Page last updated at 14:57 GMT, Tuesday, 15 September 2009 15:57 UK

Student cash fears as term starts

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education reporter

Students are starting university with funding problems unresolved

Students starting university courses are complaining they have been left stranded by delays in processing grants and loans in England.

A student about to start a course in Birmingham says she is planning to sell her car to cover her living costs.

Another student who started last week says she might have to quit her course.

The Student Loans Company cannot say how many funding applications will still remain unprocessed when the university term begins.

Facebook protests

Angry students have started a number of Facebook groups protesting about the difficulties in getting in touch with the Student Loans Company.

There is also an online petition on the Downing Street website urging the prime minister to "investigate the chaos that surrounds Student Finance England".

University authorities and student welfare officers have been advising worried students to apply for emergency funding.

But students still contacting the BBC News website complain of a lack of information about the status of their financial support.

There have been more than 1,500 e-mails sent to the BBC News website from anxious students and their families.

Many e-mails refer to lost documents, confusion over claims and difficulty in reaching helplines.

It has been said by student leaders that the company handling student finance is receiving 100,000 calls each day.

The Student Loans Company will not put a figure on how many applications remain unprocessed or how many weeks or months it could take to deal with outstanding inquiries.

It also will not say whether the number of applications to be processed is reducing or increasing.

Childcare costs

"I am sick to my stomach this week as I am petrified that I will have to give up my course due to the delays caused by student finance," writes Claire Swinmurn.

"I began my PGCE at Oxford Brookes and still have not received any funding from them despite applying in February.

"What makes my situation so much worse is that as a low income family we are so dependent on receiving the child care grant.

"My children have been in nursery full time and I should have paid in excess of £1,000 on 1 September.

"If I do not pay the full amount by the end of this week my children may face losing their place at nursery and I will have no alternative but to end my course which would be extremely upsetting."

Stacie Nicholls, who is starting a law degree in Birmingham at the end of this week, also applied for funding in February but finds herself now in doubt whether she will have any support.

She says lost documents and difficulties in getting through to the Student Loans Company mean that she does not think her finance will be in place.

"After three days of ringing, I finally got through ... to be told that they never received my form. I was in tears and have never been so angry," she says.

She has taken out an overdraft and is planning to sell her car, she says.

"I have always wanted to go to university, this should be one of the happiest periods of my life," she says.

The company administers student finance in England on behalf of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

A spokeswoman for the department says the problems are being monitored, but there are no plans to intervene.

Last week Derek Ross, deputy chief executive of the Student Loans Company, 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.

I have had mega problems with SFE. It is a complete mess. My application form was incorrectly inputted, I was given wrong verbal advice and my tuition fee loan for 09/10 is 'blocked'. When I have rung to find out why, all I get is a voicemail referring me to the website (when it is the website information I am querying) and the phone is then cut off. I have not been able to speak to an advisor for two weeks. I have no idea what's happening or if I will get my loan in time. As a mature student with more financial responsiblities than most new students, this is seriously worrying. I am speechless with frustration!
Anthea, Bury St Edmunds, UK

My wife and I applied several months ago, as we're both students and as a couple all of our details we're identical. Last week we received letters saying what our loans would be and both were wildly (and differently) wrong. It took over 50 attempts to phone SLC and the call-taker was very sympathetic but powerless to do anything other than advise us to start again... SLC appears to no longer be functioning as an organisation - the government must step in.
Richard, London, UK

I quit my job as a cleaner after working there for two years and going to college at the same time. I was convinced into higher education due to peer pressure after I was informed about the possibilities of it. Of course I passed but now its been 3 months and still no reply from student finance England. I really need that loan money because without it my life is at risk and they have my passport. Am 20yrs old, living on my own and I quit my job. I cant be registered for job seekers allowance because am a student, the banks wont lend me any money. I might as well be dead for putting myself into this mess. Please help me
Bridger, Leicester

