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Discretionary Learner Support Policy


This policy sets out how Skills & Learning Adult Community Education (S&L ACE) will administer the Discretionary Learner Support Fund (DLSF) that it receives annually and how these funds will be used.

The fund helps learners who have difficulties meeting the costs of attending their course(s). The fund is money allocated to S&L ACE by the Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA).

Eligibility is based on the learner meeting the residency requirements, the overall eligibility criteria and being on a means tested benefit, disability benefit or low income. Where possible, funds awarded will be paid directly to the relevant third party.

The fund provides support to learners who are experiencing financial hardship. It is a means tested fund and the amount a learner may receive depends on their household income. Please see the Learner Support Form for criteria. It can only be used for learners enrolled on courses funded by the ESFA.

Where identified below, Community Learning courses are those with course prefixs starting: P, F and N

Support Available

1. Course Fees

The fund can help meet costs such as travel, equipment, exam costs, childcare and in exceptional circumstances course fees (courses with prefix AA, AN, QT, QE).  We will fully meet the tuition/exam fees for learners with a learning disability/difficulty and who are unemployed and not seeking work.  We will fund up to a maximum of 50% of course fees where a learner declares and can provide comprehensive evidence of financial hardship, for example the payment of course fees will significantly and negatively impact upon current living standards.

2. Travel

Mileage will be paid at 45p per mile (2021-22). Requests for mileage where the distance is less than one mile between the learner’s address and the course venue will be declined unless the learner declares a disability affecting mobility.

Taxis may be provided for learners who are unable to use public transport.

Transport costs for Community Learning courses including Living Well will be capped at £200.00 per learner per 10 learning sessions. Transport costs for those undertaking Work Experience will be capped at £200.00. English, maths and ESOL courses will be funded at S&L ACE discretion.

3. Exams

For eligible learners, one exam resit can be funded. Further resits are not eligible for funding.

4. Childcare

Childcare funds will only be used to support childcare costs for learners aged 20 or over at the start of their course. Funds will only be used to pay for childcare that is approved or registered with the local authority and OFSTED in accordance with the Children Act 1989. Informal childcare cannot be funded. Childcare funds will not be used for learners eligible for the government ‘Care to Learn’ scheme. Only learners under the age of 20 are eligible to apply to the ‘Care to Learn’ scheme.

Childcare funds may be available for learners attending online courses but only where the delivery model is different to what was advertised in the brochure i.e. not the regular distance learning programme. ‘Attendance’ will be monitored in the usual way.

Where children are entitled to free childcare this entitlement is to be used in the first instance.

Childcare costs for Community Learning Courses, including Living Well courses and any work experience placements, will be capped at £300.00.

Should a learner cease to attend or withdraw from their course(s) at any point during the academic year, financial support for childcare and transport will finish on the last date of recorded attendance. The responsibility for childcare costs reverts to the learner from that date.

Awards from the fund are made to individual learners on a discretionary basis. Any award is made subject to satisfactory course attendance.

Key Principles

The DLSF will be administered and distributed entirely in accordance with the relevant policies and guidance set out by the ESFA and by S&L ACE.

All learners will be required to obtain and fully complete a Learner Support Form and to supply any requested documentary evidence if required.

Funds will be distributed only to current S&L ACE learners who meet the eligibility criteria set out by ESFA and who declare financial hardship both on their application forms and through supplied documentary evidence if requested.

Learners who do not meet the eligibility criteria for DLSF will not receive an award and will be sent a letter informing them of this and detailing the reason for their ineligibility.

The DLSF is limited and will be distributed on the premise that the funds available should be used to help support as many eligible learners as possible, as much as possible.

Receipt of DLSF is dependent upon the learner’s continued satisfactory attendance on their course. If a learner’s attendance is deemed to be unsatisfactory support funding may be withdrawn.

If a learner is granted an award from the DLSF on the basis of a disability and the award is made in order to buy large items of equipment, such equipment will remain the property of S&L ACE after the end of the academic session. As such, all equipment will require to be returned by an agreed date.

If possible, applications to the DLSF will be processed within a maximum of 14 working days. However, in situations in which a learner is in emergency need of financial help, their application will be prioritised and processed as quickly as possible.

