This guide provides information for institutions with 16 to 18 Residential Bursary Fund allocations in the 2021 to 2022 academic year.

Who this guide is for

This guide is for institutions with 16 to 18 residential bursary fund (RBF) allocations in the 2021 to 2022 academic year. The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) have produced it.

The guide sets out the funding rules for RBF and forms part of institutions’ ESFA funding agreements. Institutions must comply with the rules, within the context of the RBF policies they set to manage the funds and must be able to show they comply with this guide at any audit.

Key points

RBF is intended to support students who are participating in a designated specialist subject area. Mostly, but not exclusively, this is land-based provision. ESFA expects the majority of students receiving RBF will be studying in the designated specialist subject area for which the institution was awarded RBF.

ESFA does not expect students to whom the institution awards RBF to be participating in general FE provision that is widely available, for example, A levels or vocational qualifications. Any such use should be a genuine exception based on individual student circumstances.

RBF is designed to provide a contribution to an eligible student’s accommodation costs and ESFA expects the majority of an institution’s RBF allocation to be used for this purpose. RBF can be used to help with travel costs between the student’s term time lodgings (if they are not on campus) and the institution where appropriate. RBF cannot be used for travel costs for non-residential students (home to institution travel).

RBF is part of the wider suite of student financial support funding provided by ESFA, including the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund and free meals in further education. Like those schemes, RBF helps individual students overcome financial barriers to participation. If a student leaves their study programme part way through the year, the institution must stop RBF payments as they would any other student financial support.


RBF provides financial help towards the costs of accommodation for students attending one of the designated institutions delivering specialist provision. Specialist provision is not available locally and/or requires the student to attend at unsociable hours on a regular basis and consequently the student needs to live away from home.

RBF enables young people to gain a substantial qualification in a specialist subject. RBF should not be used to enable a student to participate in general FE provision that is widely available or to enable them to participate in additional activity, for example, to take part in a specific sport.

RBF provides a contribution towards residential costs. Institutions should target the funding at students they assess face the most significant financial barriers to participation. RBF is not intended to provide support to all students on residentially delivered provision, or to necessarily cover the full costs for each student.

Where institutions use RBF for travel costs for residential students living off campus (between term time lodgings and the institution), the amount they spend must not exceed 15% of their total RBF allocation. To make sure RBF maintains its primary focus on residential support, spend on travel is also capped at £25,000. This means that where 15% of the institution’s allocation would be greater than £25,000, £25,000 is the maximum the institution can spend.

Eligibility criteria


To be eligible to receive RBF in the 2021 to 2022 academic year, students must be aged 16 or over but under 19 on 31 August 2021.

Students aged 19 or over are only eligible for RBF if they are continuing on a study programme they began aged 16 to 18 (19+ continuers) or have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).


Students must meet the residency criteria in the ESFA funding regulations for post-16 provision. This document specifies the evidence institutions must see and retain for audit to confirm eligibility.

Household income

Individual institutions have discretion to set their own RBF policies. Institutions must, however, ensure RBF support is targeted at those students who are facing the most significant financial barriers to participation.

Institutions should assess the student’s actual need for help with residential costs, taking account of their household income when deciding how much RBF to award. Household income must be verified by evidence, for example, an award notice showing receipt of benefits, a P60, Tax Credit Award Notice, evidence of self-employment income etc.

Eligible education provision

RBF is designed to enable students to gain a substantial qualification in a specialist subject area and ESFA expects the majority of students awarded RBF to be enrolled in the specialist subject area for which the institution was awarded RBF.

Any use of RBF to support students enrolled in widely available general FE provision must be a genuine exception based on individual student circumstances. Institutions should not award RBF simply to enable a student to participate in additional activity (for example, to take part in a specific sport) or to enable a student to attend a particular institution when the qualification they are studying is widely available.

Young people on any paid education, training or apprenticeship programmes are not eligible for RBF support.

RBF applications and assessment

Students apply to their chosen institution using the application form the institution has developed for RBF. It is the responsibility of institutions to decide which students receive RBF and how much RBF they are awarded. They must manage the number and size of RBF awards they make to keep within their budget.

Institutions must publish a statement setting out their RBF policy so students understand the criteria against which they will be assessed. The statement should be published early enough for students to be able to use the information when deciding which post-16 institution to attend. The institution’s policy must be clear and available to students and to ESFA.

Institutions should take account of equalities legislation in their RBF policies. This means they must not discriminate against their students based on their protected characteristics. Institutions are also subject to the public sector equality duty in section 149 (1) of the Equality Act 2010.

Students must meet all the eligibility criteria to be eligible, with the institution’s decision based on their household income and their actual need for help.

Where students’ accommodation is off campus, institutions may use RBF to help with the cost of travel from term time lodgings to site (up to a maximum of 15% of their allocation, capped at £25,000). The use of RBF for travel costs does not replace the statutory duty on local authorities to set out, in an annually published transport statement, the arrangements they will make to facilitate the participation in education or training of young people of sixth form age.

Paying RBF

RBF payments for accommodation must be made directly to the student’s landlord. The landlord may be the institution itself if they provide accommodation directly or a private landlord. No payments should be made directly to the student as these payments would be subject to the Social Security Amendment (Students and Income related Benefits Regulations 2000).

