Page last updated at 16:56 GMT, Thursday, 10 September 2009 17:56 UK

Problems hit student loans system

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

Student Loans Company
The Student Loans Company is processing loans and grants

Ministers are keeping a close eye on England's student finance system as it struggles to deal with a record number of applications for grants and loans.

Higher Education Minister David Lammy contacted the Student Loans Company after numerous complaints about delays.

The firm, which this year took over the processing of maintenance grants and tuition fee loans from local councils, said applications were up 17% on 2008.

It has apologised but says everyone who applied on time will be paid on time.

I know if I don't get my funding within the next few weeks I won't be able to enter my course
James Greenhalgh

The BBC News Website received more than 150 emails from prospective students on 10 September.

Mainly, they complain about the company's phone and computer system, saying they are experiencing long waits and receiving conflicting information from administrative staff.

This is the first year that student's tuition fee loans, maintenance grants and maintenance loans have been processed by one organisation - Student Finance England - run by the Student Loans Company (SLC).

They used to be dealt with by the prospective student's local authority.

In Wales, local authorities are still dealing with applications.

Student Finance England is only dealing with first-time applicants. "Returning" applicants - those who have already had one year at least in higher education - are still being dealt with by their local authorities.

James Greenhalgh, who hopes to start university this autumn, contacted the BBC News Website with his concerns along with a number of other correspondents.

"I know if I don't get my funding within the next few weeks I won't be able to enter my course.

"My parents can't support me at university and I haven't got any money."

The 19-year-old, who is hoping to go to Leeds University to study politics and parliamentary studies, is waiting for about £5,000 in grants and loans for living costs.

'Daily contact'

He said: "I put my application in for grants and loans about 10 weeks ago. About six weeks ago I received a letter saying there were delays to the processing and I should complete an emergency loan application.

"All this uncertainty is very distressing for students who are going to university for the first time."

Pam Lowe emailed to say she had called the helpline number over 100 times in the past three days in an attempt to find out what was going on with her son's finance application. He hopes to join a course at Leicester University in a few weeks' time.

She said it was very difficult to get through and sometimes the phones just cut out. She also claimed the website kept crashing.

"They basically told us they had thousands of unprocessed documents and could not tell us whether they had received my son's application documents despite the fact that they were sent months ago," she said.

Record applications

"We know lots of people in the same situation - you just cannot get through to them.

"Some students are having to find £1,500 to pay for their first term's rent."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said there had been a number of complaints about the phone line and with people waiting a very long time.

Mr Lammy was keeping in daily contact with the SLC about the issue and they were keeping him up to date with what was going on, she added.

Ministers will be hoping to avoid a repeat of last year's problems with the processing of the education maintenance allowances designed to keep pupils in school and college.

Everyone who applied on time should be paid on time
Derek Ross, Student Loans Company

The Student Loans Company has said it is sorry some people are experiencing delays but insists any problems are related to the volume of calls to the helpline and are not due to any technical or systemic problems.

Derek Ross, deputy chief executive of the Student Loans Company, said: "Almost one million students have applied this year. Everyone who applied on time should be paid on time.

"We have at times struggled to cope with the volume of telephone calls. We advise people to access their accounts through the website.

"Our process is going well this year."

He said in both terms of numbers and percentages of applications processed, the service was ahead compared with this time last year.

Any website problems had only lasted minutes, he said.

An SLC spokesman added: "We are sorry that some customers are experiencing difficulties with their student finance applications.

"This year we have received a record number of applications with an increase of 16.7% more applications than last year.

"Already we have approved over 830,000 applications, which is 40,000 more than this time last year.

"We have increased our staff numbers by 120 in order to deal with the high numbers of calls and applications and are focussing our resources on making sure we keep processing applications as well as ensuring callers are dealt with as quickly as possible."

President of the National Union of Students Wes Streeting said many applicants for student loans and grants were concerned they would will not receive their money on time.

"It is unacceptable that so many people are having difficulties getting through to the helpline.

"Student Finance England must improve its enquiries system so that anyone who is concerned about their application can get the information they need.

"If students find themselves without funds once the new term starts, there will be some very serious questions for Student Finance England to answer."

Have you had problems with your student loan or grant application? Send us your experiences.

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The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

I got sent the wrong form in the first place now the application which is being "processed" is late and its no fault of my own and I don't know if I'm going to get it because I have had no confirmation to say I'm going to so if I don't get any money I'm going to have to drop out of my BA coarse which I wont be to pleased about.

