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Student Finance

Hardship funds: emergency cash at university

If you're facing unexpected financial troubles, your university's hardship fund may be able to help.

young woman sat using laptop next to money

Credit: NDAB Creativity – Shutterstock

Sometimes known as 'Access to Learning Funds', hardship funds are emergency supplies of cash that universities give to students in financial difficulty.

This money can be a valuable lifeline in the toughest times, but you shouldn't bank on receiving it.

Unis are pretty strict when it comes to who is eligible and how much you can receive. So, it's crucial to get clued up before applying. Read on to discover if you're eligible for a hardship fund and how to apply.

Who can apply for hardship funds?

person holding a pound coin putting into a wallet

Credit: Yulia Grigoryeva – Shutterstock

Universities reserve hardship funds for students who are in the worst financial situations. More often than not, this difficulty needs to have been unexpected and arisen through no fault of your own.

For example, if you're in debt because you're renting a flat that was clearly more expensive than you could afford, you probably wouldn't be eligible for a hardship fund. Your uni will likely argue that you should have realised you'd be unable to keep up with the cost of rent.

You'll also need to prove you haven't been careless with your money. If you bought a PS5 and a new TV when it was obvious you'd struggle for money, this will harm your chances of getting emergency help.

On the other hand, if you're in debt because you were suddenly made redundant, you have a stronger chance of receiving hardship funding. In this situation, you'd made plans to cover your costs, but an unexpected event that wasn't your fault changed everything. That's what hardship funds are there to help with.

There are plenty of other valid reasons which may entitle you to support from a hardship fund. An emergency could force you out of your home. Or the loss of a parent may mean you lose financial contributions you were relying on. As long as you're blameless and experiencing genuine difficulty, you have a chance of receiving help.

Each uni has its own criteria for deciding who's eligible. But, as a general overview, here are some common rules regarding who can receive money from a hardship fund:

  • You must be an undergraduate student. Your uni may provide assistance to postgraduate students as well, but this is generally as part of a separate fund.
  • Your household income must fall below a certain amount. This threshold will vary by uni, and some may not have one at all. If yours does, there may be a separate fund available for students whose household income exceeds the threshold.
  • You must hold home fee status – in other words, you're not considered an international student. If you are an international student, your uni may have a separate hardship fund for you to apply to. However, you'll still need to prove that you were financially prepared before coming to the UK (similar to when you apply for a Student visa).
  • You must have applied for the maximum Maintenance Loan available to you. You'll often need to have applied for all the student bursaries you're eligible for too.
  • You must be unable to cover essential living costs, like food and rent.
  • The cause of your financial difficulty must be short-term and fixable with a one-off payment.

As well as offering separate hardship funds for students who don't fit the core criteria, some unis will split their support by cause.

There may be individual hardship funds for issues like childcare costs, housing and immigration. If so, there will probably be even more specific criteria that you'll need to meet.

How much money can you get from a hardship fund?

There's no set amount that you can receive from a hardship fund. Some unis have minimum and maximum amounts they're prepared to give, but there really is no way to say how much you'll get – it could be anything from £100 to a few thousand pounds.

The amount you receive will also depend on what's causing your hardship. For instance, if your problem can be solved by a one-off payment of £500, your uni is unlikely to give you more.

You should also be aware that your uni will need time (usually a week or so) to assess your application. This means you're very unlikely to receive the money you want on the day.

But if your case is extremely urgent, some unis may offer to pay you a small amount upfront. This is typically less than £100, but hopefully enough to provide some short-term relief.

It really is worth stressing: the amount you'll receive from a hardship fund can and will vary massively. You could receive nothing at all, which makes it all the more important not to factor it into your budget.

What's more, while some unis gift the money, others require you to repay it. If you're unsure what your uni's policy is, make sure to ask before accepting any hardship fund cash.

Hardship funding during the cost of living crisis

The cost of living crisis has put even more pressure on students' finances, and the shortfall between Maintenance Loans and living costs is growing.

Thankfully, many universities have substantially increased their hardship funds – often doubling or tripling the total pot.

This doesn't necessarily mean there's more on offer for each individual student. But it should hopefully mean that more students are able to access the funding.

And if it's gas and electricity bills in particular that are causing you trouble, make sure you're getting all the energy bill support that's available to you.

How to apply for a hardship fund

two women talking

To apply for a hardship fund, you'll need to go direct to your uni.

Details of the fund and the application process should be available on your university's website. But if you're struggling to source the info, Google your uni's name and "hardship fund", or contact your students' union.

While each uni has its own process, there are some things you should expect. As we mentioned earlier, you may have to show copies of your bank statements to prove you've been sensible with your money. If there are any large outgoings, you'll probably have to explain what they're for.

And if it's not obvious from your student bank account statements, you may also need to provide proof of regular outgoings like rent and bills. Again, this helps prove to your uni that your sudden financial troubles are not your fault.

You should also be prepared to supply evidence of the cause of your hardship. For example, if you've been made redundant, you may need to provide written proof of this from your former employer.

What to do if your hardship fund application is rejected

If your hardship fund application is rejected, some unis allow you to appeal the decision.

It's up to you if you'd like to do this. If you don't, or they reject your appeal, there are some alternative sources of cash that are worth exploring:

  1. Student bursaries and grants Before you apply for hardship funding, most unis will require you to have explored bursaries, grants and scholarships. But if you haven't, spend some time searching for extra funding that doesn't need to be repaid. None of it needs to be repaid and, as our guide to weird bursaries proves, you could be eligible for all kinds of unusual reasons.
  2. Disabled Students' Allowances (DSA) In case you weren't aware, DSA isn't just for students with physical disabilities. If you have a sensory impairment, mental health condition, learning difficulty or any medical condition affecting your ability to study, you could be eligible for this non-repayable support.
  3. Student bank account overdraft – If you have a student bank account, you'll likely have a 0% overdraft. This is one of the safest forms of borrowing, so if you're near to your limit, it's worth contacting your bank to see if they'll extend your allowance. Check out our guide to student overdrafts for more info.
  4. Get free money Although it's not a sustainable long-term source of income, there are a few ways to make free money requiring little or no effort. This includes bonuses for switching bank or utility provider, as well as making the most of referral codes.
  5. Make money fast From paid survey sites to selling photos online, we cover a whole host of options in our guide to quick money-makers.
We understand this list isn't a guaranteed, quick fix for your problems. If you're struggling with debt, StepChange, National Debtline and Debt Advice Foundation all offer free financial advice.

Your uni will want to see that you're able to manage your money. Get ahead of the game with our guide to budgeting at university.

Tom Allingham

WRITTEN BY Tom Allingham

Tom joined Save the Student in 2017, initially heading up the editorial team before becoming Communications Director. He has appeared as a Student Finance expert on a range of TV and radio stations including the BBC, ITV and Sky, sharing his top tips for saving money and cutting student bills.
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