This guide is for all institutions with a 16 to 18 Residential Support Scheme (RSS) allocation in the 2020 to 2021 academic year. The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has produced it.

Who is this guide for

The guide sets out the funding rules for RSS and forms part of institutions’ ESFA funding agreements. Institutions must be able to show they comply with it at any audit.

This guide covers the period of 1 August 2020 to 31 July 2021 and is our current advice for the funding year. We know that providers are working through exceptional circumstances due to coronavirus (COVID-19). We may publish further updates to this guide about the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on our guidance as these become clear. We will tell you about any changes in our ESFA update.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued hard work in these difficult times.For further information, please read this guidance to help schools and other educational settings provide advice for staff, parents and carers, pupils and students about coronavirus (COVID-19).

Residential Support Scheme: a summary

RSS is designed for the exceptional situations where the same or similar substantial level 2 or level 3 qualification the student wishes to study cannot be accessed locally. Most students supported by RSS tend to live in rural areas and have limited access to a wide range of 16 to 18 further education provision.

Institutions are responsible for assessing if a student meets all the eligibility criteria for the scheme, as set out in this guide and using an RSS application form they have developed. This includes assessing the student against the nationally set household income scales and verifying with ESFA whether each student’s substantial level 2 or level 3 qualification is eligible.

Institutions cannot confirm to any student whether they are eligible for RSS, or make any RSS payments, until all the eligibility checks have been completed.

Eligibility criteria

To be eligible for RSS in the 2020 to 2021 academic year, a student must meet all the criteria:


Students must be aged 16 or over but under 19 on 31 August 2020.

Students aged 19 or over are eligible for RSS 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 ESFA funding regulations for post-16 provision. The regulations specify the evidence institutions must see and retain for audit to confirm eligibility.

Household income

RSS has a household income criterion. A household is defined as the student and the adults they live with who are mainly responsible for them. The household income must be £30,993 or less in the previous tax year for the student to be eligible. For the 2020 to 2021 academic year, this is the 2019 to 2020 tax year.

The amount of RSS a student is awarded is based on an income-assessment that uses the following thresholds:

Household income Up to £21,000 £21,000 – £25,704 £25,705 – £30,993 £30,994 and over
Maximum RSS award (outside London) £3,458 £2,305 £1,152 nil
Maximum RSS award (inside London) £4,079 £2,685 £1,355 nil

The following London Boroughs are eligible for the London weighting:

Barking & Dagenham, Barnet, Bexley, Brent, Bromley, Camden, Croydon, Ealing, Enfield, Greenwich, Hackney & City of London, Hammersmith & Fulham, Haringey, Harrow, Havering, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Islington, Kensington & Chelsea, Kingston-upon-Thames, Lambeth, Lewisham, Merton, Newham, Redbridge, Richmond-upon-Thames, Southwark, Sutton, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, Wandsworth and Westminster.

The amount of RSS shown in the table is the maximum available for each income bracket. Students will be awarded the actual cost of their accommodation if it is less than the maximum. If the study programme lasts for less than one year, the RSS award will be on a proportional basis.

Students cannot receive RSS if they are in receipt of housing benefit.

Eligible education provision

Students must have a place on a full-time study programme including either a first full level 2 or first full level 3 substantial qualification/s. The programme must be directly 16 to 19 funded by ESFA.

Institutions should refer to ESFA funding regulations for more detail about programme funding.

Study programmes delivered by institutions that have a subcontracting relationship with an ESFA funded institution are not generally eligible for RSS funding. Institutions should refer to the funding guidance for subcontracting.