This is such a shambles! what happened, trying to save money?! screw that we have all been let down! what was wrong with the old system?! something needs to be done soon and fast other wise millions of us young people hoping for a better future just wont get anywhere and I can also so see why some people don't bother in going for higher education it's just seems to be one big stress which isn't needed.
Amie, East Yorkshire

Student Finance UK! I unable to contact this government ran department by phone to query whether my son has a grant when he starts uni in two weeks which we applied for back in May/June. The answerphone message tells the caller to log in to the website and view their personal account, which is all well and good but if you have a query, there is no facility to leave a message on these accounts for the department. Apparently, I have heard parents throughout the country are experiencing similiar problems which is very stressful!

Teresa Deeming, UK

It took 4 attempts just to get a non means-tested Tuition Fee grant for my daughter. Once you've put your details in online, every other interaction with them has to be by form! The people on the phone don't even know why forms are getting rejected by the system, very poor for the 21st Century.
Karen, Basingstoke

My son had deferred his University application so when he applied earlier this year he already had his A levels. He started his on-line loan application in late June and by the 12th July we had sent the SLC everything they had requested. He starts at his University tomorrow and we have heard nothing from the SLC. The response to the last call we made to them (last week) was that they hadn't yet dealt with all their June correspondence and that they would only be moving on to the July letters in the near future. Our experience does not tally with the optimistic press statements put out by the SLC. My son will have to be using his savings to live on until the loan comes through but we don't know how the University Fees can be paid if the University insist on them before the Loan is advanced.
Glyn, Manchester

My daughter has still not heard anything regards her aplication for student loan and maintenance payment . We applied months ago and her account keeps telling her "awaiting further information". We have contacted them on numerous occasions and each time they asked for further information,. One time two different people we talked to gave us different information on what documentation they required. We have supplied them with all the information they have asked for and they have sent the documentaion back to us . However at no time have they said this was wrong or what further information we needed. It is only when my daughter rings and waits for over half an hour to get an answer that she is told once again they need some other documentation. The service and infromation is horrendous. They have been rude and dismissive to my daughter who is going to university in three weeks and still does not know if she can go because she will not have the funds. She is extremely stressed about!

this in a time when they are stressed enough about going to university. The web site keeps crashing. We have hit a brick wall on this and have not got any straight answer from them. My daughter is again calling today and I have no choice to get local MP's in on this.
Christopher Talbot, Isleworth,

I am in the same position. My accommodation was gone with deposit of £250.00 as the dead line was last night for the 1st term payment which I could not pay without the finance loan. Please help.
Sivendra, Harrow

I think the finance system works great.I applied on time and will be recieving my loans/grants on time.
raj, Reading

It's sheer purgatory trying to in contact with Student Finance England to recover details to complete a loan application on line because I'm currently abroad. I must have called at least 50 times over a period of two weeks only to hear every time that the lines were full and to call back later. Eventually I found a different number and had them connect me through, bypassing that number. Unbelievably shocking service, and the reason why my application was delayed two weeks
Jonathan, UK

The SLC spokesperosn fails to mention that around 60% of the applications approved are from returning students and have been processed by Local Authorities and not the new Student Finance England service.
Alan, Truro, Cornwall

University courses all over the country will be commencing over the next few weeks and the majority (some 80-90%) of applicants I know have not received their loans or grants from Student Finance England. It's a disgrace! The government tells us they're focussing on education but then not only do hundreds of thousands of students miss out on places due to funding cuts, but even those who managed to get a place might not be able to take it if they can't get the financial help they need. I have a place at Lancaster university but unless my loan comes through in the next 2 or 3 weeks, I won't be able to go!
Ali, Hurstpierpoint

We applied for my sons grant and tuition fee online way back in May, we have had no correspondence from them. I have managed to get through on the phone a couple of times. The last time the operator didn't really how our application was going and she wasn't sure if my P60 had been processed (it had been because I received it back after a couple of week speaking to her). I am worried that his tuition fee will not be paid. He's not moving away from home so living costs are not a problem but he still will have to pay for his books and bus pass etc.
Dawn Hansford, Southampton UK

I must be one of the lucky ones. My funding has been approved, although I applied for it online in May and only had my sponsor's income assessed a few weeks ago. What I can't understand is why, instead of processing applications as they come in, it seems to be done in batches very close to University enrolment time. Surely it would lessen the stress on all sides if applications were dealt with ASAP?
Lauren, Manchester, UK

I sent my forms off the week student finance opened in february and they still havent managed to process my application!
Tony Davis, Oxford, England

I'm a fourth year student at Dundee. I applied for my loan a number of weeks ago and had no problems with it. My course restarts soon and it seems I'll get my money on time. So this probably is obviously not effecting everyone.
Conúil Duffy, Dundee, Scotland

Sent my application in May 09 this was finalised on 3rd August. 100's of phonecalls to the Student Finance as they have not processed my childcare application. They have now said that it will take another 8 to 12 weeks which will be November if I am lucky. I was then told that my childcare will not be paid until January as I would have missed the September payment. My childcare totals £658.00 every four weeks. I have four children and I am a single parent. You cannot get through on the phone as there is a recorded message saying too busy call back later and you do for several days but get the same message. I am so stressed now that I do not know whether I am going to be able to start University. I called the University and I talked to them about a hardship loan - they said £200.00 maximum - that does not help whatsoever!!!
Jo Cunningham, Newton Abbot, Devon

This is the worst customer service i have ever known. once you get through to speak to someone (after hours of waiting and redialing)they have got no idea what you are on about and just say 'you will get contacted in so many days' i have never been contacted.

