Jan 25, 2023

Hardship Funds: A Guide for Universities and Students

This guide to student hardship funds covers the financial assistance on offer to support students who are experiencing unexpected financial difficulties. It also reveals how Blackhawk Network can help universities with the effective and efficient delivery of student funding.

What’s the financial status of students studying in the UK?

Almost 300,000 students in the UK are facing financial peril due to the cost of living crisis. Despite this, Student Maintenance loans will go up by just 2.8% in 2023-24, compared to Northern Ireland which is increasing maximum loans by 40% in 2023.

For students receiving the minimum maintenance loan of £4,524 (outside London - based on parent/household income of £62,311), it is assumed that parents will supplement this amount, to help their child through university. Yet, with the inflation rate currently at 11.1%, this is putting a huge strain on parents already facing their own increased cost of living bills - particularly if they have more than one child at university or are supporting other dependents.

Those receiving the full maintenance loan of £9,706 (outside London) are having to stretch their money much further than ever before and are less likely to receive financial support from parents. Having to take on part-time jobs to make ends meet can result in more students experiencing additional stress from neglecting their studies.

A recent study by the National Union of Students (NUS) found that one-third of students are surviving on only £50 or less a month, after paying bills and rent. More concerning statistics for students include:

So, it's no surprise that the number of struggling students asking for emergency financial support has risen in 75% of universities. During the 2020-21 academic year alone, almost 125,000 students applied for hardship funding. In January 2023, the government announced an additional £15m for university hardship funds.

To combat this unprecedented demand for financial hardship support, the Guardian reports that universities in England and Wales are doubling or tripling their hardship funds.

With the cost of living crisis affecting more and more people, students and parents alike are struggling to find enough money to live on, and with university fees, rents, and energy bills not looking to decrease any time soon, the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ will welcome any help available.

And in a time when students are facing such financial challenges, many may not know how to apply for and receive financial aid in the form of student hardship funds.

This guide will inform both students and universities, ensuring as many students as possible have access to increased support. Below we will explore what a student hardship fund is, who is eligible to receive it, and how poverty-stricken students can go about applying for it.

What is hardship funding for students?

Hardship funds are essentially emergency cash supplies that universities give to students facing financial troubles.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: "We understand global inflationary pressures are squeezing household finances and people are worried about covering the basics. Students who are worried about making ends meet should speak to their university about the support they can access."

Who is eligible for hardship funds?

The university and college hardship funds are designed to support those who are struggling to cover their basic living costs, childcare costs, or student accommodation costs.

The exact criteria for the student hardship funds are specific to each university. For example, the University of Manchester recently announced that they are going to make a payment of £170 to every student. Hopefully, other universities will follow suit - particularly those based in expensive areas of the country.

For further details, students should contact their education providers directly.

How much extra funding could the average student receive?

The exact amount of funding students receive is decided by each university or college, based on each individual's financial situation. The average payment received in the 2020/21 academic year was £826, paid in either a lump sum or instalments.

It's important to note that although most students won't have to pay the extra money back, some universities disburse one-off payments as loans that must be repaid at a later date.

How do students apply for hardship funds?

The application process for a hardship fund is direct with each university or college. Students will most likely need a copy of their letter from Student Finance England showing how much student finance they'll get, as well as bank account statements and details of core living costs to show their financial circumstances.

How Blackhawk Network can help universities distribute hardship funds

With rising numbers of students applying for hardship funding, our disbursement solutions make it easier to administer and easier to control how funds are spent.

We currently work with universities and local authorities across the UK to help disburse funds to those who need it most. Our aim is to help get the funds to the person in hardship quickly. Working together on your hardship fund distribution will help to:

  • Reduce the administrative burden, through easy funds disbursement processes
  • Speed up the process with schemes that can be set up in less than a week and delivered digitally or physically
  • Improve your audit trail as no cash is given
  • Ensure that the money is spent for its intended purpose whilst giving you visibility of spend

Last year, Blackhawk Network distributed an incredible £90 million of emergency aid in the UK, so is perfectly placed to help you in 2023. For example, many UK universities use our food support vouchers (Select Essentials) to provide students with food and weekly essentials.

Quick and easy to use, Select Essential vouchers provide one code that can be redeemed for a gift card to use at Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Aldi, Iceland, M&S, or Waitrose & Farmfoods.

To find out more about how we can work with you to quickly and efficiently distribute hardship funds to students, get in touch on 0203 948 8193 or email payments.forgood@bhnetwork.com