The following blog is from Kristina Williams. Kristina was born in Jamaica and brought to the UK when she was 6 years old. Here she describes how she accessed student finance under the ‘long residence’ route and secured her disabled student allowance in time to start university this year.
In the beginning
My story begins in September 2014. Just like all the other students in sixth form I was excited and getting ready for university. I started planning early: writing my personal statement, researching courses, looking at universities and even planning what equipment I would need. It wasn’t until late July 2015 that I realised that, unlike everyone else, I would not be going to university. This was because I would be classed as an overseas student and was not eligible for student finance.
As a result I was forced to take an unexpected gap year. But in September 2015 I was approached by two very good friends who gave me the contact details for Just for Kids Law. I was filled with hope and on the same day contacted them. They told me that I would be eligible for student finance under the interim policy. I wasted no time in re-applying for university. However, I soon realised that it would not be so easy.
Applying for Student Finance
I applied for student finance and disabled student allowance (DSA) in March 2016. I am registered blind and need equipment and other things to be able to go to university and be independent. In April 2016 my application was rejected. They stated that I did not meet their criteria, with no mention of the interim policy. As you can imagine, this was a shock. I wrote an email questioning the decision.
When they finally responded it was to say that my appeal had been frozen due to the interim policy being re-assessed. This process took around a month to be completed. When the long residency policy was eventually approved and put into place on 6th June 2016 I had only a very short time to prove my eligibility. Even with this new change it was not easy to get student finance.
At this time I got so stressed and anxious. It was crucial that I got student finance soon as sorting out DSA can be a very long process and can’t start until after student finance is agreed. For DSA you also have to go for a needs assessment. This is easier said than done, as most of the assessment centres tend to be fully booked and have long waiting times. After the needs assessment you also need to wait up to eight weeks to receive your equipment. I am still currently waiting for my equipment.
My solicitor wrote to student finance several times requesting special consideration because of my additional needs. But of course it was not granted. We sent them all that we could find to prove my long residency. But it is not easy to get a letter of attendance from a primary school when the school is closed all summer. Throughout this time I would phone SFE every day to try and get an idea of what stage my application was at.
As you may be aware they are not the most helpful people you can come across. Each time I phoned I would get different information from a different person. It was in late August 2016 that I began to give up. I did not feel I would ever get student finance. I had sent them all the evidence I could, and felt there was nothing more I could do. The only way I can explain how I felt back then is through this poem I wrote.
Though I fight and fight they hold me down.
In this sea of stress will I drown?
I cannot breathe. I have forgotten how.
Tell me, O please what can I do now?
They dragged me here and now I am lost.
Can I go back, do I even know how?
I am lost at sea, drowning in defeat.
When all I really want is to be free.
The day I got my student finance
It was Tuesday the 13th September. It was like any other day. I was feeling stressed and worried and very anxious. So I went shopping for my friend’s birthday. When I came back I saw on my phone that I had a missed call and a voice message from an unknown number. I had to listen to the message five times before it would sink in.
I had got my student finance!!!!
This lifted an enormous weight off my shoulders. I felt light and elated, happy and free. I was no longer drowning in a sea of grief. It brought home to me that a person should never give up on their dreams because it could be just around the corner. Now I am slowly but surely settling into university life.
My advice to anyone who is in this situation would be that life will always be tough, no matter what, but as long as you stay strong and never give up you will overcome all the hurdles thrown in your way. My motto: Be brave, be strong. Life may be tough but there is no way I’m giving up.
By Kristina Williams, age 20