For many students in the UK, the maintenance loan they receive through the student finance system is their main source of income to fund their university life. Often, it is the first time students have had to manage their own finances, and there are a lot of things to think about. From obvious expenses like rent and food, to keeping money aside for travelling home or course materials…the maintenance loan is there to help with it all. So it can be stressful to realise your loan is not as high as you expect it to be, whether you are just applying for your loans, or you have received your first payment and are wondering why it is so low.
Keep reading for information about a whole range of different reasons why your maintenance loan is the amount it is. Somewhere in this article, you should find an explanation, or information about next steps to take, to make sure you fully understand the loan you should be getting.
1. Your maintenance loan may be low as your parent’s income has affected your total loan
Students often confuse the tuition fee loan, which covers the cost of the university education, with the maintenance loan, which is meant to help with living costs while you study. For an overview of the difference, check out this page from the University of Leicester.
One of the main differences is that every eligible student gets the same tuition fee loan. On the other hand, the amount of money you get from your maintenance loan depends on a number of things, the main one being your parent’s income.
Essentially, students who come from higher income families receive lower maintenance loans. It is therefore implied that these students will need to rely partly on financial support from their parents as well as their student loans.
This is definitely something to talk about with your parents if you think it will significantly affect you. Many parents don’t realise they will be expected to contribute, yet their income could mean you receive thousands of pounds less from student finance companies.
The exact amount varies depending on other things, such as where you are living in term-time – scroll down to find a full table.
2. Your maintenance loan may be low if you didn’t declare your parent’s income
As part of the application process for a maintenance loan, you will need to provide evidence of your parent’s income to make sure you receive the right amount. If you choose not to do this, you will receive the lowest possible maintenance loan, because the company cannot confirm you are eligible to receive any more money from them.
It may be that you did send in paperwork, but perhaps not everything you needed to. Student finance companies should contact you if they need more information from you, so double check any emails or letters you have received from them.
Similarly, if you applied for student finance late, your application may be still being processed when you get your first payment. This could mean you don’t receive your full maintenance loan because it hasn’t been confirmed you are eligible for more. Check out this article from Newcastle University for advice if you are applying for student finance after the original deadline.
3. Your maintenance loan may be low as you are living at home or outside London
As well as parental income, where you are living while you study affects the size of your maintenance loan. You may have simply looked at the wrong option when researching your expected loan.
If you are living at home while studying, you will receive a lower loan. This makes sense, as you will likely be free of the main cost for students – rent.
Additionally, you receive a lower loan if you are studying outside of London rather than in the city, as the cost of living is considerably higher in London. This might be relevant to you if you originally thought you’d be in London, but later changed your mind, or didn’t reach the grades, so are going elsewhere and are no longer eligible for the higher loan.
Have a look at the table below for a guide to the maintenance loan you can expect to receive from Student Finance England, based on your parent’s income and where you will be studying. These figures change slightly year on year – the ones below are for the academic year 2023-24, taken from this comprehensive guide to the maintenance loan from Save the Student.
|Household income||Living at home||Away from home (outside London)||Away from home (London)|
|£25,000 or less||£8,400||£9,265||£13,022|
|£70,000 or more||£3,698||£4,651||£6,491|
4. Your maintenance loan may be low as it’s the final year of your degree
If you are in your final year of university, your total maintenance loan for that year will be lower, which often comes as a surprise to students. This is because your final term will be a little shorter, as you have completed the course.
In previous years, your maintenance loan would have had to help with living costs for a full-length final term, as well as potentially over the summer. In contrast, after your summer exams in the final year, you will have completed the course, and can start a full-time graduate job that summer, so will no longer receive student support after your final day.
Have a look at this information from the government website for information about the exact value of these reduced maintenance loans in the final year of your degree.
5. Your maintenance loan may be low as you are receiving other financial aid
Your maintenance loan is intended to help you meet living costs while studying at university. Therefore, if you are receiving other benefits or grants to aid with this, you may not be eligible for the full maintenance loan you were expecting.
For instance, students in Northern Ireland may be eligible for a maintenance grant. This is the same as the maintenance loan, except it does not have to be paid back. In this case, the grant replaces part of the maintenance loan. Have a look at this page of the NI government website for more information.
Additionally, fifth and sixth year medical students are eligible for the NHS Bursary, which involves both tuition fee support and help with living costs. This means they are only eligible for a considerably reduced maintenance loan in these years of their degree. Check out this guide from the NHS for plenty more information if this may be relevant to you.
