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Help with further education

If you’re thinking about going back into education or training – doing your GCSEs, A-levels or NVQs, for example – you may be wondering how to afford it. This page explains the main types of financial help for single parents in further education, including how this can affect benefits and tax credits.

What is further education?
Who can study for free?
Financial help
Claiming benefits while studying

Note: The advice here is for people with UK citizenship or residency who qualify for home tuition fees. If you’re from another country, see the UK Council for International Affairs for information.

What is further education?

This is anything you study after you’re 16, but not at university. In other words, courses after
secondary school that aren’t a degree or other type of higher education. It includes:

  • Literacy, numeracy and basic computer courses
  • GCSEs
  • GNVQs (General National Vocational Qualifications)
  • NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications)
  • A-levels

It covers courses taken at sixth form, further education or community colleges. Further education qualifications are grouped into 3 levels:

Level 1 – things like GSCEs and level 1 certificates and diplomas that give you good basic knowledge or skills

Level 2 – qualifications like GCSEs grades 4 to 9 and level 2 certificates and diplomas that give you a good knowledge and understanding of a subject

Level 3 – things like A- and AS-levels, advanced apprenticeships, and level 3 certificates and diplomas that help you specialise in a particular area

Anything above level 3 is considered higher education (see all the qualification levels). If you’re looking for a course, the National Careers Service is a good place to start.

Who can study for free?

If you’re looking for specific training for a job, you might be able to do a course for free. The National Careers Service has a list of free courses that you can search by location or keyword.

Here are a few other groups of people who can study for free.

If you’re under 19

As long as you’re under 19 on the last day of August before you enrol on your course, you won’t have to pay fees.

If you’re between 19 and 23

You shouldn’t have to pay fees if you want to get a level 2 or 3 qualification and don’t already have one.

If you’re 19 or older, you may also be able to take a free level 3 course through Free Courses for Jobs. You’ll be able to get a course paid for if it gives you the skills you need to get a job, as long as:

  • You don’t already have a level 3 qualification


  • You already have a level 3 or higher qualification, but are unemployed or earn less than the National Living Wage (£22,308 a year from April 2024)
If you’re on benefits

If you’re unemployed and on Jobseeker’s Allowance, in an Employment and Support Allowance work-related activity group or need to do training to claim Universal Credit, you can get free training to prepare you for work. Talk to your work coach about what training you can do.

Financial help

If you’re not eligible to study for free, there are loans, grants and other types of financial support you can get.

Funding from your college

You may still get some funding from your college, even if you can’t study for free. Some colleges help students claiming benefits like Universal Credit or tax credits with their fees. Not all colleges do this, so ask the place where you’d like to study what they offer.

Advanced Learner Loan (England only)

If you’re 19 or older and doing an approved level 3 course, you may be able to get an Advanced Learner Loan to cover your course fees. It doesn’t matter how much you earn. 

How much you get depends on the type of course you’re doing, your course fees and the maximum loan amount set by the government. The minimum loan you can get is £300. Loans are paid directly to your college.

You can apply for more than 1 loan at a time if you’re taking courses of the same level. For example, if you’re taking 3 A-levels, you can take out 3 loans to cover them all.

Start by checking with your college that your course is eligible. If it is, ask them for a Learning and funding information letter – you’ll need this for your application. You can then apply online.

You will have to pay back this loan, but not until you earn more than £27,295 a year. There are special rules if you do an access course and go on to get a higher education qualification (usually a degree). In this instance, you won’t have to repay the loan.

If you’re getting an Advanced Learner Loan, you can also apply to your college for money from the Loan Bursary Fund. The fund can help pay for:

  • Accommodation and travel
  • Course materials and equipment
  • Childcare
  • Classroom assistance if you have a disability or learning difficulty

There are also specific types of support available to different age groups.

If you’re between 16 and 19

16-19 Bursary

In England, you can get a bursary of £1,200 a year if you’re:

  • In care or a care leaver
  • Claiming Income Support, or Universal Credit if you’re financially supporting yourself (or supporting yourself and your child)
  • Claiming Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment and either Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance 

Even if this doesn’t apply to you, some schools, colleges and training providers give additional bursaries to students with financial barriers to staying in education. They might, for example, give you a bursary to pay for travel, food or equipment.

