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Disabled Student Allowance

Disabled Students' Allowances are there to help with the extra costs incurred by having a disability. We hear from Sam Hoskin, who has had to fight for his funding.

We hear from a student who has had to appeal twice against his Disabled Student Allowance settlement from the Student Loans Company.
The award is supposed to help students with a disability pay for human help and equipment, but Sam Hoskin says his experience has shown that unless they are prepared to argue with your award - blind students could be missing out.
The system changed in 2014 to place more emphasis on what universities should be required to provide under equality legislation.
Studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Jesus College Oxford, Sam argues that universities with less financial power are unable to provide a safety net if students don't appeal against assessments they feel are wrong.
Sam argued that because his course required so many diagrams, he was entitled to a human helper to make those diagrams tactile. His assessment however offered no hours of support. His two successful appeals saw that number rise to 250 hours across the year.
Sam argues it's a process which could put prospective blind students off.
We also hear from the RNIB's Helen Lee, on the new report from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eye Health which suggests patients are losing sight because of poor provision of eye care.
Presented by Peter White
Produced by Kevin Core.

Available now

20 minutes

Last on

Tue 12 Jun 2018 20:40

In Touch Transcript: 12-06-2018

THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT.  BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

 

TX:  12.06.2018  2040-2100

 

PRESENTER:          PETER WHITE

PRODUCER:            KEVIN CORE

 

 

White

Good evening.  Tonight, the cancelled hospital appointments it’s claimed are costing people their eyesight.  And to click or not to click – some of your reactions to last week’s report on echolocation.

 

But first, ever since the 1970s it’s been accepted that visually impaired students should be entitled to government help to meet the added costs of higher education caused by their disability.  The Disabled Student(s) Allowance is intended to cover a range of things, including up to five and a half thousand pounds for equipment and up to £22,000 a year for what’s described as non-medical assistance – this could be someone to help you with aspects of work on your course or with sighted guiding.  But back in 2014 the coalition government introduced some changes to the Disabled Student Allowance aimed at spreading the cost and particularly getting universities to contribute more.  The then universities minister, David Willetts, told me why he was making these changes.

 

Willetts

Some of the examples of what the DSA was paying for at the moment, in terms of helping with notetaking or programmes that involved a lot of diagrams, I did think actually were what universities that were disability aware, under their Equalities Act duties, should be doing to help disabled students anywhere.  And it’s probably more efficient done that way.

 

White

Well perception is important – visually impaired students might perceive that it’s going to be harder to get funding and that they’ll be put off applying and that has a potential future impact on employment, which I know is what you want to do – get disabled people into work.

 

Willetts

That would be terrible if that happened but look we only expecting universities to do what the equality duty provides for it in other parts of life.  So, this shouldn’t come as a surprise for someone who has any disability, they’ll be very conscious of what it is that we expect people running transport systems to do or schools to do, as against the extra help they need, we’re applying the same approach to universities.

 

White

David Willetts.

 

Well at the time fears were expressed that the change could lead to delays and confusion, as disability assessors, the student loan company and universities thrashed it out over who should pay for what.  And students are telling us that this is happening. 

 

Sam Hoskin is studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University.  In his email to us he explained how he felt that toing and froing between the Oxford Assessment Centre and the Student Loans Company, who approve his grant, had led to unacceptable delays.  He was also concerned that less forceful students than himself might lose out.  He began by explaining what he needed his Disability Student Allowance for.

 

Hoskin

A large part of my course is economics, which obviously involves a large amount of maths and diagrams and I needed those diagrams and that maths to be converted into braille and tactile format.  So, roughly that would be 10 hours a week of support.  Anyone that’s had to spend time producing tactile diagrams and lengthy equations in braille will know it takes time.  I was hoping for 250 hours or so and initially Student Finance gave me no hours at all.

 

White

So, how long did this battle go on, for you to try to get what you thought you were entitled to?

 

Hoskin

The initial letter to Student Finance from my needs assessor with the recommendations went off towards the end of June, the final 250 hours was agreed basically in the middle of September.  So, just a couple of weeks before I started my course.

 

White

And how many times did you appeal because you obviously appealed against what was going on?

 

Hoskin

Yeah, so the first funding they agreed, I then appealed, they then replied and said okay, we’ll give you the equipment and we’ll give you a 100 hours of support, which was still only three or four hours a week of support.  So, I then appealed again and they eventually agreed the 250 hours.

 

White

Now what’s complicated about this of course is you got an assessment initially and then this goes to Student Finance, so you’ve got at least two elements involved.  What do you think was the problem here?

 

Hoskin

Well I think there are two problems.  I think the first problem is that Student Finance are working to budgets, they’re working to caps, so they will try and give you the bare minimum they believe that you actually need to be able to complete the course.  And I think the second issue was the university are responsible for some of my support, they tried to shift the responsibility of Student Finance on to the responsibility of my university.

 

White

What was the feedback like in actually trying to get information while all this was going on?

