Page last updated at 15:54 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 16:54 UK

Students demand action on loans

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education reporter

Student Loans Company
The Student Loans Company is trying to reassure students and parents

Students are demanding "urgent assurances" over the delivery of loans and grants - amid mounting complaints about how they are being administered.

National Union of Students leader Wes Streeting says the union has been "inundated" by e-mails from students worried about their funding.

There are fears that loans will not be available for the start of term.

The Student Loans Company has promised a 50% increase in phone lines to handle inquiries from anxious students.

Hundreds of students have continued to e-mail the BBC News website with worries about delays with applications and problems with reaching helplines.

They accuse the processing system of becoming a "shambles".

And the NUS leader says that without the "lifeline" of financial support many students will not be able to cope with the costs of starting university.

The Conservatives have also written to Business Secretary Lord Mandelson urging him to investigate the problems.

Shadow university secretary David Willetts warns that there is a "clear and substantial risk that new students could face serious financial problems at the start of the new university term".

'Nightmare'

Hundreds of students and their parents have sent e-mails describing their worry about the processing of their applications for funding - many infuriated by difficulties in getting through to speak to advisers.

The whole thing is an absolute disgrace and has turned what should be an exciting time into a nightmare
Mother of a new student from Kent

Many have expressed fears that the processing of applications will not be completed in time for them to have sufficient funds when they begin courses in the next few weeks.

There have also been accusations of confusion over documents needed to support applications and difficulties in receiving any clarification.

The Student Loans Company has sought to calm fears - with more phone lines and another 24 staff, in addition to the 120 extra staff announced earlier to help with handling inquiries.

"We would like to assure our customers that all of our employees are working very hard to process applications as quickly as possible," said a statement from the company which now administers student finance in England.

Students and their families have been expressing their anger at the confusion about applications.

A student with a child who is starting a course on Monday writes: "No one answers the phone when I ring and I am left with the price of nursery to pay £600 per month, a mortgage and bills."

"The whole thing is an absolute disgrace and has turned what should be an exciting time into a nightmare," writes a mother from Kent.

She fears she will have to use up her own "small savings" to help her son start university.

'Straight answer'

Another would-be student says that after several months of not getting an adequate response, there will now not be time for the processing of her application to be completed - before her course starts in a fortnight.

"I am still no nearer to any straight answers regarding my entitlement over five months and approximately 50 phone calls, letters, emails and faxes later," she writes.

"My daughter goes to university in eight days," writes a parent in Telford. "There is enough stress involved in leaving home for the first time and starting at University without this."

Higher Education Minister for England, David Lammy, has been in daily contact with the Student Loans Company about the problems.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "We have been informed by the Student Loans Company that they are working to resolve this issue, and have increased the number of trained staff taking calls and processing applications.

"They have also assured us that all those who have applied on time for finance will receive this at the start of the next academic year."

The Student Loans Company says it has struggled with the volume of calls - with an increase of 16.7% more applications than last year. So far it has processed 830,000 applications, it says.

With many university courses set to begin in the next few weeks, the National Union of Students has warned of the urgent need for students to have their financial support in place before term starts.

Derek Ross, deputy chief executive of the Student Loans Company, has promised: "Everyone who applied on time should be paid on time."


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

What a nighmare. They should be ashamed of themselves - my youngest daugher applied for the first time through Student Finance England in June and has not heard anything despite several calls to them - and now can't get through!!! My son is in his final year and applied through his Local Authority at the same time and everying is ok and he'll get his money. What a mess!!
Annie, chester

It's a farce, my son started his second year last week, and even though he sent his completed form in June, he is still awaiting the approval. Anytime I call the SLC they advise there is a back log, and they have no idea when his application will be approved, in the meanwhile I have had to pay his rent until we have some answers from SLC.
Ray, Sussex

I applied back in March, my course began this week and I have still heard absolutely nothing. People on the phone have said it's been processed, then told me it was lost, then asked for my passport which they then proceeded to lose. I have finally been told that they have definitely lost my application and evidence and I have to re-apply all over again. Since my course has already started and tuition fees due, I am in an extremely unbearable situation which could affect the rest of my life.
Matt, Exeter

I am due to start a postgraduate teacher training course and I have a 1 year old child to support. When I was in employment I recieved working tax credit to pay for childcare but since applying for a childcare and another grant for student parents I have had no success. I have had to send in my forms and documentary evidence in twice (maybe I will need to send them again?) before anything was assesed, and then I saw a link on my account saying I was ineligible for this support. Since then the link has dissapeared and nothing has appeared in the post. No one answers the phone when I ring and I am left with the price of nursery to pay £600 per month, a mortgage and bills together with food etc on my partners salary of £1000 per month! I cannot get hold of them and may not be able to continue with my course which starts on monday
Adam, Bristol, UK