Of course, there are a huge number of different benefits, grants and the like available – too many to cover here. If you have received a maintenance loan lower than you were expecting, and you know you have other forms of financial aid, it is worth checking whether that specific grant has impacted your maintenance loan.
You might be able to find this with a quick Google – otherwise, contact the student finance company, or the organisation giving you your existing financial aid.
6. Your maintenance loan may be low as there has been a change in your financial circumstances since last year
You have to reapply for student finance every year of your degree. If your parent’s income has increased significantly since the last application, this will be taken into account, and you will receive a lower maintenance loan than you did the previous year, which can come as a surprise.
On the other hand, your parent’s income may have dropped by a significant amount (the normal threshold is 15%) between applying for your loan and starting your course. In this case, you might be able to apply for a reassessment of your circumstances, so you receive enough financial aid to support you through the year.
If you think this applies to you, go to this page of the government website for information on how to get a current year income assessment.
The other circumstances that we have discussed that affect your maintenance loan can also change year on year. For example, you may live close to the university, but choose to stay in student halls the first year for the social aspect. If you then move back with your parents for the second year, your maintenance loan will be less than it was in the first year, as you are now living at home.
7. Your maintenance loan may be low as you are only studying part-time
Part-time undergraduate students are still eligible for student loans. However, the amount you will be eligible for will be less. You are not studying for as long as full-time students, so university expenses are likely to be less – you may not have to live on campus for full terms, for example, so will have lower rent costs.
Exactly how much you get depends on something called your ‘study intensity’, compared to a full-time student. Your course needs to have a study intensity of at least 25% to be eligible for a maintenance loan.
The other factors that affect your eligibility, including where you are living and your parent’s income, are still taken into account. The table below shows the minimum maintenance loan you will have access to for a part-time course, as shown on this page from the Student Finance England.
Of course, most students get more than the minimum – but the table is a useful comparison to full-time students.
|Study intensity||Living at home||Studying in London||Studying outside London|
|75% to 100%||£2,773||£4,863||£3,488|
|66% to 75%||£2,462||£4,319||£3,097|
|50% to 66%||£1,849||£3,242||£2,325|
|33% to 50%||£1,231||£2,159||£1,548|
|25% to 33%||£924||£1,621||£1,162|
8. Your maintenance loan may be low as you are over 60
Although the vast majority of students don’t have to worry about this, if you want to apply for undergraduate funding over the age of 60, your maintenance loan will be considerably reduced.
For example, according to this page of the government website, you will be entitled to a maximum of £4,221 in 2023, compared to the maximum of £13,022 if you are living away from your parents in London.
9. Your maintenance loan may be low as the student finance company has made an error
Although it is unlikely, it is still possible that the student finance company has simply made an error with your application, and you have not received the full maintenance loan you are entitled to. If you have checked through the suggestions on this list and don’t think any of them apply to you, don’t be afraid to get in contact and ask for more information about your application.
Contact details should be readily available on official websites. For example, you can contact Student Finance England using this form on the government website.
10. Your maintenance loan may be low as loans work differently in different UK countries
Student finance actually works slightly differently in each part of the UK – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The general structure is similar, but not identical, so you need to make sure you are looking at the right student finance service when calculating your expected maintenance loan.
It’s important to remember that you apply to the service where you normally live, not where you are going to university. If you live in England but are going to the University of Edinburgh, you still apply to Student Finance England.
Have a look at this article from Morrisby for a comparison of student finance in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Bonus: You won’t be able to get a maintenance loan if you are not eligible for a UK student loan
There are various eligibility criteria to meet if you want to receive a maintenance loan at all. If student finance has not given you any support with living costs, it is probably because you failed to meet one of these.
This page of the government website has more information about eligibility but keep reading for a few examples.
- If you are studying for a second undergraduate degree, or never finished your first one, you will most likely not be eligible for student loans the second time around. Check out this Think Student article for more information.
- Postgraduate degrees are funded differently to undergraduate ones. Have a look at this Think Student article for a guide to student loans and master’s degrees.
- Your university and course need to be eligible. This is almost never an issue, but if you aren’t getting your maintenance loan, it’s worth checking it out by contacting the university.
- You normally need to be a UK resident or have lived in the UK for at least three years, to qualify for student loans.