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Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA)

Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) was launched across Scotland in August 2004 to provide financial support to young people from low income families. The aim is to help reduce financial barriers that may restrict young people from remaining in post-16 education.

EMAs are payments of £30 per week, normally paid fortnightly in arrears, dependent on your attendance and conduct at your school, college or learning centre.


To be eligible for an EMA you must meet the residency, age, household income and course criteria outlined in the sections below. Please note that these may be subject to change.


Orkney Islands Council refers to various legislation when assessing a young person's residency eligibility. Generally, you must be able to demonstrate that you have been ordinarily resident in Scotland for three years prior to the start date of the course or the date that you become eligible to apply for EMA. There may be exceptions to this and you should contact us to discuss your individual circumstances. Further information on residency is available in the Student Funding Guidance document which can be accessed from the 'Related Downloads' section of this page.


Your date of birth must fall between 1 March 2004 and 29 February 2008.

For school pupils and college students there are 2 intakes per academic year in line with the two statutory school leaving dates.

  • Autumn intakes take place after the summer holidays, at the start of the academic year. If you were born between 1 March 2004 and 30 September 2007 you may be eligible to receive EMA payments from August 2023.
  • Winter intakes take place after the Christmas holidays. If you were born between 1 October 2007 and 29 February 2008 you may be eligible to receive EMA payments from January 2024.

For young people on Activity Agreements who have reached their statutory school leaving date (such as those at the Connect Project), you should apply at the time you sign your agreement with the Learning Centre as these programmes do not follow the academic calendar.

Household Income

To qualify for EMA your household income must be below a certain threshold depending on the number of dependent children within the household. Dependent children are those up to the age of 16 and those between the ages of 16 and 25 who are in full-time Further or Higher Education.

The household income thresholds for 2023 to 2024 are:

  • Up to £24,421 for households with one dependent child.
  • Up to £26,884 for households with more than one dependent child.

Young people who are formally defined as 'Looked After' do not need to submit household income details. This excludes those in informal kinship care arrangements, who would be required to provide their carer's income details. Further details are contained in the Student Funding Guidance.


For school pupils, you should normally be studying a full-time, non-advanced course of education. This is usually a minimum of 21 guided learning hours per week.

College students should be studying a full-time or part-time, non-advanced course of education. The number of hours for college courses may vary.

Non-advanced courses are those up to and including National Certificate (NC) or SCQF level 6.

For young people on Activity Agreements, weekly learning hours may vary depending on individual circumstances.

Application Process

If you meet all the eligibility criteria, you should complete an application form to apply for EMA. They can be collected from your school, college or learning centre, or you can download a copy in PDF format from the 'Related Downloads' section of this page.

You must submit a fully completed and signed application form along with all relevant supporting documentation, including:

  • Birth certificate or passport.
  • Proof of household income (if applicable).

For full details about providing proof of income and what documentation is required, please refer to the Student Funding Guidance. It is recommended that you get your documents copied as Orkney Islands Council are not responsible for any original documents that go missing in the mail. Photocopies must be clear and we retain the right to inspect original documents if required.

Please note that your application can take approximately 4-5 weeks to process during busy periods. If you have not heard from us after this time, please contact us to ensure that we have received your application.

Submission Dates

  • If you are eligible to receive EMA payments from August, you should submit your application by 30 September in order to have your payments backdated to the start of term.
  • If you are eligible from January, you should submit your application by 29 February in order to have your payments backdated to the start of term.

If your application is received after the submission date, the award can only be made from the week that it is received by the Education Grants Team and cannot be backdated.

The final closing date for applications is 31 March. No applications from schools or Orkney College will be processed after this date.

Learning Agreements

If your application is successful, you will be sent a letter with your full award details and a Learning Agreement. This is an agreement between the student and the educational establishment which sets out targets for the academic year and details the responsibilities of each party. Failure to comply with the terms and conditions of this Agreement may result in non-payment of EMA.

Learning Agreements must be signed by the student, their parent/carer if they are still at school, and someone from their place of study, e.g. Guidance Teacher, Tutor. Your School or Learning Centre can advise you of who needs to sign your Agreement.

No payments can be made until the Learning Agreement has been signed and returned to the Education Grants Team.

It is your responsibility to ensure that you have a valid Learning Agreement in place.


Once we have received your completed and signed Learning Agreement, your payments may begin. Payments will be made fortnightly in arrears straight into your bank account, dependent on your attendance, progress and conduct at your School or Learning Centre. Payments will follow a set schedule which can be found in the Student Funding Guidance. Please note that there may be occasions where payments are delayed due to public or bank holidays.

You can only be paid for each full week's attendance within term time, up to a maximum of 42 weeks in any one academic year. You will not receive any payments during short, term time holidays which include the October, Christmas and Easter breaks.


Your attendance will be monitored on a regular basis to ensure that you are meeting the targets set out in your Learning Agreement and payments will only be issued for weeks where you have maintained 100% attendance.

There are some circumstances which will not affect your attendance, as long as they are authorised by your education provider, such as work experience, field trips, medical or dental appointments (where you have shown that you have a valid appointment card or letter), etc. Full details about the types of absences that are authorised can be found in the Student Funding Guidance or alternatively you can discuss this with your School or Learning Centre.

Failure to maintain 100% attendance and provide a valid reason for your absences will result in your EMA payments being withheld and may even lead to your payments being stopped if you are persistently late or absent.

Missed Payments

If you do not receive a payment when you think you should have, please discuss this with your School or Learning Centre in the first instance. They should be able to advise you if your payment has been stopped as a result of poor attendance. If they cannot provide you with a reason then please contact the Education Grants Team.

It is your responsibility to check your EMA payments. Although rare, there may be occasions where errors occur and overpayments of EMA must be returned immediately.

Payments will stop at the end of the SQA exam timetable for pupils in S6 and any S4 or S5 leavers. Students returning to school after exams will continue to get EMA payments to the end of the academic year.

Duration of Allowance

Approved applications are awarded for one academic year. A new application must be submitted each year, along with relevant supporting evidence.

Payment of EMA will normally be restricted to a maximum of three years from the date of your first payment and recipients should be between 16 and 19 years old.

Contact Details

If you have any queries, would like further information or need assistance completing your application form, please contact the Education Grants Team at:

Education, Leisure and Housing, Orkney Islands Council, Council Offices, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1NY.

Telephone: 01856873535 extension 2416.

Email: Education Grants.

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