Updated 22 May 2015
There's potentially thousands of pounds in free cash available to 16 to 19 year olds who stay on at college or sixth form, thanks to the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).
So whether you’re from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland (EMA's not available in England), check to see if you're eligible to be paid to go to college.
Grants for 16-19s
Who can get EMA?
The Education Maintenance Allowance is designed to entice and encourage school leavers who previously didn’t want, or couldn’t afford, to carry on studying past the compulsory education level. As it’s based largely on parental income, thousands of students are eligible for the cash boost.
You need to satisfy several criteria to apply for EMA:
You must live and go to school in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland
This allowance used to be available to all 16-19 year olds, regardless of where they lived. But in September 2012, the scheme was scrapped in England, being replaced by a bursary scheme. So, it's now only available in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Be aged between 16 and 18
Only those aged 16, 17 and 18 can apply (though you'll still get it when you turn 19), for up to a maximum of three years' worth of cash. So, unfortunately, if you’ve done well at school and managed to skip a year, thus enter further education before 16, you won’t be eligible.
You can claim at any point in the school year, but you'll only receive backdated payments if you apply within 28 days of the course's start date or by the end of September, depending on where in the country you are.
Your parents must earn under the income limits
EMA eligibility is based on the total tax year income of both parents you live with (including step-parents), or sole income if you live with just one. The good news is any benefits you receive or cash from a part time job aren’t included in the assessment... hoorah!
The top qualifying level of income differs slightly depending on which country within the UK you're from and study in - it is higher in Northern Ireland, for instance. If it's under £20,000 you’ll definitely receive at least £30 per week. For full details see the how much section.
However, if household income has dropped significantly over the last year you may be allowed to be 'reassessed' using more recent household income evidence. This is available for students in Northern Ireland and Wales.
It applies to both academic and vocational subjects/courses
AS/A2 Levels and Highers, diplomas and even GCSE resits: they all qualify. They can be based in any sixth form, college or other further education institution.
There’s a minimum weekly classroom attendance
Depending on where you study, there’s a minimum number of hours you must be in class or at a placement each week to qualify for the EMA. In Wales the minimum is 12, in Northern Ireland it’s 15 and in Scotland it’s a diligent 21.
You must stick to your studies and attend regularly
You have to be committed to your studies, have a good attendance record and achieve the specific goals agreed between you and your college, otherwise you’ll forgo payments, which can’t be recouped. Your efforts will be monitored by your school or college.
How much will you get?
Those studying in Scotland get their EMA’s paid weekly, whereas in Wales and Northern Ireland it’s fortnightly. It's credited straight into your bank, so you’ll need to open a bank or Savings Account, if you haven’t already done so.
In all three countries, the amount is a fixed £30. However, if your parents' income exceeds the upper threshold, you won't we eligible for any of the cash.
How Much Can You Get?
How to apply
The way you apply varies between the three countries:
Northern Ireland. You can get forms from your school, college, or local jobs or benefits office, or you can download one from nidirect.
Wales. You can get a form from your college, or download one from Student Finance Wales.
Scotland. You need to ask your school, college or Local Education Authority for a form to fill in.
Other sources of funding
If you aren't eligible for EMA, or are getting it but still struggling financially, you may be entitled to money from elsewhere.
The Discretionary Learner Support Fund system provides one-off payments to help fund travel or the purchase of equipment and books, and can be applied for through your college or sixth form.
The Gov.uk website is crammed with everything you need to know about sources of financial help for students and struggling families.
Helpful information about a wide range of student related issues, from education rights to teenage pregnancy, is available from Citizens Advice.
Also ensure you do the 10-Min Benefit Check-Up to make sure your family’s receiving all the allowances it's entitled to, and read the Grant Grabbing guide to see if you’re eligible for any extra cash on top.
Plus check if there are ways to Boost Your Income and bring in a little extra cash.