We applied for the student loan for a course at Birmingham University at the beginning of the year using the online service. We have a confirmation from Student Finance England. In calling last week they now claim that we have applied for a loan of value £0? and we will have to apply again. Who applies for £0? This is despite their letter clearly indicating maximum loan. We have called every day for the last week but have only been able to speak to the helpline once and they could not answer our questions. The whole system is a shambles. My daughter is distraught. When will something be done to resolve this situation?
Emily, Northampton

I've given up a full-time job to start my course and I'm meant to register on Sunday (in 5 days). I have heard nothing from Student Finance, so I don't know whether I am entitled to support or not and can't get through to them, even though I've wasted hours of continuously redialling their helpline number. I'm a mature student and I doubt I will never get another chance like this - I'm so worried now that I'll have to give my place up because I can't afford to pay my tuition fees.
Adrienne, uk

With two daughters applying for loans my frustrations and stress is two-fold with the SLC. Not only does the 0845 number cost me a fortune to ring as the waiting time can be 10-20 minutes to get through (and why a costly O845 number when students ring from mobiles all the time), but when I do evenutaly get through I'm told they are waiting to see various financial documents from me which I've never even been asked for! We are bombarded with correspondence which is obviously in a standard format and covers all various next stage queries/requests in one letter. Trying to work out exactly what is required or any information they are imparting needs a degree in itself!!
Clare, Manchester

I've heard a rumour that Wales are planning on centralising in 18 months time. Maybe after this shambles with Student Finance England the lessons will be learned and that idea will be shelved!
Steve, Wales

I have two children at university. I completed their forms with the same information on the same day. One was processed over a month ago. The other one is lost in the system.
Mrs R Connell, Oxford

I have called over 200 times in last fortnight and have called many times over the summer, yet it was not until Friday that i was told they had lost my id documentation, and i need to send it all again. I applied well before the deadline, and i have now started my PGCE course eating into my partners savings!

SFE say different things each time you get through (when you get through) i have been told four times that my application had been sorted and then it turned out it hadn't.

I am stressed and upset and at risk of dropping off my course because of them, many people on my course are in the same position, one girl sent her birth certificate off, they acknowledged receiving it but then never returned it to her, because they had lost it!

I am dissapointed, angry, upset and feel deflated, not a good way to start a teacher training course i know!

If the government wants more teachers they better sort out SFE!
Matthew, Lichfield

I have just got off the phone with Student Finance England. I rang to check up on my application as my account is unavailable. I was told that although my additional information had been received that they couldnt confirm that they had received my CCG1 form. They also told me that I haven't sent a form in that I was meant to. I asked which form this was and it was the Birth Certificate Form. Now, I emailed them numerous times and rang before I sent my additional information off as I didn't want to miss anything. I was not told at any time of this Birth Certificate Form. Now instead of it taking at least another 4 weeks to process my additional information it will take at least 8 weeks. And I have to find a professional that has known me for at least 2 years to sign the form. This is a big problem for me as I have only been living in huddersfield for just over a year and there isnt anyone who can sign it. I wish they had told me earlier so I could have sorted it out.!

My 1 year old daughter has already started back at nursery and we are now in arrears with them (although they are being very understanding about this situation). To add to all of this when I asked what I was meant to do about my fees and everything else the advisor told me to simply explain to University and also to apply to the Access to Learning fund, which I cant do until I have enrolled. My fiance is on his placement year this year so thank god for that otherwise I fear we would miss at least two of our mortgage payments plus our other bills too. The SLC have put all of us in an impossible situation and now expect us to cope and to just wait. They should have had this sorted a long time ago. My partner applied to his LEA on 10/08/09 (hes still on the old system) and had a reply with how much he was getting on 19/08/09. Although he only got a small amount my point is that his was all processed within 10 days, whereas I have being waiting 6 months for mine to be processed.
Danielle, Huddersfield, UK

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