Fees and Finance 

Passed at National Conference 2021

The Problem 

Universal Credit was introduced in NI as part of the UK-wide welfare reform strategy, adopted in NI under the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Act 2015. It was introduced in NI on a phased geographical basis on 27 September 2017 until December 2018 (first introduced in Jobs and Benefits Centres in Ballymoney and Limavady). Its purpose was to replace multiple claims for six state benefits with a single claim form for those aged over 18 and under State Pension age. Applicants apply through an online system who then receive access to the online management system and are expected to maintain information regarding their individual claim using this. The continued use of Universal Credit by the Department for Communities is detrimental to students with additional needs and/or caring responsibilities.

Current rules for students who meet the eligibility criteria dictate that although grants made by Student Finance NI are not considered as income, Maintenance Loan payments are. Therefore, their benefit entitlement is likely to be reduced pound-for-pound after an initial disregarded amount. The impact of this is that many students who may already experience barriers to higher education may also experience a higher rate of poverty compared to other students. Due to the circumstances of the individual, they may not be able to supplement their income through paid employment or additional support.

Proposed Solutions

NUS-USI could call on the Northern Ireland Executive to review the eligibility of students who receive maintenance grants for Universal Credit andthe President could lobby the Department for Communities to ensure better access to benefits and support for students, particularly those with caring responsibilities. NUS-USI could  undertake research to determine the effects of Universal Credit, its eligibility criteria and the impacts of a reduction in income due to the income threshold on students in the FE and HE sector.


Student Support Funds and Student Hardship Funds

Passed at National Conference 2021

The problem

During the pandemic, students have struggled financially due to unemployment, loss of income, limited access to benefits, rent and accommodation, paying for internet access, technology and supporting their households. Students have been driven to Student Hardship Funds and Student Support Funds for one-off payments to help them get through the pandemic.  However, these funds have lengthy, complex and demanding application processes and can be a barrier to students accessing the funds they need.

Proposed Solutions

NUS-USI and its MOs could work to make the SSF and SHF more accessible across higher and further education by calling for additional support staff to Finance Offices, to eradicate means tested processes and to make processes less invasive of a students' private expenses.