COVID-19 Study Disruption Payment Scheme (Northern Ireland) 2021

On 4 February 2021 the Northern Ireland Executive approved a £37.7m financial support package for higher education.

About the scheme

Minister for the Economy, Diane Dodds announced that £22m of the support package had been secured to provide almost 40,000 students studying in Northern Ireland with a £500 COVID-19 Disruption Payment. This one-off single discretionary payment is being made in recognition of the disruption suffered by students to their studies, the impact on them both financially and in respect of their mental health, due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The support package also includes:

  • £8.5m to address student financial hardship, digital poverty and to support student unions with mental health provision
  • £4.1m for the provision of a safe working, learning and research environment
  • £3.1m to compensate universities for lost income arising from rental pauses and releasing students from accommodation contracts.

This guidance document specifically relates to the £500 COVID-19 Study Disruption Payment Scheme. Further information in relation to the other elements of the support package, such as Support (Hardship) Funds can be found on nidirect or by contacting the education institutions directly.

The COVID-19 Study Disruption Payment of £500 is payable to full time UK and EU domiciled higher education students enrolled at publicly funded higher education institutions (HEIs), and further education colleges (FECs) in Northern Ireland. Payments will issue to eligible students from the institution they are enrolled with. The Department for the Economy will make funding available to the HEIs and FECs in order that those institutions can distribute payments to their eligible students before 31 March 2021.


Eligibility to receive a payment under the scheme is defined by the following criteria:


  1. Students must, during the month of February 2021, be enrolled on a full time, higher education course at one of the following designated institutions:

  • Belfast Metropolitan College
  • College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise
  • Northern Regional College
  • North West Regional College
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • South Eastern Regional College
  • Southern Regional College
  • South West College
  • St Mary’s University College
  • Stranmillis University College
  • Ulster University

A higher education course is defined as a course which leads to a level 4 or higher qualification under either the QAA Framework for Higher Education Qualifications or the Ofqual Regulated Qualifications


  1. The student must be UK or EU domiciled. 

It is for the designated institution making the payment to determine whether a course is designated full-time or otherwise and whether a student is UK or EU domiciled.

Funding and payments

Funding for the COVID-19 Study Disruption Payment scheme will be provided by the Department for the Economy (DfE) and will be made available to the HEIs and FECs listed above. The designated institutions will then in turn make the one-off £500 discretionary payments directly to the eligible students.

Recovery of payments made in error

Any sum paid in error to any person may be recovered by the institution that made the payment.


A payment made under the Scheme may be taxable. Regulations 68 – 70 of the Universal Credit (NI) Regulations 2016 apply in relation to Universal Credit recipients. Please see the FAQs below for further information.

Reporting fraudulent payments

If you have any concerns about fraudulent payments relating to this scheme you can send these to the Department for the Economy by email to:

Frequently Asked Questions and further guidance

A list of COVID-19 Study Disruption Payment Scheme FAQs has been published to provide further guidance in the first instance to interested parties. 

Where students require further guidance or have any additional questions regarding their eligibility or the operation of the COVID-19 Study Disruption payments, including when and how payments are expected to be paid, these queries should be directed to the HEI or FEC with whom they are enrolled.

Back to top