Disabled Students’ Allowances – HEI arrangements with Non-Medical Help (NMH) suppliers

Package of changes to reform the provision of non-medical help for disabled students

02 June 2015

BIS is working with the sector on a package of changes to reform the provision of non-medical help for disabled students.  Disabled students, no matter which institution they attend, should expect to receive a consistent standard of non-medical help.  BIS also needs to ensure that the cost of this provision represents good value for money for the taxpayer who funds this support through disabled students’ allowances (DSAs).

The non-medical help market has a variety of different delivery and pricing models.  We wish to ensure that there is a clear quality and price framework against which DSAs-funded suppliers are measured.  It is important for institutions to have confidence that the support that is being delivered to their students is appropriate and of a good quality.  It is also important to suppliers to be confident that they are being judged on an equitable basis when their services are being compared to others in the market. 

The information below sets out the changes to DSA provision that will be introduced over the next year so as to ensure that good quality support is provided in a fair and equitable manner, and which provides assurance of value for money for the taxpayer. 

1. Introducing competition in the procurement of NMH provision

The first part of this change programme is already underway. Last month SLC wrote to all institutions with exclusive arrangements with non-medical help suppliers asking them to bring these arrangements to an end. Institutions which have highlighted logistical challenges in achieving this have been contacted and we will continue working with these institutions, but ultimately BIS is committed to ensuring non-medical help provision demonstrates good value for money.  Introducing some competition in the selection of non-medical help suppliers will help to achieve this.

2. Introducing quality assurance for NMH provision

The next stage of the reforms is to set up a system to help ensure the provision of non-medical help is of a sufficient and consistent quality. To this end, BIS is investigating how a register of NMH suppliers could be established which would involve them signing up to a quality framework in order to deliver DSAs-funded services. The NMH sector has already developed a NMH Charter and BIS will be working with stakeholders to build on that concept to develop a quality framework against which all DSAs-funded service provision will be measured and audited.  Our aim is to have a quality framework and audit mechanism in place for when assessments begin for the 2016/17 academic year.

3. Ensuring consistency of NMH standards and costs

In addition, BIS will be working with the SLC and the sector to set appropriate cost levels for the provision of NMH services.  The SLC NMH manual already sets out cost bands and indicative prices for NMH provision.  Work is underway to review the manual before reaching a decision on the appropriate costs that DSAs will cover.  This will enable assessors to recommend suppliers on the basis of like for like quotes to Student Finance England.  Our aim will be to have a cost framework in place for when assessments begin for the start of the 2016/17 academic year.

4. Addressing conflicts of interest

In parallel BIS has been looking at the process for identifying and addressing conflicts of interest which could arise between those involved in deciding what support a disabled student needs, and the suppliers of that support. As a result BIS has produced new conflicts of interest guidance for the sector which will be published in the next few weeks.  The guidance will include a more robust process for managing and monitoring potential conflicts. BIS has also established an Oversight Group of sector representatives to provide additional assurance that the process for managing and addressing conflicts of interests is working.

Membership of the Oversight Group is drawn from BIS, SLC, UniversitiesUK, GuildHE, Welsh Government, NHS Business Services Authority, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Department of Health and the National Union of Students.  Representatives from the DSAs delivery sector will be invited on an ad hoc basis as and when the Group require their perspective.  

It is BIS’s intention that this package of reforms will help to address the wide variations in quality and cost of NMH provision across the country, and the conflicts of interest that might negatively impact on the competitiveness and financial assurance of the system, and overall deliver a system of NMH provision which delivers a quality service to students at a cost that is reasonable for the taxpayer.

We look forward to working with stakeholders on developing these operational changes further in the next few months.  This work will not impact on the individual allowances that students are entitled to receive or the level of support they can expect to receive.