Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) and SA-HELP

On 11 October 2011, the Australian Parliament passed legislation allowing approved higher education providers (providers) to charge a fee for student services and amenities of a non-academic nature. The fee is called the students services and amenities fee or SSAF. The fee may be spent by providers on items such as sporting and recreational activities, employment and career advice, child care, financial advice and food services. SA-HELP is a loan from the Commonwealth which assists students to pay a SSAF imposed on them by their provider.

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The SSAF is governed by the Higher Education Support Act 2003, the Higher Education Support (Administration) Guidelines 2022 (Administration Guidelines) and the Higher Education Support (Student Services, Amenities, Representation and Advocacy) Guidelines 2022 (Advocacy Guidelines). The Administration Guidelines sets out the administrative arrangements for the SSAF, including publishing requirements, while the Advocacy Guidelines sets out requirements for providing students with information about, and access to, services and the representation and advocacy of the interests of students.

Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) and SA‑HELP fact sheet

A fact sheet has been developed to assist providers who charge a SSAF and offer SA‑HELP, or for those intending to, to comply with legislative requirements.

If you have any questions about the SSAF or the SA‑HELP loan program, please contact the Department of Education via SSAF@education.gov.au

Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) Allocation Report

The Higher Education Support (Student Services, Amenities, Representation and Advocacy) Guidelines 2022 requires providers who charge a SSAF to provide a publicly available report on SSAF allocations in the form approved by the Minister, and report on their actual expenditure for the year as part of their annual reporting. The Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) Allocation Report is the form approved by the Minister.

This Report was developed to allow for greater transparency and consistency in reporting on SSAF allocations and expenditure.

The Report must be made publicly available by providers within six months of the end of their financial reporting period (by 30 June or 31 December).

Charging a SSAF

Do providers have to charge a SSAF?

No. It is up to each provider to decide if, and when, they will introduce the fee.

Who can be charged a SSAF?

Any person who is enrolled or seeking to enrol with a provider can be charged a SSAF by their provider. However, only those students who meet the eligibility requirements can access Commonwealth assistance and defer the fee through a SA‑HELP loan.

Can international students be charged a SSAF?

There is nothing in the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (ESOS Act) that prohibits a provider from charging international students who are enrolled, or seeking to enrol with the provider, a SSAF under section 19-37(5) of the Higher Education Support Act 2003.

How much can providers charge in 2024?

Providers can charge students a SSAF of up to $351 in 2024. This maximum is indexed each year and published on the Department of Education’s Funding Clusters and Indexed Rates webpage. Students studying on a part-time basis cannot be charged more than 75% of the maximum amount that students studying on a full-time basis are charged in a calendar year. Therefore, the maximum SSAF a part-time student can be charged in 2024 is $263.25. Providers cannot round this amount up to $264.

Is a SSAF required to be a whole dollar amount, or can it include cents?

A SSAF is not required to be a whole dollar amount.

Can the SSAF be charged at the unit of study level?

It is up to each provider to decide how they will charge the SSAF. Some providers may charge students at the unit level or based on how many credit points students are enrolled in. However, a provider can only charge a student up to the maximum amount for a calendar year.

Are all students charged the same SSAF?

A provider may charge different SSAF amounts for particular categories of students, including a zero amount. Categories of students can be determined on any basis, including mode of attendance (i.e. external and internal), type of course (i.e. undergraduate and postgraduate) or equity status (i.e. low SES and indigenous).

Students studying on a part-time basis cannot be charged more than 75% of the maximum amount that students studying on a full-time basis are charged in a calendar year.

Is GST included in the SSAF?

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) provides advice on whether GST is payable on the SSAF. If providers are unsure whether GST should be included in their SSAF, they should obtain their own advice from the ATO. For more information on how to apply for a private ruling, visit the ATO website and conduct a search for 'private rulings'.

Paying a SSAF

Are students required to pay the SSAF even if they do not intend to use any of the services and amenities offered by their provider?

A provider can charge a SSAF regardless of whether the student intends to use any of the services and amenities provided.

Please note, although it is allowable under the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (the Act) to charge any student the SSAF, under section 19‑35 of the Act, providers must be fair and reasonable and ensure that the benefits and opportunities created are made equally available to all students. For example, if students study online and are charged a SSAF, the provider must have services available for those students (i.e. online services).

When do students need to pay the SSAF?

Providers are required to determine a date payable for the SSAF. This date cannot be earlier than the last day on which a student is able to enrol in a course of study with the provider (i.e. enrolment closing date). This ensures eligible students are able to access a SA‑HELP loan.

Why is there a requirement that the date the SSAF is payable be no earlier than the last day that a student can enrol with a provider?

