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

A key factor when making the decision to move into higher education is finance – for estranged students, this can be a particular challenge.

Knowing what's available and how to apply for it will help prevent delays and give you time to collect the documents you'll need.


Loren's story | Stand Alone

Loren, who is studying at Keele University, speaks about student finance, bursaries, and grants that are helping her with her studies.

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).

Applying with independent status

Students aged under 25 at the start of the academic year are usually considered ‘dependent’ and expected to declare their parents’ income to means test their finance application. If these details are not provided (e.g. for students who are estranged from their parents), only the minimum level of financial support will be awarded.

But, estranged students can apply as ‘independent students’ so their finance is calculated solely on their own income rather than their parents’ – so they can access 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 might be slightly different. Take a look at our advice for care leavers.

Care leavers

If you've been in local authority care, you will be considered a ‘care leaver’ rather than ‘estranged'. You can still get support, but the way you access it might be slightly different.

More information for care leavers

Providing evidence of estrangement

You might be able to apply for student finance as an estranged student if you’ve had no contact with both your parents for over a year. This means no written or verbal contact with either parent and this is unlikely to change. But, if you’ve had contact with either parent in the last 12 months, your application will still be considered.

You cannot apply as estranged just because:

  • your parents don’t financially support you
  • you don’t get on with your parents
  • you don’t live with your parents

To apply as an estranged student you need to provide some evidence. The easiest way to do this is to fill in the ‘Confirmation of Estrangement Form’. You can get this form on your student finance account once you’ve submitted your application.

Otherwise, you can send a:

  • letter from your social worker
  • letter from a doctor that knows your situation
  • police report showing any related incidents
  • letter from a teacher who knows your situation
  • letter from a ‘person of good standing in the community’ (for example a solicitor, religious leader or counsellor)

You don’t have to disclose the full details of your estrangement, but this could speed up your application.

If you don’t know anyone who's aware of your family situation, you can contact the student services/wellbeing adviser at your college or uni (details will be on their website). They will be able to help you with your application. 

Remember to keep copies of all documentation you send.

Reapplying for student finance after your first year

If you started your course after September 2016, you may not have to provide further evidence if you confirm your situation has not changed. However, if you are recently estranged or were unable to provide supporting evidence for your previous academic year you will be asked for updated evidence. If providing sufficient evidence is difficult, a telephone review may be required to confirm your situation.

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 scheme helps estranged students access higher education by providing free accommodation for up to three years of your course. Unite can sometimes also help you find work placements and mentors. You'll need to complete the application, but your university's student services team have to submit it.

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

Buttle UK grants: If you're 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're 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 includes 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.

Turn2us: Turn2us is a charity that helps people in financial need to access welfare benefits, charitable grants, and other support services.

Local organisations: Young people aged 16+ in full-time education might 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 for students experiencing financial difficulties, e.g. 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