What RBF cannot be used for

Institutions should not use RBF for any purpose designed to give them a competitive advantage over other institutions. RBF should not be used for:

  • fees for access to college facilities
  • block subsidy of transport
  • costs that are in the scope of the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund
  • childcare costs that are in the scope of the Care to Learn scheme

RBF should not be awarded:

  • simply because a student is enrolled in residentially delivered provision
  • to students studying programmes that are widely available unless there are genuinely exceptional circumstances that make this appropriate for an individual student
  • to enable students to access additional activity, such as participating in a specific sport
  • to enable a student to attend a particular institution in cases where the provision they are studying is widely available

Responding to in year changes

Institutions may wish to keep a contingency fund to respond to needs that come up later in the academic year, for example, a change in a student’s circumstances, rather than allocating all funds at the start of the year.

Where students leave part way through the year, their RBF payments should stop in the same way as payments from any other student financial support scheme. If the institution requires a student who leaves early to make a payment to cover the accommodation cost to the end of the term, for example, they must ensure this is made clear to students as part of their RBF application process.

Where students change study programme part way through the academic year, for example, they enrolled on a specialist programme but swap to a general FE programme, institutions should consider the specific circumstances when deciding whether RBF should continue. They should not automatically continue with RBF payments without review.

Funding and allocations

RBF allocations for the 2021 to 2022 academic year have been generated using the methodology below:

  • for institutions that spent at least 90% of their 2019 to 2020 allocation, 5% growth has been added to their 2020 to 2021 allocated amount to generate the 2021 to 2022 allocation
  • for institutions that spent less than 90% of their 2019 to 2020 allocation, a 5% reduction has been applied to their 2020 to 2021 allocated amount to generate the 2021 to 2022 allocation
  • an exception has been made where the outcome of the calculation generates an allocation that is greater than both 2019 to 2020 actual spend and the 2020 to 2021 allocation – in these instances, the 2021 to 2022 allocation is the same as the 2020 to 2021 allocation

The allocations methodology disregards any spend by institutions that is outside policy guidelines (inappropriate use of RBF for travel for non-resident students, for example). ESFA may also disregard spend by institutions where RBF is being used to support students on non-specialist provision.

Institutions may use up to 5% of their RBF allocation to cover administrative costs. The 5% should be taken from the allocation total and is not an additional 5% on top of the total.

RBF allocations will be paid to institutions in 2 parts: two thirds in August and one third in April.

Institutions should use the funding allocated to them for RBF solely to support eligible students with residential costs in line with RBF policy. Institutions are not permitted to transfer any funds to or from RBF and any other student support scheme provided by ESFA.

Institutions may top up RBF from their own sources if they choose to do so.

Where institutions identify that they will be unable to spend the majority of their RBF allocation, they should notify ESFA as soon as possible to arrange to repay the excess via our online enquiry form. ESFA will aim to distribute any returned funds to other RBF institutions that can make use of additional funding.

ESFA will reconcile RBF funding at the end of the academic year. Any unspent funds will be recovered and cannot be carried forward to future years.

Individualised Learner Record (ILR) and management information requirements

ESFA reminds institutions of the importance of completing the ILR to indicate the numbers of students getting residential support from RBF. ESFA will use this information to develop future allocations.

Institutions are required to complete a short management information return to confirm the number of students supported by RBF and the amount spent during the academic year. Institutions are required to explain the reasons for any overspend on the return and may also add any additional information they wish to provide to ESFA.

The data return also requires institutions to report the study programme core aims for their RBF supported students. This should be the aim recorded in the ILR. Any use of RBF for general FE provision rather than the specialist subject areas must be explained.

ESFA will reconcile RBF funds after analysis of the data returns. We will write to institutions to confirm the amount of reconciliation, the reason for it (if applicable) and the expected timeframe the action will be taken.

Where the data return indicates institutions are routinely awarding RBF to students enrolled in mainstream FE rather than the specialist provision for which they were awarded RBF, ESFA may recover funds and/or decide to make no further RBF allocations to the institution.

Where an institution reports an overspend on RBF, it is important to note that ESFA cannot guarantee any reimbursement as this is dependent on funds becoming available from other institutions for redistribution. ESFA will not reimburse any overspend that is outside the scheme rules as set out in this guide.

Audit and assurance

RBF is subject to normal assurance arrangements for 16 to 19 education and training. Institutions must ensure they have appropriate processes in place to record RBF applications and awards (including the number, value, purpose, whether awarded or not, and a brief justification for the decision).

Institutions must ensure they can evidence their application process, how the student was assessed, how they made the decision to award the specific amount of RBF and the funds that they have issued for the student’s costs. Auditors will be looking for evidence that institutions have applied their RBF eligibility criteria correctly and used a transparent and consistent application and assessment process for all students.

Institutions should retain copies of any documents the student has signed to give formal agreement to their conditions for payment.

Hard or scanned copies of documentation should be retained for 6 years (records can be kept electronically).

Institutions should note that, following an audit, funding might be recovered where RBF payments are found not to have been made in accordance with this guide.

Responsibilities for managing complaints or appeals

Any student or parent who is unhappy with how an institution has handled their application for RBF should follow the institution’s own complaints procedure.

Institutions should explain to students how they can complain or appeal about any decision relating to RBF support and/or the way in which their application for RBF support was handled.

ESFA does not have a role in the administration of RBF because this is the responsibility of individual institutions. As such, ESFA does not usually get involved with complaints. However, ESFA may get involved if there is an allegation that the RBF eligibility criteria or any content within this guide is being seriously disregarded.

Further information

Institutions should direct any queries about the allocation and administration of RBF to ESFA via our online enquiry form.

Published 31 March 2021 Contents