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Sunday, July 25, 1999 Published at 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK


Student loan payouts 'safe'

Loan processing has been hit by computer problems

The government says it believes students will receive their loan cheques on time - despite delays caused by a new computer system.

Valerie Jones reports: "Local authorities say they're six to eight weeks behind"
The processing of loan applications has been hit by software problems - just weeks after similar delays at the Passport Agency.

There had been fears that colleges might have to use emergency funds to help students.

But Education Minister Baroness Blackstone said only a "tiny" number of local education authorities had fallen behind in dealing with the loan applications and she expected students would get their loans on time.

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She told the BBC: "It is our firm expectation that students will get paid on time. They don't face the prospect of not getting the financial support they need.

"We have no reason to believe that any authority will be unable to process student applications so there's no absolutely no reason for parents and students to worry and I do want to give them that important reassurance."

BBC Political Correspondent John Pienaar reports: "There have been problems with the new computer system"
It had been reported that the government's timetable for assessing whether students were eligible for loans and tuition fee payments were months behind schedule.

Councils complained the new software was full of errors and that they had been allowed only a week to test it, according to the Independent on Sunday.

'Passport nightmare'

The problems were reported to be so basic, the new system could not recognise "UK" as a valid response to the question of a student's country of origin.

Education minister Baroness Blackstone: "There's absolutely no reason for parents and students to worry"
"This is the passport nightmare all over again. Everything that could be delayed has been delayed," Edward Lister, Tory leader of Wandsworth Council told the paper.

"The Department for Education has saddled local authorities with an unworkable system."

He said the council was already receiving calls from students anxious their loans. He expected more calls in mid-August when A-level results are published.

'Pull out all the stops'

He predicted that the worst problems would be in September, "when students are ready to start their course and they find they are still waiting for their money".

Staff at Wandsworth Council are set to work through the summer to get early information to loans companies to assist the 2,000 local students applying for them next term, he said.

"Ministers must order the loans company to pull out all the stops between now and September and give an undertaking that this year's chaos never happens again," he said.

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