It was much better when run by the local councils
luke, hitchin

Sent forms in end of June..They have admited they have lost my forms(degeeablosute from my divorce). No money to pay for my degree which starts on the 16th of Sep.
Mrs amanda Ellis, Bury St Edmunds. Suffolk

I am starting university in less than 10 days and the SLC still hasn't confirmed i will recieve my loan and bursaries, i have phone up multiple time and everytimei have recieved different pieces of informaton.

I don't know anybody that has had a good expierence with SLC. I'm my looking at having to get a bank loan to pay for my uni fees and my accomodation.
Conor m , Dunstable

I applied back in June, well ahead of the deadline and it took them till end of August just to look at my application. But of course I didn't go smoothly, they didn't have my passport details even though I entered them online. Now because of their error I'm at the back of the line again!

However this is not the best bit, they have lost my mum and her partners financial details, despite us entering them online and sending them through the post. Who knows if they will get my money to me before next week. Its frustrating as I can't register at my uni till it comes through. I have one word for this company.

Nic Emms, Leeds, West Yorkshire

The whole thing is a sad, sad, sordid joke.

I appplied back in Feb. and have since had to send in my evidence three times. Now, they are in possession of all my ID papers and I STILL have no confirmation of whether I'll receive any money or not. I start uni in three weeks and have no faith things will get sorted, so there is every chance that I will have to drop out.

And the government's trying to encourage young people to go to university?!
Z AYM, London

This has been an experience of massive chaos; of hours (and I do mean hours) being told that all operatives are busy; of forms promised in the post at the beginning of August that have still to arrive; of phone message encouragement to do it all on line; for the online facility to not work; for my daughter to receive an email saying that they were awaiting sponsor information that I had already sent off 2-3 weeks previously, and of me spending another hour plus (over two days) trying to get through, and eventually being told that she should ignore the letter (this was Sept 2nd) because they were still opening the post from the beginning of July, so it would be some time till they got to anything received in mid August. I don't nkow how it can be said that "some customers" are disatisfied. Surely it must be most, given the experiences of myself and my two children in being told repeatedly that "all our operatives are busy" time after time and then after getting through !

that first hurdle and getting into a cue waiting in excess of 40 minutes before some times it being answered and once the line just going dead. If telephone banks ran like this they would all have gone out of business years ago.
Vince Allen Parent / sponsor), Gateshead, tyne and Wear

I work for the Student Loans Company (SFE) and students and parents do not realise the process and procedures that each loan and grant much go through before it is accepted. What has made it a little longer this year is the fact that we have received much more applications than we expected. We can appreciate that students need their money at the start of term but 7/10 students either apply very late or they do not send in the correct evidence at the start of the application. I am not sticking up for my employer one bit but I find it hard to point the finger and give sole blame to them for the delays this year.
anonymous, Glasgow

With just a couple of days to go until my daughter starts her course, we still only know the value of her maintenance loan ( and that was like getting blood from a stone) and have heard nothing about the grant element. Hours (or more accurately days) of our time have been spent trying to get through to the Student Loans company but with no success. I echo the comments of others who have identified this as the worst example of customer service they have ever experienced. It would not surprise me to learn that many students may simply find the whole experience so frustrating that they won't turn up for their courses. It's a shambles compared with the perfectly workable system that was in place beforehand and which I used successfully for the three years my eldest son attended university. Quite why everyone nowadays seems to believe that processing things on the internet is quicker and more efficient than a paper application is beyond me. But hey, at least we're enjoying the benefits of a "re-branded" service!
Clive Jones, Chippenham, Wiltshire

My Daughter is due to start at Northumbris university on Mon 14th September. At the present time she has not heard anything about her student finance We applied months ago. We cannot get through on the enquiry line anymore, previously there were options,and you were able to speak to an adviser, but that facility has been taken away. All it says, is that al the lines are busy, try later or go on the website. Which I consider to be useless!. What happens if my daughter doesn't get her finance, she wont be able to pay for her accommodation or her tuition fees, as my husband and I are not in a position to help her at all. This has caused considerable stress, at a time which should be enjoyable for the student.
Sarah Bridge, leeds, West Yorkshire

Hello everyone! Good to know I'm not the only one.

