DSA cuts plans face High Court scrutiny

Controversial cuts to Disabled Students’ Allowance are to be subject to a legal challenge

March 3, 2015

Two disabled students represented by solicitors Irwin Mitchell have been given permission to proceed with a judicial review of proposals to limit the non-medical support offered by the allowance, known as DSA.

Nearly £150 million was spent on DSA for about 60,000 students in 2012-13, providing a range of specialist equipment, such as computer software for those with dyslexia, as well as modifications to accommodation and extra support to disabled students.

It was announced in April that the allowance would be restricted from 2015-16, with universities asked to make up the shortfall, a move that was branded “arrogant and out of touch” at the time by the National Union of Students.

The proposed cuts have now been postponed until 2016-17, with universities minister Greg Clark announcing in September that there will be an “ongoing equality analysis” of the changes that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is bound to undertake.

The plans now face a potential judicial review after the High Court said Irwin Mitchell can proceed with its legal action to challenge whether BIS consulted with a wide enough group regarding the changes.

The law firm is supported in its claim by the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) and Ambitious about Autism.

One of the students represented by the firm is Joseph Bell, a first-year student in physics, astrophysics and cosmology at Lancaster University.

Mr Bell, who has autism, was given an assistant to support him when he first arrived at Lancaster as he suffers from a high degree of anxiety, particularly in unfamiliar environments or when his daily routines are disrupted.

“Just because I made it to university, does not mean I’ll cope without support,” said Mr Bell.

“Without DSA, the trivial things would become impossible for me – this also applies to many future disabled students, who are being ignored by the government.”

Another student represented in the legal challenge is Zanna Messenger-Jones, 17, from Cumbria, who is profoundly deaf and is applying for art and fashion courses at the moment.

She is currently provided with some specialist equipment and software by her college and audiology centre, but she cannot take these with her to university as they are not owned by her.

She will also need adaptions to halls of residence, such as a flashing fire alarm and adapted doorbell with visual signals which would be paid for through DSA under the current system, she says.

“I’m really worried that if I don’t receive the appropriate support in terms of DSA at the beginning of the academic year it could seriously impact my studies,” she said.

Alex Rook, partner at Irwin Mitchell, said that there is “real concern many could be left without the help they need”.

“It is vital that these plans are given proper consideration and we are determined to ensure our clients can access the help they require and deserve,” he said.

jack.grove@tesglobal.com

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