These notes are based on the experience of applying for Home Country Student Finance during 2021, from Student Finance England, from the perspective of a British student resident in the EU, starting at university in the UK in the autumn of 2021.
Note: different rules and processes may apply in other regions of the UK, e.g. Scotland.
Post-Brexit Rule Change
Following Brexit, British Nationals resident in the EU for more than 3 years prior to 2021 are now eligible for Home Country student financing (fees + maintenance) in the UK (for courses that start before 2028). See the "Studying in the UK" section on the UK Gov Living in Europe page
As with UK residents, university applications are done as normal via UCAS.
Similarly, applications for student financing are done as normal via Student Finance England (SFE).
All British citizens that meet the criteria should be assessed as Home Country by each university. If not, an appeal should be made to the university.
The Tricky Bit: National Insurance
The main hurdle in obtaining student finance is obtaining a National Insurance Number (NINO). This is required in order to receive a maintenance loan (but not for fees).
The typical experience is that the student will be accepted for student finance however they will then be asked to provide a NINO before the funds can be released. In theory this process is initiated by SFE, however in practice it will fail at the first hurdle because the first thing SFE will ask for is a UK address. A UK address is a requirement of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) who handle applications for new NINOs.
Although it is tempting to use a friend or relatives address in the UK, note that the process of applying for a new NINO may require an interview at the local Job Center (reports differ on how common this is).
The NINO is normally automatically issued to children on their 16th birthday, if they are resident in the UK. If they are not resident, they will not have been sent a number, although this does not necessarily mean a number does not exist.
The Good News
If the child was born in the UK and received either Child Benefit or a Child Trust Fund, they should have been issued with a NINO then (although it won't have been called a NINO at the time!).
A NINO has the following format: XX000000X (e.g. AB123456C).
In the case of the Child Trust Fund, the Unqiue Reference Number is the same as the child's future NINO (I have confirmed this with HMRC). This should be detailed on any correspondance relating to the Child Trust Fund.
In the case of Child Benefit, some places report that the Child Reference Number should be the same as the NINO, however I have not confirmed this (it doesn't appear to be the case on the documentation I have, however it is worth checking).
Note, however, even though a NINO may exist, it may not be fully activated if the child was not resident in the UK at 16. The process for getting it activated is currently a little unclear, however some people have reported success calling the HMRC helpline (+44 191 203 7010 from outside the UK) and asking for it to be activated. Other people have been requested to fill form CA5403. Currently it is unclear if further action is required once the student takes up residence in the UK.
UPDATE August 2021: In my daughter's case, after calling the HMRC number a second time (a few weeks later), apparently her NINO was automatically activated (she didn't send the form back). It is not clear if this is a case of "it depends on who you speak to at HMRC", or maybe something was triggered by the original phone call, or maybe the UK Gov has suddenly decided to activate the numbers. In any event, the NINO was now acceptablable to SFE.
The Less Good News
If the student does not have a NINO, the process is more complicated. In this case, a NINO can only be applied for once the student has taken up residence in the UK. The DWP reports that this can be take up to 16 weeks, however some people have reported doing this much more quickly with the help of SFE, who may be able to setup an interview with the Job Center as soon as the student arrives in the UK (I have no personal experience of this, but people generally report SFE as being helpful in this matter).
Details of the application process are given on this UK Gov page. Note that there is a misleading comment on this page that states "You do not need a National Insurance number to apply for benefits or a student loan". Although this is strictly true - you don't need a NINO to apply - in practice you must have a NINO to receive the loan.
For further information beyond the UK Gov pages, try the following:
- The Ask Student Finance England forum on The Student Room.
- The British in Europe Facebook group.
- The After Brexit Brits living in the EU27 Facebook group.
- The Preparing for University - from school in Belgium to uni in English Facebook group (open to anyone in the EU).