Students' benefit windfall

October 3, 1997

A LEGAL ruling giving a student on a modular university course the right to income support could cost the government millions of pounds in housing benefit claims.

Appeal court judges ruled in July that Anthony Webber, 24, a student at Oxford Brookes University, should be entitled to social security because his course was flexible rather than full-time. Full-time students cannot claim benefits, part-time students can.

Thousands of other modular students arriving for the start of the academic year have realised this could clear the way for them to claim housing benefit.

Oxford City Council has already received more than 2,000 claim forms, which are arriving at the rate of 500 per day.

The cost in Oxford alone could reach Pounds 7 million, 95 per cent of which will have to be met by central government.

It is not yet clear how the ruling could affect the eligibility of modular students for student loans.

Rabinder Singh, acting for the secretary of state in the Webber case, argued that once a student has started a full-time course, he or she only stops being a student on completion or abandonment of the course or on being dismissed.

But the appeal court judges ruled that "a course which does not require full-time attendance cannot be described as a full-time course". Modular courses allow students to study part-time.

Peter Turville, an officer with Oxfordshire Welfare Rights, which advised Mr Webber, said: "The court's decision has demonstrated that the current benefit rules affecting students are indefensible and unworkable."

A spokesman for the DSS said students on part-time courses (16 hours or less per week) "would normally need to be actively seeking work and willing to give up their course if offered a job" to be eligible for the Jobseekers' Allowance, which replaced income support in October 1996.

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