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Independent students

Student Finance England

This article or update has been provided by Student Finance England or Student Loans Company

Publication date: 18 January 2018

As you’ll know, students are usually assessed for student finance based on the income of their parents. Even if they live with another relative who supports them financially, such as a grandparent, we’d still expect them to ask their biological or adoptive parents to provide their financial information.

Going to university without the support of a family network can be an intimidating prospect for many students, so we want to ensure that you have all the information you need to support them.

Some cases are more straightforward than others. For example, students who are 25 or over, or are married or in a civil partnership, or have children, are automatically considered independent. Other cases can be more complex. For example, students who are irreconcilably estranged from their parents, or those for whom it’s not safe or practical to contact their parents.

A student won’t be able to apply for independent status just because they don’t get on with their parents or because they don’t live with them. Similarly, they won’t automatically be able to apply for independent status because their parents refuse or don’t want to give details of their income.

For students to be considered irreconcilably estranged from their parents, we would usually expect them not to have had written or verbal contact with either of their parents for a significant period of time. Their estrangement must be permanent and irreconcilable.

Students can also be considered independent if they don’t know the location of their parents, or if their parents are living in a country where it would be considered dangerous to contact them.

They can also be considered independent if they can show they’ve supported themselves financially for at least 36 months prior to the start of their course. These 36 months don’t have to be consecutive and each application is assessed on a case-by-case basis. Although we don’t specify how much a student must have earned, they have to clearly demonstrate that they’ve earned enough to maintain their own home throughout the period in question.

Students who were under the care of their local authority throughout any three month period ending on or after the date on which they turned 16, before the first day of the first academic year of your course, will also be considered independent. They would need to provide evidence such as a letter from a social worker or support worker confirming their situation.

You can support your students by encouraging them to gather as much evidence as they can. This will give us the best possible chance of understanding their situation. Help them ensure they’ve explained their circumstances clearly – you could suggest they make a timeline of key events if they feel comfortable doing so.

The more information students provide the better, but they should never seek out information that could harm their physical or mental health. For example, if they’re estranged from their parents, they’re not obliged to tell us the reasons why, but it can help us get a better understanding of their situation if they do.

At least one of the supporting statements should be from an independent person with good standing in the community, who has known the student for a substantial period of time and is not a friend or relative – for example, a social worker or a teacher. Students can’t rely solely on statements from their friends or family, but it’s worth sending these along with statements from an independent person to help us build a clearer picture of their circumstances. They can also use a Confirmation of Estrangement form, which we can send them on request.

It’s important to remember that the applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis and that there isn’t one rule for everybody. For example, the usual requirement to have had no written or verbal contact for a significant period of time could be waived in extreme circumstances that are clearly severe and irreconcilable. Similarly, a student might have had a very low income but still have supported themselves financially. They could be awarded with independent status if they could show they had very low living costs – perhaps by working in a job that provided them with food and accommodation.

It’s not always straightforward for students to prove their independent status, but you can help them find more information about independent and vulnerable students by directing them to our student finance zone at