Learners may appeal the decision that is made on their DLSF application. All learners who apply will be provided with details of how to make an appeal.


The Principal Learning Manager retains overall responsibility for this policy.

The Business and Support Services Manager is responsible for:

  • Ensuring funds are distributed and administered in line with this policy and relevant ESFA Guidelines
  • Overseeing the on-going development and improvement of the S&L ACE DLSF Procedure
  • Agreeing the content of this policy with The Learning Support Officers (LSOs)

The LSOs and the Customer Service Team Leader are responsible for:

  • Assessing applications and making effective judgements on learners’ eligibility and award amounts in line with both this policy and relevant ESFA Guidelines
  • Monitoring the DLSF budgets and providing the Management Team with accurate, up-to-date budget data on request
  • Checking learner attendance information and using this to inform payments of DLSF awards
  • Maintaining all paper and electronic records relating to DLSF consistently, accurately and within confidentiality and Data Protection guidelines
  • Liaising with the Finance Team in coordinating the DLSF accounts
  • Ensuring all work relevant to DLSF is carried out in line with this policy and the DLSF procedure


Learners must be:

  • 19+ on the 31st August of the year of application for travel, materials and fees
  • 20+ on the 31st August of the year of application for childcare
  • Enrolled on a course funded by the ESFA

Refugee or Asylum Seekers need to be recognised by the Home Office or need to have been resident in the EU for at least 3 years with right to remain.

Additionally, it is S&L ACE’s policy that learners must be:

  • Fully enrolled at S&L ACE
  • On a means-tested benefit or on a low household income

Funds will not be awarded to learners if they received any form of funding during the previous academic year and did not complete their course,
unless they repay the funds received.

Priority for an award will be given to learners who are:

  • Disabled or have learning difficulties
  • Disadvantaged
  • Have a total household income below £25k
  • On income based Job Seekers Allowance or Universal Credit

Meal Allowance

Free meals can be made available for all eligible learners from September 2019.

In the 2021 to 2022 academic year, S&L ACE will receive funding at a rate equivalent to £2.41 per learner per meal taken.

  • Learners must be aged between 16 and 18 on 31 August 2021 to be eligible for a free meal in the 2021 to 2022 academic year. Learners who turn 19 during their study programme will remain eligible for a free meal until the end of the academic year in which they turn 19 or to the end of their study programme, whichever is sooner.
  • Learners aged between 19 and 25 who are subject to a Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA) or Education, Health and Care Plan (EHC Plan) and ESF learners aged between 16 and 18 on 31 August 2021 are also entitled to a free meal while attending their provision if they meet the eligibility criteria.

The following groups of learner are not eligible for a free meal:

  • learners aged between 14 and 16 (these learners are already covered by different provision)
  • learners aged 19 or over at the start of their study programme, unless they have an LDA or EHC Plan
  • apprentices, including those with an LDA or EHC Plan

16 – 19 year old learners

S&L ACE can make discretionary bursary awards to learners in ways that best meet their needs and circumstances. We must target bursary awards towards those who face the greatest financial barriers, such as high costs of transport, meals, books and equipment.

Advanced Learning Loans Bursary Fund

The Loans Bursary Fund is provided to help vulnerable and disadvantaged learners who are being funded through a Loan such as those with learning difficulties or disabilities, parents who need help with childcare, and ex-military personnel. The fund will be distributed as decided by the provider and is not an entitlement.

To apply

In order to receive DLSF support whilst studying at S&L ACE learners need to:

  • Complete a Learner Support Form Application available at Customer Services or download/complete electronically from our website
  • Return the completed application form to S&L ACE
  • Provide us with documentary evidence if asked

S&L ACE reserves the right to reclaim monies paid to learners where information given on the application form is found to be false.

S&L ACE reserves the right to reclaim monies paid to learners where the learner has withdrawn before the end of the course.


Applicants may appeal about the amount or type of an award by writing to the Principal Learning Manager stating why they feel the award should be reconsidered.

Applicants may be invited to provide additional information or invited to discuss their individual circumstances with the Principal Learning Manager or his/her deputy. The Principal Learning Manager will respond to the appeal in writing within ten working days. This decision is final.


Complaints concerning failure to comply with policy or published procedures should be made in accordance with the BCP Council’s feedback process.

Updated April 2021

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