 

Hoskin

The main problem is that they were very slow to reply to anything.  So, I could sort of phone them and ask them what was going on and they’d just say – oh your application’s pending, we’ll reply within 15 working days – or whatever they said.

 

White

How concerned are you about what – the way in which the needs of someone who’s visually impaired are actually looked at?

 

Hoskin

I think the predominant issue is that they’re trying to save money, so they will say to you – oh well you’re used to using this computer, which might be quite expensive, but they’re normally expensive in the blind world because they’re better and they’ll try and persuade you to use a cheaper form of technology which might not actually be as good.  So, they seem more interested in cutting money than what a blind person actually needs.

 

White

Oxford is a reasonably well-off establishment, which can offer you additional help, but what have been the experiences of friends of yours who’ve applied for the allowance from other universities?

 

Hoskin

I have friends that are having problems that applied from less wealthy universities.  So, a friend of mine, very little sight like me, he was let down by his support from Student Finance and unlike me he wasn’t able to rely on the university to pick up the slack because his university simply didn’t have the money to make up Student Finance’s failings.

 

White

So, what is your own situation now – have you got what you needed?

 

Hoskin

I have eventually, due to basically grit and constantly appealing to Student Finance but I think the problem is a lot of blind people might not necessarily question it and they might just sort of take what they’re given and struggle.  Because I think you have a lot of faith in Student Finance, they’re a sub-set of the government, you presume that what they’re doing is – it’s going to be adequate.

 

White

Paddy Turner is Chair of the National Association of Disability Practitioners, which represents university staff working directly with disabled students.  Paddy, what’s been the effect, do you think, of the changes to the Disabled Student Allowance?

 

Turner

Well firstly, can I just say how articulate and accurate Sam’s description of the whole process really was.  The problem is, as Sam describes, you effectively do still have a boundary, a boundary that is arguable over who is responsible and that’s where sometimes we get into the problems.  So, there is a clear articulation from the assessor or the assessment centre as to what the student needs but it’s interpreted by Student Finance in a different way.  And quite often we do find that interpretation is, as Sam describes, peculiar to say the least and contradictory between two elements of the same report.

 

White

So, just to clarify part of the detail here, who are the people who are assessing needs in cases like Sam’s?

 

Turner

Well there is a whole range of needs assessment centres who are quality assured by an independent group called the DSA Quality Assurance Group or DSA QAG and they register assessment centres and carry out audits of their quality on an annual basis.  And that is what the assessment centre needs to continue functioning.  The people that carry out the assessments work within the assessment centre and so it’s the responsibility of the assessment centre to make sure that those assessors are competent to do that job.  But what I would say is that our advice to students would be to treat buying their needs assessment with the same kind of care that they might treat buying a computer – have a real think about it, check with the assessment centre who’s likely to be assessing them and what the qualifications they have for that assessment.

 

White

So, what do you think needs to happen at this point to try and get over these apparently very large differences in the way in which people’s cases are handled?

 

Turner

Well I would certainly recommend that we get into some more discussions about how the universities can be brought back in.  It’s a very – it’s very difficult for me to explain quite how complicated the interrelation between the market that they’ve designed, which means that the rules around competitive marketing of businesses, and the legal responsibilities.  But either stop the process of providing the Disabled Student(s) Allowance direct to the student and fund the universities so that the support can happen much more quickly.  So, for example, one university or several universities have now effectively withdrawn from the DSA and said any student who comes here you don’t need to go to the Disabled Student(s) Allowance(s) because we will provide everything you need.  And those students are getting their support turnaround in a matter of days, as opposed to many, many months and the student doesn’t have…

 

White

So, how can they afford to do that if others can’t?

 

Turner

Well why are some universities more wealthy than others?  And you know that very well, we’re talking about Oxford here but clearly there are many universities that have much greater pots of money than others.  In that respect there will be a postcode lottery effect, which is why I say instead, perhaps – I mean it needs very careful monitoring and working through but instead of the student – the money going direct to the student it’s allocated to the university.

 

White

I’m going to ask you both this final question.  Paddy first.  We’re in June now, what advice would you give to visually impaired students who are due to start their courses in the autumn?

 

Turner

Get going as quickly as possible, speak to the university, make sure that they get hold of the assessment centre as soon as they can and ask appropriate questions of the assessment centre to ensure they’re getting the right kind of support from that centre from people who really know what they’re talking about.  But make sure that they inform the university and make sure the university is supporting them every step of the way.

 

White

Sam Hoskin, you’ve been through the whole process yourself, what have you learnt and what would you pass on to students trying to do it this year?

 

Hoskin

The main thing I’ve learnt is that only I know what I need, only I have a true interest in securing the support I need and for those people out there currently applying, going through the DSA process, basically keep appealing, keep fighting until you have every piece of equipment and every hour of support that you need.

 

White

Student Sam Hoskin and before that you heard Paddy Turner.

 

Well we did invite the Department for Education to come on to the programme but they declined, telling us it was a matter for the Student Loans Company.  They also didn’t want to appear but have given us this statement.

