30. HECS HELP

30.1 - What is HECS‑HELP?

HECS‑HELP provides eligible students with a loan to pay their student contribution amount for Commonwealth supported units of study.

30.2 - Who is eligible for HECS‑HELP?

To be eligible for HECS‑HELP for a unit of study, the student must be:

  • an Australian citizen [HESA section 90-5] who will undertake at least one unit of study in Australia contributing to their course of study
  • the holder of a permanent humanitarian visa who will be resident in Australia for the duration of the unit [HESA subsection 90-5(1)]; or
  • a New Zealand Special Category Visa holder who meets certain arrival and the long‑term residency requirements and who will be resident in Australia for the duration of the unit (see Appendix E) [HESA paragraph 90-5(2)(a)].

Further, the student must:

  • have completed, signed and given to an appropriate officer of the provider a Request for a Commonwealth supported place and a HECS-HELP loan form on or before the census date (see part 10) [HESA subsection 90-1(g)]
  • meet the TFN requirements (see part 34)
  • meet the citizenship and residency requirements [HESA subsection 90-1(a)];
  • be enrolled as a Commonwealth supported student [HESA subsection 90-1(c)];
  • be enrolled in an accredited course of study [HESA subsection 90-1(aa)]; and
  • still be enrolled in that unit at the end of the census date [HESA paragraph 90‑1(e)(ii)].

A student is not eligible for HECS-HELP for a unit of study if the unit forms a part of a course of study that is, or will be, undertaken primarily at an overseas campus [HESA section 90‑10].

Students will need to:

  • pay 100 per cent of their student contribution amount upfront to the provider; or
  • meet the HELP eligibility requirements and TFN requirements so their student contribution amount may be deferred through a HECS-HELP loan, if applicable.

Australian citizenship

A student who is an Australian citizen will not satisfy the residency requirements if the provider reasonably expects the student will not undertake any of the units of study contributing to the course of study within Australia.

A person may automatically be an Australian citizen by birth or adoption, or after applying for Australian citizenship by descent or conferral. A person over 16 years of age applying for citizenship by conferral, will only obtain Australian citizenship after they have made the pledge of commitment and the Department of Home Affairs has issued them with evidence of Australian citizenship.

Permanent humanitarian visa holders

In determining whether a permanent humanitarian visa holder is considered resident in Australia for the duration of the unit, a provider must disregard any periods spent outside of Australia if those periods:

  • cannot reasonably be regarded as indicating the visa holder’s intention to reside outside of Australia for the duration of the unit; or
  • are required to complete the requirements of that unit [HESA subsection 90‑5(2)].

However, a holder of a permanent humanitarian visa will not satisfy the citizenship or residency requirements if the provider reasonably expects the visa holder will not undertake in Australia any of the units of study contributing to the course of study [HESA subsection 90-5(3)].

New Zealand citizenship

From 1 January 2016, certain New Zealand Special Category Visa (SCV) holders have been eligible for HELP loans.

For more information, see Appendix E.

30.3 - Student contribution payment options

Students who are eligible for a HECS‑HELP loan may choose to:

  • make a full up-front payment [HESA section 93-15(1)]
  • pay part of their student contribution up-front and obtain a loan for the remainder [HESA section 93-15]; or
  • obtain a loan for the full amount of their student contribution [HESA sections 93-15 and 96-1].

Although students indicate their intended payment option on their Request for a Commonwealth supported place and a HECS-HELP loan form (see part 10), a provider can only determine a student’s eligibility for HECS-HELP (and therefore confirm that the student’s preferred payment option is open to the student) after the census date(s) for the unit(s) of study in which the student is enrolled. Any payments made by the student to the provider on or before the census date are taken into account when determining a student’s payment status.

30.4 - Full up-front payments for HECS‑HELP eligible students

Students who are eligible for HECS-HELP may still choose to pay their provider the full student contribution amount for all of their units of study up-front (that is, before the census date) rather than to access the HECS-HELP loan to which they are entitled [HESA section 93-15]. The payment must cover the entire student contribution amount and be made on or before the census date for the units. This applies to all of the student’s units in a course of study that have the same census date. A provider may set an earlier date for payment for administrative purposes (see part 30.5) [HESA subsection 93-15(2)].

TFN requirements for full up-front payments

Students who choose to make a full up-front payment of their student contribution amount are not required to provide their TFN (see part 34). As long as they have made a full up-front payment to their provider on or before the census date, they will be eligible to remain enrolled as a Commonwealth supported student.

