In a recent news item, we alerted you to England’s COVID-19 fee status and student finance arrangements (6 August 2020), in which Student Finance England had outlined 2020/21 provisions specifically for students impacted by COVID-19 and needing to satisfy ordinary residence requirements at the start of the academic year. We now understand that Wales and Scotland have outlined similar provisions, for students looking to be assessed under their respective fee status assessment and student funding systems.
Student Finance Wales has published COVID-19: Guidance for new and continuing students. It provides a series of FAQs and the most relevant for students regarding ordinary residence is as follows:
Question: "I’m due to start a course in the UK in September 2020, but I’m unable to be in the UK at the start of the academic year. Will I still be eligible for student finance and be paid in the first term?"
Answer: "Yes, you will simply be considered as ‘temporarily absent’ from the UK. You’ll be deemed eligible for student finance so long as you meet all other eligibility criteria."
We have told the Welsh Government that we think it would be helpful if they could include extra words equivalent to those that have been included in England’s guidance, to reassure that this provision includes students who have never yet resided in Wales or the UK. This is so that it is clear that the Welsh Government intends to provide for both continuing and new students. We have also urged them to make it clear that these assurances are for fees assessors in institutions to use for fees assessments, as well as for student finance assessors at Student Finance Wales to use for student finance decisions. A representative of the Welsh Government has told us that they will be issuing a more detailed Information Notice on the topic soon.
If you work in an institution in Wales, you will hopefully receive that Information Notice shortly. If you are a student, and you are worried about how your ordinary residence is going to be assessed because of an absence related to COVID-19, you should speak to your institution or Student Finance Wales.
The Scottish Government has published its own equivalent guidance on the website of Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) - Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). It states the following, under 'Funding':
Question: "Due to lockdown restrictions, I have been unable to take up residence in Scotland by the 1 August 2020, will this impact my eligibility for funding?"
Answer: "If you have been required to reside elsewhere as a result of the current restrictions on movement, or if you have had a short period of absence at the start of your course then this will not impact on your eligibility on residency grounds. SAAS will continue to assess residency under the Scottish regulations, taking into account individual circumstances and the current exceptional conditions that everyone has been
made subject to."
Separate to this, a representative of the Scottish Government has also advised us of the following:
"EU nationals undertaking a course in Scotland/Ordinary Residence
"If a person has been required to reside elsewhere as a result of the current restrictions on their movement, or if there has been a short period of absence at the start of the course, we will consider that this does not change their ordinary residence assessment. We will
continue to assess ordinary residence under the Scottish regulations, taking into account individual circumstances and the current exceptional conditions
that have been imposed on everyone.
"The Scottish Government policy on distance learning courses and student support will continue to apply. Designated courses
will not be considered to be distance learning courses where students are ordinarily required to attend, but have been required to temporarily study
remotely as a result of the current restrictions. Eligibility for home fee status and student support will continue to be assessed on the basis that the
student will at some point take up a place on a campus based course."
We understand all of the provisions here apply to the assessment of both fee status and student finance entitlement. If you are a student, and you are worried about how your ordinary residence is going to be assessed because of an absence related
to COVID-19, you should speak to your institution or SAAS.