I echo all of that mentioned in the article. Despite starting this process in April we are still no further forward. An absolute farce. I sent a complaint in over three weeks ago. I am deafened by the silence
Alan, leigh on Sea, Essex

My daughter is due to start a BSc Degree Course at Bath Spa University on the 26th September. Despite having completed the forms on-line, on the 17th April, we heard nothing, & were told to 'ignore' any letters that we received when we phoned to inquire. Eventually my daughter received a letter from the Student Loans people saying that they noted that she did not require any funding! As she had applied for the maximum loans we were at a loss to understand this. Further phone calls elicited the response that her forms could not be found. We printed off the forms, completed them (again) & sent them off on the 9th July 2009. To date, we have heard nothing, - not even an acknowledgement that the forms have been received. The whole situation is completely unacceptable, & I am extremely doubtful that everything will fall into place by the start of my daughter's course. When will the Government admit that the whole system has got too big & unwieldy, & is not coping?
Isobel, Rickmansworth, UK

My son still has heard nothing!! Applied in May and he starts uni in two weeks. When you eventually get through on the phone told different excuses each time, the company is completely useless. Never had this problem with my daughters finance 4 years ago!
Bernadette Donno,

I am on a PGCE at Exeter University and by on I mean I have already started and have been studying for a week. I am on my 3rd financial notification letter and it is still wrong. In my mind the phone lines might be a little less busy if they worked on the accuracy of the applications. If you think I am alone on this matter think again. The other 12 people on my course have all had problems and sone far worse than me. One of which student finance had lost his passport. I hope this to be the last time I ever have to deal with student finance.
John, Exeter

I too applied over 5 months ago i ring them every week, to no avail, i start my course in a week, and with the times it takes them to send out a letter and acknowledge they have received it back, even if they assess me today, there is no way i will get my finance in time.
vikki, hull

Both my son and daughter are first year students going to Plymouth and Southampton respectively. We have just had to pay the first terms accommodation (in excess of £1000) on credit card so he can move in. Still no sign of any of the finance. Applications sent in June and July. Unable to get through on the phone for most of last weekend and when I did person on the phone was very vague and unable to answer my questions. Very poor service.
Nicki, Coventry

I have been trying to ring the "hot line" since the day of A level results and never got through. My son has been given a place Leeds and the paperwork is for his first choice of a london univ and want them to be aware. You can't leave a message and every time you go on the web site it rejects the password they give you. It is an absolute disgrace speaking as someone who worked in a LEA students grants dept for 6 years
Ian, Belper, Derbyshire

I applied for student finance online back in February and sent off my passport in March showing my evidence of eligibity due to my settled status in the uk. that is where my nightmare began and it's not ended. First of all i kept being told my application was being processed all through march to early july when i got told they don't have my identity documents ie my passport, so i sent it in again. Up till now i have had three different answers to my eligibility status . I have resigned from my full time job and start on my course next Nonday but still no where near finding out if i am eligible for funding or not . The whole experience has left me very disappointed
michael, sheffield

I totally agree, i'm just about to start uni and student finance is worrying me so much! Their website is appalling and unclear and i'm still waiting to hear about my loan. I'm so happy that this is going to be sorted out because in my opinion it is a huge problem.
Emily, Shropshire

My mother has now written to our local MP for help. An extract from her letter reads..... "The Student Finance organisation is difficult to get hold of via phone, and their on-line internet service is "one way" with very misleading information.

My daughter is moving to her halls of residence in Liverpool on 20th September. She has had no maintenance grant awarded to her, despite being from a household whose income is low enough for her to qualify. Yesterday I was advised that if her student loan is delayed, probably because of their slow response rate, then she would have to find the money for her accommodation from "elsewhere". This is over £4000.00!

It is heartbreaking enough to see your "little girl" move away from the family nest, but to suffer the anxiety of wondering how she pays the bill is beyond the pale.

I would be grateful for any help in making sure the Student Finance England have received all the financial evidence I have sent and to let me know if there is any still outstanding. When I phone and ask an advisor they cannot tell me if they have received anything from me, what they may have received or what they still need to complete my daughter's financial assessment. I am at the end of the road and believe I may have run out of time. Please help."

Faye, Bolton

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SEE ALSO
Problems hit student loans system
10 Sep 09 |  Education
Q&A: Student fees
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