I filled up and completed my application fully around mid February when the service first became available. It took Student Finance 8 months to finally 'assess my application based on income'. Great.

Only recently, I changed my University option using 'Adjustment' on UCAS, because I gained higher grades than expected. Because of this, I had to fill up and send another form that tells student finance about the change of institute. 2 weeks later I still haven't heard anything.

Fingures crossed it wont take them 8 months to process that for me !
Mustafa Salim, London, UK

The system has never been that you get your loan weeks before you arrive at uni. If you are a fresher then you may get it a week before you arrive, but all other students have to await until their enrollment for the academic year before their loan is paid to them. Student loans are the cheapest way to borrow money as a student and the SLC don't make as much off of you as banks would do, so give them some breathing space to do their job.
Chris, Reading

I also completed my application way back in June and still dont know what is goin on with my application, as if we dont have enough stress already on and around results day I called SLC over 50 times just to speak to someone, they need to undersdtand that not everything can be solved just by logging onto their website! The level of service is ridicilous!
Sevinc , Swindon

We wasted weeks trying to support our son's application online, using the alt id no supplied by SFE and our dates of birth, but we could never log in. Couldn't contact anyone by phone for technical support as the lines are constantly busy. Finally submitted paper forms, sent by recorded delivery, yet my son's account still shows 'waiting further information.' We have no idea whether SFE have lost the supporting documents (birth certificate and P60s) or whether they have just not linked them to the relevant account. Finally spoke to an advisor who could offer no help, but he did admit that the log in page has technical problems that have been 'going on for weeks'. Unbelievable! And totally unacceptable - it's been known for months that university applications are at an all time high, so why didn't SFE put in adequate resources to deal with the demand.
Sue, Herts

I applied on time and everything is in order. As has been for previous 3 years. The majority of complaints, i believe, would stem from people applying late and then expecting instant results. Applications were due in around April/May - not in the last "few weeks". Everyone has to accept their own responsibilty.
A valid opinion, Edinburgh

This is my third child going to Uni. I have never experienced problems like this before. I agree, the website is not particularly user-friendly, even when it is working. The call centre staff are very polite but are unable to give you any details. My son applied several months ago and they won't confirm that the forms which they requested have been received - even though we have sent them twice and by recorded delivery. With students due to start within the next couple of weeks the situation is unacceptable and very stressful. From what I understand they are trying to put all applications through as non-income assessed and they will deal with the income assessed backlog as soon as they can - whenever that might be! I don't suppose the staff that the govenment employed to give out information on Swine Flu could be re-directed to sort through the backlog of paperwork, forms and applications which clearly must be piled on desks somewhere? Perhaps not then!
S Baker, Chippenham, Wiltshire

I work for a university and I would urge students to find out if their university will put their tuition fees or accommodation payments on hold until funding comes through. You could also use a student interest-free overdraft until your funding comes through, or your university may be able to offer you a small interest-free loan from the Access to Learning Fund. Don't drop out of university just because your funding is late. Your university may be able to help.
anonymous, Cumbria

Dear 'Anonymous' in Glasgow

As a employee of a local authority I have to take issue with your comments. I'm afraid your employers are entirely responsible for this shambles. I have spoken to many students who have applied to SFE this year and I have heard countless stories about forms and documents being requested and sent to SFE as many as 4 times, as it is taking SFE 6 weeks just to open their post (this takes about 24 hours in our office) and the staff manning the phones seem to have no idea how to tell if something has been received or not. They also seem incapable of giving students the most simple advise and updates, leaving local authorities to pick up the slack - having to juggle advising SFE's students as well as our own! I have been told that forms are being opened in Darlington, scanned in Glasgow and then taken back to Darlington to be processed?! Is it any wonder things are getting lost? Yes, many students will have applied after the deadline, but most of our student do too. Students that !

applied two months after the deadline for support are still assessed and ready to go to University in our county. In order to fund the new and 'improved' central service at SFE, we lost a significant portion of our budget, and therefore, many of our staff. It must be nice to be able to afford to hire 120 extra members of staff - as we are advising your students, can we borrow some of them please?

'Anonymous' , An LEA near you!

We have been trying to get through to these people for 2 weeks. it is impossible. My daughter is starting a nursing degree and applied for support early. they assumed that she would get a non means tested bursery without checking that degree students are not eligable - surely they should have a comprehensive knowledge of the system?

it is an absolulte shambles! my son, who is a returning student and therefore is assessed by the local authority has had no problems at all.
lesley boddy, rugby UK

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