However, it is prudent for students to provide their TFN, particularly if they are not certain they will be able to make a full up-front payment on or before the census date. This is because a provider must cancel a student’s enrolment in a unit as a Commonwealth supported student if the student has not made the full up-front payment for that unit and has not provided their valid TFN on or before the census date [HESA subsections 36-40(2) and 90‑1(f)].

Partial up-front payments

Students may only make up-front payments on or before the census date for the unit of study [HESA subsection 93-15(2)]. A provider may ask students to pay by an earlier date for administrative purposes but, in doing so, must ensure that students are treated fairly. Any payments that a provider does accept on or before the census date count as up-front payments.

Students who intend to make only a partial up-front payment must meet the TFN requirements (see part 34). This will enable the student to access a HECS‑HELP loan for the unpaid part of their student contribution.

A provider calculates what portion of the student contribution remains unpaid after the census date. This amount is the student contribution amount minus any up-front payments, and will be the student’s HECS‑HELP loan for that census date.

A provider may distribute the partial up-front payments proportionally across all units the student has enrolled in with that particular census date, or allocate the up-front payments in a way that best suits the provider’s business processes.

30.5 - Deadline for up-front payments

Students may only make up-front payments on or before the census date for the unit of study [HESA subsection 93-15(2)]. A provider may ask students to pay by an earlier date for administrative purposes but, in doing so, must ensure that students are treated fairly. Any payments that a provider does accept on or before the census date count as up-front payments.

30.6 - HECS-HELP loans

Students who wish to access a HECS‑HELP loan for all or part of their student contribution amount must meet the TFN requirements, on or before the census date, in order to be eligible (see part 34).

HECS-HELP incurred from 1 January 2020 will be subject to the combined HELP loan limit. A student will only be eligible to defer their student contribution amount through HECS-HELP if they have enough available HELP balance.

The Commonwealth will pay the provider the amount of the student’s HECS‑HELP on the student’s behalf (see part 39.1) [HESA subsection 96-1(b)].

30.7 - Issuing a CAN

Providers must issue each student who has requested HECS-HELP with a CAN for each census date (see part 11.1). Multiple units may be included on the student’s CAN, provided all units have the same census date [Administration Guidelines section 4.5.1].

30.8 - Withdrawal on or before the census date

Students who enrol in a unit of study, but withdraw before or on the census date, are not liable to pay their student contribution amount for that unit. If the student has made up-front payments in relation to that unit, the provider must repay those amounts to the student [HESA subsection 169-15(3)]. If the student has requested a HECS‑HELP loan, the student does not incur a debt for that unit.

Refunding excess payments

Where a student is changing their enrolment between units of study before the census date, a provider may, with the student’s agreement, move payments between units. For administrative convenience, a provider may wait until the student’s enrolment for a census date is finalised before repaying any excess up-front payments. However, any excess payments held by the provider at the end of the census date must be repaid to the student. Alternatively, the student may consent to the payments remaining with the provider as credit towards future liabilities the student may have with the provider.

30.9 - Withdrawal after the census date

Students who withdraw from their studies after the census date are still liable to pay their student contribution. However, in special circumstances, such students may apply to have any up-front payments of their student contribution refunded, and/or have their HECS‑HELP debt remitted (see part 42.3). From 1 January 2020, the student will also be required to have their HELP balance re‑credited (see part 35.5).

30.10 - Cancellation of units of study after the census date

In exceptional circumstances where a unit ceases to be available after the census date, the provider should assist affected students to complete the unit or a comparable unit. In making these arrangements, the provider must treat students fairly [HESA section 19-30]. If arrangements cannot be made with which the student is satisfied, the provider should advise the student of their eligibility for re‑crediting and remission (see part 42.3), and, for students studying with non-Table A providers, their eligibility under the provider’s tuition assurance arrangements.

30.11 - Repaying HECS-HELP debts

A person’s HECS-HELP debt is part of their accumulated HELP debt recorded by the ATO. People repay their accumulated HELP debt through the taxation system once their income is above the minimum repayment threshold for compulsory repayments (see part 35). They may also make voluntary repayments to the ATO.

30.12 - Tax deductibility of student contribution amounts

Student contribution amounts are not tax deductible, regardless of how the student pays the student contribution [Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 paragraphs 26-20(1)(ca) and (cb)].