Getting the 16-19 bursary won’t affect your benefits.

Care to Learn

If you’re studying in England and are under 20, you can get help with childcare costs while you’re studying. You can claim up to £180 for each child a week, or £195 if you live in London. This shouldn’t affect the amount of benefits or tax credits you get.

Find out more about Care to Learn and apply.

If you’re working, you may also be able to claim the childcare element of Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit for any childcare not covered by Care to Learn. See our page on childcare for more.

Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA)

16 to 18-years-olds studying in Wales can get £40 a week to help with the costs of further education. Your eligibility will depend on your household income.

If you get an EMA, it won’t affect your household’s benefits. Find out more from Student Finance Wales.

If you’re 19 or older

Learner Support (England) and Financial Contingency Fund (Wales)

These help with the costs of studying and living, including childcare. Your college decides whether you qualify and how much you’ll get.

The decision is based on your income and circumstances. Single parents on a low income are usually treated as a priority. Your college should be able to give you more information. Or you can read more about Learner Support and Financial Contingency Funds online.

Welsh Government Learning Grant

In Wales, if you’re 19 or older you could get up to £1500 a year if you’re studying full-time or up to £750 a year part-time. Your household income must be £18,370 or less to qualify. Student Finance Wales has more detail.

Claiming benefits while studying

It’s usually possible to study for further education qualifications and continue to get most benefits.

Universal Credit (UC)

As a single parent, you can still get Universal Credit if you’re studying full-time. But some types of student finance might mean you get reduced Universal Credit payments. 

Regardless of whether you’re studying full-time or part-time, you’ll most likely still be expected to meet your work-related requirements for Universal Credit.

You can read more about Universal Credit and students on gov.uk. And you can call our helpline for a benefits check before you start your course.

Jobseeker’s Allowance

As a single parent, if you’re a full-time student you can only get Jobseeker’s Allowance during the summer holidays. You have to be available for and looking for work.

You might be able to study part-time and still claim Jobseeker’s Allowance. You will have to be looking for and available for work. And you have to show that your course doesn’t affect the hours you said you’re available for work. You might have to be willing to give up your course if a job becomes available. 

Some forms of student finance might reduce your Jobseeker’s Allowance payments. If you’re worried, you can get a benefit check from our helpline advisers before you start your course.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

There are 2 types of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Contribution-based (or new style) ESA shouldn’t be affected if you become a student. Although it might be if you’re between 16 and 19 – call our helpline for info.

If you’re on income-related ESA and are studying full time, you can only keep claiming this if you also get Personal Independence Payment or Disability Living Allowance. If you’re studying part-time, you can continue to get income-related ESA. 

Some types of student finance could reduce your ESA payments. If you’re worried, you can get a benefit check from our helpline advisers before you start your course.

Council Tax

Full-time students don’t usually have to pay council tax. Whether you’re exempt will depend on your age and course:

  • If you’re 18 or 19, the course must be at least 12 hours a week and last at least 3 months
  • If you’re 20 or older, the course must be at least 21 hours a week and last at least 1 academic year

Tell your local council that you’re a student to get the exemption.

If you’re a part-time student and claiming benefits or on a low income, you can apply to your council’s Council Tax Reduction scheme

Carer’s Allowance

You can only claim Carer’s Allowance if you’re studying part-time for less than 21 hours a week. This includes individual study time as well as classes and lectures. Contact Carer’s UK or Contact (a charity supporting families with disabled children) for advice.

Tax credits

Apart from the Adult Dependents’ Grant, student finance isn’t taken into account when calculating tax credits. Unless you have other income, you should get the maximum amount of Child Tax Credit. If you study and work, you have to work 16 hours a week or more to keep getting Working Tax Credit. If you get the childcare element of Working Tax Credit, you can get a childcare grant as well.

Income Support

You can get Income Support while you’re studying, but some types of student finance could reduce your Income Support payments. If you’re worried, you can get a benefit check from our helpline advisers before you start your course.

Housing Benefit

As a single parent, you can keep getting Housing Benefit while you study. But some types of student finance could reduce your Housing benefit payments. If you’re worried, you can get a benefit check from our helpline advisers before you start your course.

Date last updated: 24 April 2024

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