 

Statement – Student Loan Company

To help finalise Sam’s support our specialist team worked with his chosen independent needs assessment centre.  There was confusion on the type and amount of non-medical helper support which Sam required which needed further clarification.  We apologise for the amount of time this took to resolve and any inconvenience this caused.  We will be reviewing the circumstances of Sam’s case to further understand why it took so long and where we can make improvements.  We’re pleased that Sam now has the necessary support in place and wish him every success in his studies.

 

In other parts of the UK the Students’ Awards Agency administers the allowance in Scotland, in Northern Ireland you’ll find more information on the website Student Finance Northern Ireland. 

 

Well we’d like to hear your experiences – good and bad – of applying for Disabled Student Allowance.  Details of how to contact us at the end of the programme.

 

And thanks to those of you who did exactly that after last week’s item on echolocation.  That’s the use of reflective sound to help blind people get around.  We had this from Andrew Hubbard from Swansea:

 

Hubbard

I was pleased to hear the change in attitude to clicking.  I was a newly blind person in 1979 at Manor House, Torquay.

 

White

That’s a rehab centre for newly blind people, now closed.

 

Hubbard

Echolocation was more than discouraged, clicking was punished with scorn and those doing it were told it was blind behaviour – clicking was not acceptable in the sighted world.  The message of rehabilitation was fit in.

 

White

But Tim Pennick [phon.] in a long and thoughtful email to us was concerned that we’d put too much emphasis on clicking the fingers and the tongue when describing echolocation.  He thinks it’s much subtle than that.

 

Pennick

Many blind people, myself included, are constantly aware of an image generated by echolocation but not perceived as such.  In my case, it feels almost as though I can feel the object, which is reflecting the sound.  I’ve always thought of this experience as a sound shadow.  It means that when I’m in a room I know roughly what size the room is, how wide, how high and how far I am from the nearest wall.  If you believe that other blind people can do something that you’ve failed to do, such as navigating a busy street using echolocation as your only obstacle detection option, then you’re bound to be disappointed which can lead to feelings of inadequacy.

 

White

Well we’ve now put Tim in touch with Dr Thaler at Durham University where the research is being done.  She’s offered him the chance to be involved in the next round of research.

 

Finally, today, it’s claimed that up to 22 people a month could be losing their sight due to delayed and cancelled hospital appointments.  The appointments are for conditions such as macular disease, glaucoma, diabetic eye disease.  The findings are from a report by the all party parliamentary group on eye health and they’re backed by a range of organisations including the RNIB.  Well Helen Lee speaks for the RNIB on health matters.

 

Lee

Essentially, Peter, I think it’s that people with conditions like glaucoma, diabetic eye disease and Wet Age Related Macular Degeneration need ongoing treatment and monitoring and the numbers of people with conditions will continue to increase with our ageing population, so the demand on eye care services has just increased massively and there hasn’t been a comparable increase in services provided.

 

White

So, quite a lot of these people are people who need perhaps regular care, regular help with taking the drugs they need?

 

Lee

Absolutely, so they need to be seen by specialists.  The most important thing is that in many instances the treatment is time critical.  For conditions like Wet AMD a matter of weeks will make a difference in terms of potentially permanently losing sight.  So, that’s why it’s so critical that people get their appointments on time.

 

White

Because you are putting it in very stark terms, I mean is it really true that we know that you need to grab people’s attention but is it really true that a few weeks of delay can lead to people losing their sight?

 

Lee

Yes, if people are having delayed or cancelled appointments and not getting the treatment that they need their sight is deteriorating, that is the reality for people – shocking though it is.

 

White

So, what are you actually calling for, given that we know that the NHS is fighting on many fronts?

 

Lee

The group has identified a series of 16 recommendations to improve eye care capacity issues.  We need the Secretary of State for health and social care to include eye health in the NHS mandate.  And then…

 

White

What does that mean?

 

Lee

So, essentially that’s where it will be about prioritising eye health so that rather than simply providing the services that have always been provided health commissioners will have to think about and plan their services to respond to the needs of their population in a much more coordinated and organised fashion and that’s one of the key things we’re calling for.

 

White

Because it is sometimes suggested that although people say that losing their sight is one of the things they fear most, that actually eye care has a relatively low priority in our health care, is that true?

 

Lee

I think it’s absolutely true, in comparison to conditions like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and mental health, eye care just isn’t given the same priority and as a result we know that services are struggling.

 

White

Helen Lee.

 

The Department of Health and Social Care told us it expected the NHS to offer timely services without delay.  It said the number of people able to access appointments has gone up by 10% over the past four years and that last year there were more than seven and a half million ophthalmology appointments. 

 

And that’s it for today.  If you want to talk to us about anything, including your experience of applying for the Disabled Student Allowance, you can call our actionline for 24 hours after tonight’s programme on 0800 044 044.  You can email intouch@bbc.co.uk or click on contact us, on our website.  And from there you can also download tonight’s and other editions of the programme.  That’s it, from me, Peter White, producer Kevin Core and the team, goodbye.

 

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  • Tue 12 Jun 2018 20:40

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