Dyslexia: Disabled Students’ Allowance - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:50 pm on 13th November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 2:50 pm, 13th November 2017

To ask Her Majesty’s Government why dyslexic students have to pay for an assessment for disabled students’ allowance when other disabled students do not.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I draw the House’s attention to my declared interests.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Conservative

My Lords, all students are required to prove their eligibility for disabled students’ allowances. This applies to all students, including those with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia. DSA funding is not available to any student to pay for evidence to establish eligibility. DSAs continue to provide funding for eligible dyslexic higher education students to access IT equipment as well as software and other support.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for that reply. However, if you have already had a diagnosis—for instance, in primary school—have received assistance for dyslexia or a SpLD condition throughout your education, including assistance in the exams that get you to university, what possible justification is there for a further assessment that you have to pay for to get the assessed help at university?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Conservative

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, has great expertise in this area, both as president of the dyslexia association and in other commercial interests, so I defer to his superior knowledge. I reassure him that many universities now offer hardship funds for these tests. Perhaps I may quote from the University of East Anglia, which states:

“The cost to students for the 2017/18 academic year will be £30.00 for the screening and £70.00 for the Educational Psychologist or Psychiatrist assessment”.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, I do not think that the Minister has answered the noble Lord’s Question. I do not understand why people with dyslexia have to go through what essentially is a second assessment which they have to pay for—which, as he said, costs hundreds of pounds—when for other students with other disabilities a letter from their doctor will be enough to process them through the allowance. Why are people with dyslexia discriminated against?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Conservative

My Lords, specific learning disabilities are treated separately. In a working paper in 2005, where the British Dyslexia Association was part of the consultation group, the view then was that progress into higher education represented a major transition and that more adult-based assessments should therefore be used.

Photo of Baroness Manzoor Baroness Manzoor Conservative

My Lords, would it be possible for the Minister to take this back? There are some concerns around equality and it would be worth readdressing this issue.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Conservative

I will need to write to my noble friend on that.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, there is proof that students who use computer assistive technology do better those who are eligible for it but do not, but it appears that the additional charge of £200 is having a detrimental effect on take-up. What measures are the Government taking to ensure that all those who need it have access to it, regardless of their means?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Conservative

My Lords, once an assessment has been carried out, and there are 180 assessment centres in the country, they will produce a package that is relevant for the individual sufferer of the condition. There are four bands of assistance graded by the assessor when they meet the person needing the help.

Photo of Lord Hughes of Woodside Lord Hughes of Woodside Labour

My Lords, the Question is not about the different bands of assessment, but about why an assessment will cost some applicants money—they have to pay for the assessment—while others do not pay. A simple GP’s letter should be enough, as my noble friend suggests. Why does the Minister not answer that question?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Conservative

My Lords, the decision, as I mentioned, was to split special educational needs away from specific learning difficulties.

Why?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Conservative

Because I suspect that there is only a limited amount of money available and the view is that the money should be spent on helping those who actually have the condition.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Conservative

I think that that is very likely.

Photo of Lord Watts Lord Watts Labour

My Lords, the Minister says that these people have already had assessments and have been proven to have a condition. That condition does not change when they go to university. Can he explain why they are being treated differently from other groups?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Conservative

As I previously mentioned, the view was that adults’ needs change: an initial diagnosis in childhood may not apply in adulthood.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, just to be clear, I think that the House should know that you can be charged up to £600 for this assessment, when you already have a history of being assessed. This was a very old system; I do not know exactly when it came in. Does the Minister agree that it is well overdue that we look at this again?