Einir England, the dedicated contact for care leavers and estranged students at Cardiff University, explains what it means to be estranged and the support available…
Most Universities in the UK recognise that students who have been through the care system face barriers in access to higher education and have developed a support package to try and address this issue.
But what if you are not receiving support from a local authority as a care leaver but have no family support? If you are estranged? Have no contact with your family? Disowned? The Advice and Money Team may be able to help you.
What is meant by the term estranged students?
The term estranged student is used to refer to students who are studying without the support of a family network.
Research indicates that abuse, and particularly emotional abuse, is a key cause of family estrangement, alongside clashes of values and beliefs and mismatched expectations about family roles. More specifically, issues connected to honour-based violence, forced marriage and family rejection of LGBTQI+ and transgender students are common. There are also a proportion of estranged students who have been disowned for pursuing education against the wishes of their family or extended family network.
Estranged students usually come from unstable family backgrounds, similar to care leavers, but have removed themselves from a damaging environment, rather than being removed by the Local Authority. This is usually because the estrangement tends to happen between the ages of 16-19. According to the charity Stand Alone, 30% of estranged students were registered homeless or considered registering themselves homeless before starting their university course. An estranged student could also be a young person who has been in care, but not long enough to fall under the statutory definition to receive leaving care support from their Local Authority.
Many of the barriers that estranged students encounter are similar to care leavers. However, many of the issues are compounded by the fact that they don’t have any support from a “corporate parent” as care leavers do. It is usually through informal support from friends and other family members and their own resilience that the student has managed to get to university.
One major difficulty faced by estranged students is being able to prove their independent status to their funding body in order to be assessed as independent students and receive maximum funding. The Student Finance system is designed with the assumption that every student under 25, unless they are married or have care of a child, is financially dependent on their parents. So student finance will assess the household income of the parents and decide how much funding the student requires.
There are exceptions where student finance will assess a student without taking into account anybody else’s income. One of these exceptions is for students who they consider “irreconcilably estranged” from both of their biological or adoptive parents or any living parent. These are dealt with on a case by case basis by Student Finance.
In order for Student Finance to consider a student as independent under this rule, students have to prove that they have had no verbal or written contact with both of their biological or adoptive parents or their only living parent for a significant period of time and the estrangement is unlikely to change. A significant period of time is considered 12 months or longer before starting the course, but it will depend on each case.
To establish a case for estrangement, Student Finance will need a statement from an independent person with good sounding in the community such as a doctor, a solicitor, a teacher or a police officer confirming the situation. Estranged students need to provide evidence of their estranged status every year that they apply for student finance. Further advice and information about evidencing estrangement can be found on the Stand Alone website.
There are other exceptions also for Student Finance to assess a student as independent. These include students who can prove they have supported themselves financially for 36 months before starting their course, those whose parents cannot be found or it is not reasonably practicable to get in touch with them or those whose parents live outside the European Union and the assessment of their financial circumstances would place them in jeopardy or it would not be reasonably practicable or possible for them to send money.
Other difficulties that estranged students face is housing. Homelessness is a reality for many estranged students during university holiday periods. Where other students return to their parental home during the long summer period, estranged students have to find accommodation for themselves. This means paying for accommodation also as no local authority is involved to assist them.
Finding accommodation in the private sector can also be problematic because most landlords or letting agents will ask for someone to act as a Guarantor in order to secure the tenancy. A guarantor is someone who guarantees to pay rent on behalf of a student should they fail to do so. Most students turn to their parents to act as guarantors.
Support at Cardiff University
In recognition of the difficulties faced by estranged students, Cardiff University has signed the Stand Alone Pledge to publicly declare our support to estranged students. The support we offer includes:
- Estranged Student Bursary(terms and conditions apply)
- Priority for the Financial Assistance Programme
- Accommodation in university halls of residence for 52 weeks if you require it (or for a few extra weeks if you need it)
- A Guarantor Scheme
- Dedicated Mentor for estranged students.
Example student cases:
- Alice got in contact with the dedicated Mentor before starting her course. She had tremendous difficulties getting student finance to assess her as an independent student and wanted help. Alice’s father had not been part of her life since she was a young child. Her mother had brought her up and now had a new partner. Alice did not get on with the new partner and was kicked out of the family home when she was 16. She sofa surfed with friends for a while and eventually went to the council to register herself homeless. She was placed in a B&B where she felt unsafe and vulnerable. A homeless charity assisted her and she lived in a hostel for 6 months before she got her own flat.Alice had younger siblings so was trying to contact her mother to have some kind of relationship, but it was very strained and she could not ask her mother’s help in supporting her financially to go to university. When she spoke to Student Finance about her situation she honestly told them that she tried to contact her mother a few weeks before so they told her that they couldn’t treat her as estranged because she had made contact with her mother in the past 12 months.With our help, Alice gathered enough evidence from different sources to prove to Student Finance she was estranged. We used this evidence to award her an Estranged Student Bursary of £3000 for the length of her course. She needed to stay on in Halls for a few extra weeks in her first year before her contract for a house started so we helped to facilitate this for her. We also acted as guarantor to help secure a tenancy for a house with her friends in the second year. Due to unforeseen circumstances we also assisted her with financial support when she couldn’t work over the summer months.
- Amy has never been close to her father. Her relationship with her mother was very difficult and her maternal grandmother brought her and her sister up. She had contact with her mother, but they are not close.Amy’s grandmother suffers with dementia. During her first academic year studying at Cardiff University her grandmother was admitted to hospital and later to a nursing home. At this point Amy and her sister moved in with their mother. Unfortunately, the situation got quite volatile and their mother become violent towards them. Amy and her sister found themselves homeless and approached a charity who assisted them to register themselves as homeless and were eventually housed by their council. This all happened while Amy was undertaking her course at Cardiff University.Amy contacted us in the Advice and Money Team initially as she was having difficulties with Student Finance. Her mother had originally supplied information about her income so that Amy received funding, but because of the relationship breakdown, it was inappropriate to ask her mother for her income details for the following year. Einir England, the dedicated for estranged students, helped Amy and liaised with Student Finance who awarded her independent status which meant she received full funding in her own right. Amy was awarded the Estranged Student Bursary for her final year and was put forward and received a graduation package that included covering the cost of hiring the cap and gown and a photo package.
Amy graduated in 2017 and has been working in housing ever since. She’s currently working as a Property Co-ordinator. Amy’s dream is to become a teacher and she has just been offered a place on a Post Graduate Certificate in Education course starting in September 2019.
These are just two example of how we helped one estranged student. Everybody’s circumstances are different and we can help in different ways and will assess this on a case by case basis. If you can relate to any of the information included in this blog, please get in contact with me to discuss your situation further to see how we can help you.
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Einir, Advice & Money team.
Email: EnglandE1@cardiff.ac.uk Tel: (029) 2087 4787.
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