The requirement that the date payable for the SSAF be no earlier than the last day that a student is able to enrol with the provider relates to a course of study rather than units of study.

The date payable must be no earlier than the last day (not including late enrolment periods) that a new student would be able to enrol in, for example, a Bachelor of Business for the period to which the fee relates.

The requirement is in place to ensure students are able to access SA‑HELP as a student must be enrolled in a course of study to be eligible for SA‑HELP.

What if a student cannot afford to pay the SSAF upfront?

Eligible students who are unable to pay the SSAF upfront can request Commonwealth assistance and defer the fee through a SA‑HELP loan. SA‑HELP is part of the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP).

Eligible students may choose to pay some of the SSAF upfront and obtain a SA‑HELP loan for the remainder or obtain a loan for the full amount of the SSAF. An eligible student will be able to take out a SA‑HELP loan even if they do not wish to take out any other HELP loan.

SA‑HELP is not included in a student’s HELP loan limit.

Who is eligible for SA‑HELP?

To be eligible for a SA‑HELP loan, students must:

  • meet the citizenship or residency requirements; and
  • be enrolled in a course of study or a bridging course for overseas-trained professionals on the day on which the SSAF is payable; and
  • meet the Tax File Number (TFN) requirements; and
  • submit a Request for a SA‑HELP loan form on or before the day on which the SSAF is payable; and
  • have a Unique Student Identifier (USI) before the day on which the SSAF is payable; and
  • have read the relevant year’s SA‑HELP information booklet before submitting a Request for a SA‑HELP loan form. This booklet is published on the Study Assist website.

For further information about SA‑HELP, providers should refer to the Administrative Information for Providers manual and students should refer to the Study Assist website.

When do students need to lodge their Request for SA‑HELP loan form?

Students who wish to access Commonwealth assistance to defer the SSAF through a SA‑HELP loan will need to complete, sign and return the Request for SA‑HELP loan form to their provider on or before the SSAF payment due date.

Can a Request for SA‑HELP loan form apply to fees that are due before the form is submitted?

No. If a student submits a Request for SA‑HELP loan form, it only applies to fees payable on or after the day the form is submitted.

Do students need to re-apply for a SA‑HELP loan each year?

A student is only required to apply for SA‑HELP assistance once for a course of study at a provider. However, if a student changes courses or changes providers, the student will need to re-apply for a SA‑HELP loan.

Does a student’s SA‑HELP debt appear as a separate amount on their Commonwealth Assistance Notice (CAN)?

Yes. A student's CAN must set out the amount of the SSAF, the day the SSAF was payable and the amount of SA‑HELP debt the student has incurred.

Does a student’s SA‑HELP debt appear as a separate amount on their annual HELP information statement from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO)?

No. A student’s SA‑HELP debt becomes part of their accumulated HELP debt which appears as a single amount on their annual HELP information statement.

If a student wishes to view the amount of SA‑HELP debt they have incurred, they should refer to their Commonwealth Assistance Notice (CAN) or they can access their loan history via the myHELPbalance portal.

When does a student start repaying their SA‑HELP debt?

A student’s SA‑HELP debt is part of their accumulated HELP debt recorded through the ATO. Students repay their accumulated HELP debt through the taxation system once their repayment income is above the minimum repayment threshold. Each year on 1 June, HELP debts are indexed which means an amount is added to a HELP debt to keep up with changes in the cost of living. Indexation means that HELP debts are likely to grow and the amount a student will repay in total will be more than the original amount of the loan.

If a student is enrolled in more than one course of study, will they be charged a SSAF for each course of study?

This depends on whether a student is enrolled in multiple courses of study at the same time with the same provider or whether the student is enrolled with different providers.

If a student is enrolled in more than one course of study at the same time with the same provider, they can only be charged a SSAF up to the maximum amount in that calendar year.

However, if a student is enrolled in units of study with more than one provider in the same calendar year, they may be charged a SSAF by each provider. For example, a student who is enrolled in a course of study with one provider (the home provider) but undertaking a unit of study with another provider (the host provider) as part of that course may be charged a SSAF by each provider.

To be eligible for SA‑HELP a student must be enrolled in a course of study with the provider who is charging the SSAF. If a student is enrolled in two courses of study with two providers, then they are eligible to receive SA‑HELP for each fee. However, if the student is enrolled in a course of study with one provider but undertaking units of study with another provider on a cross-institutional or non-award basis, they are only eligible to receive SA‑HELP assistance for the provider with which they are enrolled in a course of study.

Providers are responsible for developing their own policies in relation to charging a SSAF to students undertaking cross-institutional studies.

