LAW REPORTS : `Student' can claim income support

Chief Adjudication Officer v Clarke; Same v Faul Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Glidewell, Lord Justice Hirst and Lord Justice Hoffmann). 14 February 1995. A student who withdraws from his course during an intercalate d period is eligible for income sup
The Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Hirst dissenting) dismissed an appeal by the chief adjudication officer from the social security commissioner's decision that a student whom the university permits temporarily to withdraw from a course for an academic year or other substantial period is eligible for income support. The students were given permission to intercalate an academic year or substantial part of it. They were not eligible for an award or loan under the Education (Student Loans) Act 1990 because they were not attending a course. They applied for income support for which a student during the period of study is not eligible. The question was whether during their intercalated period they were students. The Income Support (General) Regulations 1987 (SI no 1967) provides that a person who has started a full-time course of advanced education shall be treated as attending it throughout any period of term or vacation within it, until the last day of the course or until he abandons it or is dismissed from it. The students argued that they could not have "periods of term or vacation within the course" when they were not attending the course at all.

Rabinder Singh (DSS) for the chief adjudication officer; Richard Drabble (Hansell Stevenson) for the students. LORD JUSTICE HOFFMANN said that "abandons" in the definition of student in regulation 61 was used in a sense which was final, namely the end of the course and a course which could be resumed had not been abandoned.

The Education (Student Loans) Act 1990 enabled students to obtain loans in addition to awards and grants. This made it possible to exclude most students from social security benefits altogether. One would therefore expect that a student's exclusion from social security benefits would be mirrored by his entitlement to an education award and a student loan. Otherwise there would be an anomalous class of people who for no obvious reason were left to destitution without state support of any kind. The courts should try to construe the regulations to reflect a coherent policy unless the language clearly made that impossible.

The claimant was a "student" for the purposes of the regulations while he was attending the course and he was deemed to attend the course not only during term time but also during periods of vacation within the course. He was not a "student" when his attendance at the course had been suspended by an intercalated period. Such a period could not be fairly described as a period of either term or vacation within the course.

This decision did not encourage universities to assist their students to raid the Exchequer by allowing them to "intercalate" the months between June and October each year.

LORD JUSTICE HIRST dissented. LORD JUSTICE GLIDEWELL agreed with Lord Justice Hoffmann.

Ying Hui Tan, Barrister