The full level 2 or full level 3 substantial qualification should normally be the student’s first qualification at that level. In exceptional circumstances, RSS may be available to students undertaking additional qualifications at the same level they already hold. For example, if a student:

  • wishes to study a second level 2 which is vocational and their first level 2 was an academic qualification
  • holds a level 2 qualification but is required by their study programme to study for a further specific level 2 to access the necessary level 3 element of the programme
  • is planning to enter higher education and a second level 3 qualification is specified as part of the entry requirement

It is the institution’s responsibility to determine where exceptions to the first full level 2 or first full level 3 substantial qualification criteria are appropriate. Any support must be a genuine exception and ESFA does not expect RSS to be used for this purpose on a routine basis. Institutions should refer to ESFA if they have any doubts about individual cases.

Substantial qualification which is not available within reasonable daily travelling distance

To be eligible for RSS, a student must not be able to access the same or similar substantial level 2 or level 3 qualification within reasonable daily travelling distance of their home address.

The substantial ESFA funded qualification is key for RSS eligibility. The study programme as a whole, or the combination of different modules within it, is not considered as part of the assessment of eligibility. If a student can access the same or similar substantial qualification within daily travelling distance of their home, they will not be eligible for RSS.

It is important institutions understand that only the substantial ESFA funded qualification is considered in RSS. Institutions should not encourage applications from students on the basis of additional activity (such as participating in a specific sport) as these will be rejected by ESFA.

ESFA defines reasonable daily travelling distance as a daily return journey that takes 2 hours or less on public transport; or a distance of under 15 miles from the student’s home or term-time lodgings to the institution.

Application process

Students apply for RSS directly from their chosen institution.

Institutions have their own application forms that students complete to seek RSS funding. All application forms used by institutions must include all the information required to assess if students meet the eligibility requirements for the scheme.

It is important for audit purposes that the student and responsible adult(s) sign and date the RSS application form.

Institutions should ensure they obtain evidence of the student’s term time accommodation arrangements, for example, a copy of the student’s tenancy agreement. The tenancy agreement (or other evidence accepted by the institution) must have been agreed and signed by the student. It must include the following information:

  • the student’s name
  • the student’s term time address
  • the dates of the tenancy
  • the cost of the rent
  • the landlord’s name, address and signature (please note: the landlord cannot be related to the student)

The student’s term time lodgings must be no further than 15 miles from campus.

Institutions must not release any RSS payments until all the required information and evidence has been provided and they have fully assessed the application. This includes obtaining confirmation from ESFA that the student’s substantial qualification is eligible.

Institutions must make payments directly to eligible students’ landlords for their rental costs. Proof of payment should be kept for audit purposes.

Institutions should not make RSS payments to students. The only exception to this rule is in circumstances where a student has already paid some of their rent before the institution has completed assessment of their RSS application. In this instance, institutions may reimburse these costs, as long as the rental period the student has paid for is within the agreed period of the RSS award. Institutions must keep proof of payment for audit purposes.

Students must apply for RSS each academic year they need support from the scheme. Institutions should check that students continue to meet all the criteria for support each year.

If students apply for RSS part way through the year, the institution can only award RSS from the beginning of the term in which the student applied.

Verification of the student’s substantial qualification

As part of the RSS application process, institutions must complete a course verification form to ask ESFA to verify each student’s substantial qualification.

Institutions may send one form for all new students seeking RSS funding for verification or separate forms to verify individuals. However, ESFA asks institutions to submit course verification forms as soon as possible in the academic year. This ensures students do not make financial commitments on the assumption they will receive RSS when they may not be entitled to it.

The 2020 to 2021 academic year course verification form will be available from April 2020. Institutions can request it using our online enquiry form.

Institutions must complete the verification form in full, providing all the requested information and submit it via ESFA’s Document Exchange following the instructions on the form. Any forms that are sent with missing or inaccurate information (for example, incorrect qualification reference numbers) will be rejected and returned to the institution.

Institutions must not include any personal details for students (such as name or date of birth) on the form. ESFA will delete any forms that include personal details and ask the institution to re-submit it containing only the required information.

ESFA will verify if the same or similar substantial level 2 or 3 qualification is available within daily travelling distance of the student’s home address. In other words, whether the student can achieve the same or similar qualification in their local area.