If a student enrols at one provider but then moves to another, can the student be required to pay another SSAF?

Yes. There is nothing in the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (the Act) or the associated Guidelines that prohibits a provider from charging each student who enrols with the provider a SSAF. The fee applies regardless of whether that person has paid a fee to another provider for the same period.

An eligible student can access a SA‑HELP loan for as many fees as the student incurs. There is no limit on the number of SA‑HELP loans for eligible students.

Can a student obtain a refund of the SSAF?

Providers are expected to develop their own policies in relation to the refund of the SSAF.

A SA‑HELP debt can only be remitted if the student does not have a valid tax file number. Please refer to section 33.8 of the Administrative Information for Providers manual for further information. Please note, the special circumstances provisions are not applicable to SA‑HELP debts.

Spending revenue from the fee

What can providers spend SSAF revenue on?

SSAF revenue can be spent on the provision of the following services:

  • providing food or drink to students on a campus of the higher education provider;
  • supporting a sporting or other recreational activity by students;
  • supporting the administration of a club most of whose members are students;
  • caring for children of students;
  • providing legal services to students;
  • promoting the health or welfare of students;
  • helping students secure accommodation;
  • helping students obtain employment or advice on careers;
  • helping students with their financial affairs;
  • helping students obtain insurance against personal accidents;
  • supporting debating by students;
  • providing libraries and reading rooms (other than those provided for academic purposes) for students;
  • supporting an artistic activity by students;
  • supporting the production and dissemination to students of media whose content is provided by students;
  • helping students develop skills for study, by means other than undertaking courses of study in which they are enrolled;
  • advising on matters arising under the higher education provider's rules (however described);
  • advocating students' interests in matters arising under the higher education provider's rules (however described);
  • giving students information to help them in their orientation; and
  • helping meet the specific needs of overseas students relating to their welfare, accommodation and employment.

Providers may spend SSAF revenue to directly provide a service, to get someone else to provide a service or subsidise a service provided by someone else, or on infrastructure for the provision of a service.

Providers must not allow SSAF revenue to be used to support a political party, or to support the election of a person to a Commonwealth or State or Territory Parliament or local Government body.

Do students have a say in how SSAF revenue is spent?

Yes. The Higher Education Support (Student Services, Amenities, Representation and Advocacy) Guidelines 2022 require providers who charge a SSAF to formally consult with democratically elected student representatives at their institution about how, specifically, the proceeds from any compulsory SSAF are used. Some providers also choose to consult with the broader student community via a survey or questionnaire. Information about the student consultation process should be published on provider websites.

The student consultation process must be timely, form part of a provider’s annual financial planning, and must include notifying students enrolled and democratically elected student representatives of:

  • the purpose of the SSAF;
  • the amount of SSAF revenue anticipated;
  • the mechanisms to establish priorities for SSAF revenue expenditure; and
  • the timing and mechanism available to comment on the proposed priorities.

The student consultation process must be reviewed and approved annually by a provider’s governing body.

Once consultation has been undertaken, providers must publish on their website the established priorities, proposed heads of expenditure and projects to be funded.

How does the Australian Government monitor expenditure of SSAF revenue?

Providers are required to certify, on an annual basis, that they charged student services and amenities fees strictly in accordance with the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (the Act) and the Administration Guidelines made under the Act.

Providers also need to confirm that the revenue from the fee was spent strictly in accordance with the Act and only spent on, or provided to third parties for the provision of, the services and amenities specified under the Act.

What if a provider breaches a provision of the Higher Education Support Act 2003?

The Department of Education will follow up with providers who may have breached their legislative requirements for further information or for action to be taken to address any non-compliance. There are also penalties that may apply to providers who breach their legislative requirements.

Do providers need to publish their SSAF fees?

Yes. Providers are required to publish their SSAF fees by 1 April if they are charging the fee in the second half of the year and by 1 October if they are charging the fee in the first half of the following year.

Can a provider carry unspent SSAF revenue forward to the upcoming calendar year?

Yes. Provided that requisite student consultation has taken place and SSAF revenue is only spent on allowable items under the Higher Education Support Act 2003, decisions on the expenditure of SSAF revenue, including the timing of expenditure, are at the discretion of the provider.

Can I contact the Department of Education about the SSAF or SA‑HELP loan program?

Any queries, complaints or concerns should be directed to SSAF@education.gov.au

SA‑HELP administration

Providers will have the opportunity to vary their SA‑HELP advance payment twice per year. Please refer to the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) and SA‑HELP fact sheet for further details about these arrangements and SA‑HELP in general.

Providers should refer to the Tertiary Collection of Student Information (TCSI) website for information about SA‑HELP data reporting requirements.