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Procurement Services


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What is dispensation?

When buying goods, works or services it is important to seek value for money. The best way to do this is to ‘shop around’ multiple vendors to compare their prices. When multiple vendors submit pricing to you – either in the form of tenders, proposals, quotations, or prices listed on their website or in their catalogue – this is known as ‘competition’.

Depending on the amount of money you are spending, the University Finance Regulations require different levels of competition. In short, the higher the potential spend, the more complex the competition required.

Sometimes – however – competition is not always possible. Requesting dispensation involves getting approval to be exempt from seeking competition in these one-off circumstances.

In what circumstances will I need dispensation?

The following are common (but not exhaustive) examples of where dispensation is considered appropriate:

  • technical compatibility, inc. upgrade to existing equipment;
  • repairs/servicing of equipment;
  • protection of technical or artistic rights, or in order to protect exclusive rights;
  • goods, works and/or services to be supplied constitute an extension of existing contract – where change of supplier would cause disproportionate technical difficulties, diseconomies or significant disruption;
  • one-off unique opportunity which offers significant value;
  • extreme urgency which was unforeseeable; and
  • where research and/or collaboration agreement(s) name a specific entity(s) in the grant award.

The following have been approved by the Director of Finance as exempt from needing a dispensation request:

  • attendance at specialist training courses where there is one provider;
  • subscriptions/membership of professional organisations;
  • attendance at conferences organised by third parties;
  • exhibition stands at events;
  • subscriptions to journals; and
  • purchase of heritage assets.

⚠ Avoiding a breach of Financial Regulations

You must be granted dispensation approval before contracting with vendors without competition. If you have already received the goods, works or services from the vendor then this is a breach of Financial Regulations and dispensation approval is no longer required.

Guidance for completing a dispensation request

How do I calculate the value of my dispensation request?

To determine the (estimated) value of your dispensation, we recommend using one of the calculations below.

  • fixed duration/period: the total price to be paid, or which might be paid, during the whole of the period of receiving the goods, works or services (the proposed contract length);
  • uncertain duration: if you do not know how long you will require the goods, works or services, multiple the known monthly payment by 48 (four years);
  • recurrent transactions for the same type of item: use the aggregated value of forecast individual transactions over the coming 12 months; or
  • feasibility studies: value stated in prior feasibility studies, including business cases.

ⓘ Dispensation requests are not about approving spend

Where dispensation is granted, it approves the principle of avoiding competition on a given transaction; granting dispensation does not approve the budget required to do so. Departments retain responsibility for budgetary management and for monitoring expenditure made against an approved dispensation request.

For this reason, the value of your dispensation request could be higher than the anticipated amount you intend to spend. Procurement actively encourages this wherever your purchase involves (or is likely to involve) service agreements, spares and/or a strong risk of as yet unknown additional needs. Dispensation requestors are advised to include contingencies in any request they feel warrants it.

How long do I need dispensation?

If you are seeking dispensation to make a one-off purchase or sign a fixed period contract, the length of time for which you require dispensation approval will appear obvious. However, as with value, granting dispensation approves the principle not the budget.

If you are unsure of how long you will need dispensation, or if you know your need will be recurrent, then request a dispensation length for as long as you reasonable could expect to require one, up to a period of four years. Dispensation lengths greater than four years will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.

As an example, if you have a purchasing need that you know recurs once per term, every year – then rather than raising three separate dispensation requests every year, it is advisable to raise a single request for four years covering the total value of the entire period.

Do I need to show any savings or commercial benefit to receive dispensation approval?

No. However, it is good practice to approach all buying of goods, works and services with an eye on getting some value from the transaction – even when this is not monetary in nature.

Vendors may offer discounts, free samples, generous terms or complementary services (such as free equipment maintenance), among other things, even in the absence of competition – and everyone buying on behalf of the University is encouraged to ask suppliers politely for such things when transacting with them.

There may also be occasions where your transaction could involve sustainability benefits, such as reduction in waste, consumption or carbon emissions, as well as wider community, societal, equality or general environment benefits from avoiding competition.

Can I receive dispensation approval when buying goods and/or services from abroad?

Yes. The dispensation form requires all values to be entered in British Pound Sterling (GBP), however there is a section to enter a foreign currency amount, where required.

If you receive approval for your dispensation, you will still be required to seek an International Payment Order (IPO) from Finance Division.

Can I receive dispensation approval when paying for goods, works or services in advance?

Yes. Any payment made to a vendor in advance requires approval either from your Head of Department (if the total value of the payment is less than £10,000 inc. VAT) or Procurement.

The dispensation form allows you to request dispensation and advance payment approval simultaneously; you do not need to raise a separate request for advance payment.

The University, as a principle, tries to refrain from paying for goods, work or services in advance. As part of your request, you will need to demonstrate why advance payment is required and how the associated risks will be mitigated.

You can find more information on Advance Payments here.

Do I need dispensation approval if my purchase will be funded by a grant or research collaboration agreement?

Yes. Any buying of goods, works or services occurring without competition requires dispensation approval – regardless of funding source. This also includes transfer of funds to collaborating organisations.

When transacting with a collaborator as part of a research or collaboration agreement, Procurement will expedite review of the dispensation request.

Please ensure that Option H) Research and/or collaboration agreements names specific supplier entities in the grant award is selected in the dispensation form for these cases.

Can I receive dispensation approval if the goods, works and/or services will be bought on the vendor’s terms and conditions?

Yes – however, the University’s standard terms and conditions should be used wherever possible. Dispensation approval should be sought for any contract with a value of £50,000 or above, which will be entered into on the vendor’s terms (excluding any contract tendered and negotiated with Procurement’s involvement. These contracts will have a ‘UCAM’ number prefix).

You must always check vendor terms and conditions very carefully. If you have any concerns about the terms you have been issued with by a vendor, please seek advice from us or the Legal Services Office.

Who approves requests for dispensation?

If the value is £50,000 or less (ex. VAT or any other known charges), requests made via the dispensation form will be routed to your Head of Department for approval. You will be required to enter the email address of your Head of Department on the form.

When the Head of Department receives the email they should indicate whether or not dispensation is approved, noting the decision on the copy and signing and dating it. They should inform the requestor of the decision. The request must be kept on file for audit purposes. As an alternative to paper copies, an email response confirming the above can be used instead, providing it is filed electronically.

Procurement approval (on behalf of the Director of Finance) is required where total contract value is equal to or exceeds £50,000 – your request will be reviewed by a Category Manager, who will respond in due course. A record of these requests will also be kept for audit purposes.

How are the new dispensation identification (ID) contract numbers constructed?

The new dispensation ID format consists of several components:


  • DISP: Prefix indicating the contract relates to a dispensation (compare 'UCAM' for Procurement-negotiated contracts)
  • YY: Two-digit year code, reflecting when the dispensation was raised (i.e. in 2021)
  • ##: An incremental number. This number will rise over time as dispensations are requested. It relates to the total number of dispensations raised and does not reset per year or per department.
  • AA: Department code, taken from the Microsoft 365 account of the person completing the form. The form provides a section to indicate if you are raising a request on behalf of someone else - within these questions is an override field that will allow you to include a department code different to that of the person completing the form.

As an example, the following dispensation was raised in 2021 by an individual in Finance Division (AG) and it is the 44th dispensation request raised.


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Dispensation request form

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