ESFA will notify institutions of the decision within 7 working days. The decision will be either to confirm the student is eligible (the institution will need to verify they meet all other RSS criteria) or to reject the application because the student can achieve the same or similar qualification locally.

If ESFA rejects an application because the same or similar substantial qualification is available within daily travelling distance, the institution must reject the student’s overall RSS application.

Institutions must keep a copy of ESFA’s response as part of their auditable records.

Under no circumstances should institutions give any guarantees of RSS funding to students, or their parents, or make any RSS payments before ESFA has confirmed in writing that the student’s substantial qualification meets the eligibility criterion and the institution itself has fully assessed the student against all other criteria.

Change of study programme or withdrawals

If the student leaves the study programme, institutions should stop RSS payments immediately. 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 RSS application process.

If the student transfers to a different study programme with a different substantial qualification, the institution must submit a further course verification form to ESFA for the new qualification’s eligibility to be verified. If the student can access the new qualification in their local area, they will stop being eligible for RSS and payments should cease immediately.

Continuing students

Students in receipt of RSS who are returning to the second or subsequent year of their study programme in the 2020 to 2021 academic year do not need to have their substantial qualification checked with ESFA again. However, Institutions must confirm, via an application from the student, that they continue to meet all other RSS criteria.

Any student who changes their substantial qualification in a subsequent year of study must have their new qualification verified by ESFA.

Funding and allocations

ESFA has generated RSS allocations in the 2020 to 2021 academic year for institutions that had students verified as eligible for support from the scheme in the 2019 to 2020 academic year where those students are expected to return for a second or subsequent year of study. ESFA used the course verification form as the source of this information.

The allocation provides funding for the actual students currently receiving RSS. It does not make any assumptions about demand in the 2020 to 2021 academic year. ESFA will release any additional funding that is needed to institutions (both those given an initial allocation and any institution that approaches us in-year with eligible students) as and when required.

Institutions may use up to 5% of their RSS allocation for administrative costs.

Institutions are not permitted to transfer any funds to or from RSS to other student financial support schemes provided by ESFA.

RSS funding will be reconciled by ESFA at the end of the academic year. Unspent funds will be recovered and cannot be carried forward to future years.


RSS allocations will be paid to institutions in 2 parts: two thirds in August and one third in April. Additional funding that is approved during the year will reflect this payment schedule as far as possible but may vary, depending when an eligible student is verified.

Individualised Learner Record and management information requirements

ESFA reminds institutions about the importance of completing the Individualised Learner Record (ILR) to indicate the numbers of students getting residential support from RSS. In the longer term, ESFA will use data from the ILR (Learner Funding and Monitoring (FAM), learner support reason) to identify students who have taken up RSS to generate allocations. Institutions are strongly encouraged to complete these fields.

ESFA will review ILR data periodically throughout the year including R14. This information will support the development of RSS policy and help target RSS funding.

ESFA requires institutions to complete a short management information return after the end of the academic year to confirm the number of students who received RSS and the amount of funding spent during the year. ESFA will reconcile RSS funds when this data has been analysed. We will write to institutions to confirm the amount of reconciliation and the expected timeframe for the action to be taken. Institutions who fail to complete the return by the deadline may be subject to recovery of RSS funds in full.

Audit and assurance

RSS is subject to normal assurance arrangements for 16 to 19 education and training. Institutions must ensure they have appropriate processes in place to record RSS applications and awards (including the students supported, the value of the award and a brief justification for the decision to award funding or reject the application).

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 RSS and the funds that they have issued for the student’s costs. They should also ensure they have retained a copy of ESFA’s decision on the course verification form. Auditors will be looking for evidence that institutions have applied the RSS 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, ESFA may recover funding where RSS payments are found not to have been made in accordance with this guide.

Institutions’ responsibilities in managing complaints or appeals

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

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

Further information and questions

Institutions who would like further information about RSS should contact ESFA via our online enquiry form.

Published 30 April 2020 Contents