cannot be traced or it is not possible, practical, or safe to make contact with them.
  • Your parents have significant mental or physical health problems which prevent you from contacting them.
  • Both of your biological or adoptive parents are deceased.
  • You are aged 25 or over when your course begins.
  • You are (or have been) married or in a civil partnership.
  • You have a child or dependent aged under 18 when your course begins.
  • You have been in local authority care for at least three months spanning your 16th birthday, and are irreconcilably estranged from your parents. In this instance, you would be considered a ‘care leaver’ – the support is still available, but the way you access it may be slightly different. Take a look at our advice for care leavers for more information.

For full information about applying as an independent student, see the full student finance guidelines for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.


Providing evidence of your circumstances

Student finance providers consider applications from independent students on a case-by-case basis. You will usually need to provide a statement from a trusted third party confirming your circumstances, although it is advisable to submit as many statements as you can. Occasionally, you may be asked to provide further evidence.

If providing evidence proves difficult, the Student Loans Company can arrange for a telephone interview which will help them make an assessment. You can also email StandAlone at estranged@slc.co.uk for assistance.

Supporting evidence can include:

  • a letter from a member of staff at your school or college
  • a letter from your doctor if you have consulted one because of related problems
  • a letter from your social worker, local authority, housing support worker, or religious leader if they have helped with, or been made aware of, your circumstances
  • a letter from a counsellor or charitable organisation
  • a letter from your JobCentre Plus office outlining any benefits you have claimed (e.g. income support)
  • a statement from the police showing any related incidents
  • a forced marriage or FGM (female genital mutilation) order
  • a court order

StandAlone provide detailed guidance about supporting evidence. Remember to keep copies of all documentation you send.

You do not have to directly disclose the details leading to your estrangement, although this can be helpful. Furthermore, you will not be expected to provide statements or evidence that might endanger your emotional wellbeing or compromise your personal safety.

You can also contact your chosen university or college directly for help with your student finance application, even if your offer has not been confirmed.


Reapplying for student finance after your first year

If you started your course after September 2016, you will not have to provide further evidence if you confirm your situation is unchanged. However, if you were unable to provide supporting evidence for your first year, you may be contacted by the Student Loans Company for updated evidence for courses starting after September 2017. If providing sufficient evidence remains difficult, you may need another telephone review to confirm your situation hasn’t changed.


Additional funding

You may be eligible for bursaries, grants, or scholarships to help with the costs of being a student. Here are a few examples of organisations that help young people in need to continue their studies

Unite Foundation scholarships

The Unite Foundation Scholarship scheme helps estranged students access higher education by providing free accommodation for the duration of your course, and an annual allowance. Unite can also help you find work placements and mentors. You will need to make an application through student services.

To find out which universities offer this scholarship, visit the visit the Unite Foundation website. You can also watch a video about the Unite Foundation Scholarships.

Buttle UK grants

If you are under 21 and a UK resident, you may apply for a grant to help towards:

  • equipment for your studies, including computers
  • interview clothes
  • travel costs
  • accommodation (including furnishings)
  • emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing (e.g. counselling, sports or gym membership)

To apply, your university or college needs to refer you – student services can help with this. If you have already provided evidence of your situation for student finance, you will not have to provide anything else. More information can be found on the Buttle UK website.

The Helena Kennedy Foundation bursary scheme

If you are currently studying at an FE college or publicly-funded sixth form, you may be eligible to apply for an award of up to £1,500 towards the cost of continuing your education in the UK. The award also comprises support through free skills training sessions, work shadowing opportunities and placements, volunteering opportunities, and a named contact in the organisation who can provide advice and guidance throughout your studies.

For full details about the award, visit the Helena Kennedy Foundation website.

Local organisations

Young people aged 16+ in full time education may be able to apply for a grant from a local organisation. There are too many to list here, but you can search for different organisations on the charity Turn2us' website.

University hardship funds

Most universities have hardship funds available to students experiencing financial difficulties, for example covering the cost of accommodation over the holidays. Individual providers decide who is eligible, how much you will receive, and whether it is repayable. Some universities and colleges prioritise applications from estranged students. Contact student services at your chosen university for more information, or speak to the students' union.

Find out more about additional funding