Page last updated at 18:09 GMT, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 19:09 UK

Students worry over loans delays

Hundreds of students have emailed the BBC News website to complain about delays in the granting of student loans.

JAMES: 'ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS'

I first applied back in May on the SFE website asking to be assessed. I submitted the forms and thought nothing more of it until I had a reply back in July asking me to confirm that I wasn't asking for support.

University students
About 50,000 extra students have applied so far this year

After checking the website I found that it had gone through that I was not requesting support, so after several days of trying to get through on the phone I was told to download and print off some forms to request the loans/grants and be assessed.

I sent them in and a few weeks later received another later asking me to confirm that I did not need a loan/grant. After finally getting through to them on the phone again I explained the situation to them and said that there is a mistake but I have just been told to wait for '2 or 3 weeks' and see what happens - no more information than that.

It's absolutely ridiculous. SFE have been a complete shambles from the website to the phone lines and the way applications are handled. Unless I get support from them I can't afford to pay the tuition fees and accommodation cost and will have to cancel my placement for the year.


HOLLIE WILLIAMS, MANCHESTER: 'SIMPLY ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH'

I applied in March, sent off all of my supporting evidence and my proof of identity. SFE acknowledged that they had received it, but in June I received a letter telling me they were still awaiting more information.

When I contacted them, I got a recorded message telling me to ignore the letter as it had been sent out automatically. So, I ignored it. Then, as I still hadn't heard anything by the middle of July, I called them again, to be told that they had lost my application.

So, I had another copy of my birth certificate made, I had new supporting letters written and new work documents issued. Two weeks ago I received my birth certificate back with a letter thanking me and confirming that my identity had been confirmed.

My status changed a week ago to "Status: Assessed". Which, like any sane person, I took to mean my application had been sorted. Sadly, "assessed" means something very different to SFE. When I called them today, they told me that they wouldn't be paying me any money until they had confirmed my identity (!) and I needed to send them my birth certificate and a supporting letter!

This will be the third time! And, then they also very kindly informed me not to expect anything for 4-8 weeks, though people I know through work have been told realistically to expect a turn around time of 16-20 weeks - that's January!

I'm a mature student, I have just moved into privately rented accommodation and start my course in less than a week - with no parents or family, I have no one and no way of supporting myself if my finances don't arrive.

It simply isn't good enough.


DAWN, BEDFORDSHIRE: 'IN DEBT BEFORE I START'

Having got a confirmed place at university and having sent off my loan application way back in April (what now seems like the dark ages), I expected to hear from the SLC pretty quickly, especially with their wonderful new direct.gov website where you no longer have to go through your local authority.

How wrong I was.

Initially my application wasn't financially assessed despite requesting for it to be means tested. Then my parents were sent outdated forms, we were sent letters confirming incorrect amounts and we received very little correspondence with them leaving us to do the detective work, as their website is less than useful.

They only have one telephone number to ring, meaning that if you're that desperate (most of us are) you're left on hold for anything from 30 minutes to an hour.

It cost £400 just to pay for my rent so I am in debt before I've even started and I have no idea whether I'm getting any money to live on when I leave for university in three days.

The fact that more students are going to university this year has very little to do with their incompetence. It's the incessant time wasting that has occurred through conflicting advice, hoards of paper work, incorrect forms and poorly trained workers.

COURTNEY, LINCOLN: 'HAD TO FILL OUT FORMS THREE TIMES'

I really don't understand why there isn't someone who knows what they are doing at SFE? I have had to fill out my forms three times this year because the first one was 'deleted in error' so I sent it again and they sent me a letter back about three weeks later saying that I needed to send my application to my LEA not to them.

So I had to fill it all out again and send it to them which made no sense. They said they had transferred some of my details to them when they hadn't! Eventually I sorted it out, so I am fairly lucky compared to those who are still waiting, but I'm still half expecting it to go wrong again!

I really really think someone in authority should sort them out. They are far from helpful on the helpline and they've even resorted to just cutting you off now. They only have standard answers to things and don't look at individual cases so half the time we get given wrong information. Please someone do something!

JAYNE, BRISTOL: 'GETTING CONFLICTING INFORMATION'

Applied for relevant grants through the website and was told I was not not eligible! Then rang Student Finance more than 30 times for clarification and was told by recorded message that they were too busy and to call back later.

Eventually, days later, I got through after 50 minutes of waiting, to be told conflicting information. Apparently I should be entitled to the grants and will now have to go through the lengthy process of appeal! What a lot of worry and anxiety this has caused.

JAMES, LONDON: 'THIS IS A COMPLETE DISGRACE'

I am due to go back to uni next week and begin my second year. I filled out a returning students form and it said that my parents would not need to supply financial details if they had supplied them the year before.

However they sent out an additional form for one of my parents to complete and after that I had not heard anything for many weeks. Last week I did some phone calls (which took forever) and found out that both my parents needed to supply financial information.

Students in library
Students worry about paying rent and tuition fees

I have since sent the additional form off. Unfortunately this is several months too late because I was not informed previously that they had lost the financial details from the year before.

This is a complete disgrace and I am really worried that I will not be able to pay my rent, or register at uni because I have not received my loan details. I wish we had filled the entire form out in the first place, even though it said we didn't have to.

LOCAL AUTHORITY ADMINISTRATOR, NOTTINGHAM: 'I APOLOGISE'

As a Local Authority Student Finance officer I am dismayed at what is happening but not surprised.

Most LAs knew this would happen and warned the SLC but we were not listened to. Students no longer have local advice and guidance, local access to information, and end up dealing with faceless people on the phone who are employed to purely answer the phone not deal with enquiries correctly.

Most LAs pride themselves on the level of customer service we give and we will continue to give until we lose our jobs in 2011 when SFE take over the whole system. We are receiving calls from new students and parents who are calling us as they cannot get through to SFE and we are unable to help.

All we can advise is to persist with the applications and when they do get through to SFE to speak to a supervisor and get the name of the person, including surname as this will not be volunteered. We all know the reality of the situation - SLC and government were warned of this months ago, and things will not get better any time soon.

You may think this is sour grapes because we are losing our jobs, but we haven't gone yet, and continuing students will still get a much better service than the new ones with SFE. On behalf of all LAs I can only apologise to the students who are experiencing problems.


MARISA BRENNAN, KENT: 'THEY CAN NOT EVEN ANSWER THE PHONE'

I have sent my application in and it's been assessed since May! I am not being assessed for the maintenance grant or the family income portion of the loan so most reasonable people would consider this is a straight forward 'got the results at A Level, got the course, basic education & living loan' - what could take four months to process?

I cannot imagine any other business surviving with such poor standards, they cannot even answer the phone.

SOPHIE HUGHES, BATH: 'DEFER CHARGES'

Gordon Brown needs to tell all the universities to defer charges to students for accommodation, fees etc, until this mess has been sorted out and give the universities a loan if needs be to cover their costs.

CLAIRE, NORTHAMPTON: 'EXTREMELY ANNOYED AND SADDENED'

I applied for a student loan approximately five months ago. I am a mature student with a baby and was relying upon it. I have constantly chased the company for 5 months and sent in all the documentation that they requested.

Two weeks ago I was told by a senior assessor that as soon as the final document was received, my loan would be approved. I enrolled on Saturday and called today to check my status only to be told that I was not eligible for a loan since I had a degree which I completed in 1996.

I asked why this had not been picked up on when my application was received originally and he said he did not know. I asked where in the documentation was this made clear and he stated that it was not written anywhere!

As you can imagine, I am extremely annoyed and saddened since this means I am now unable, having given up my job, to start my midwifery degree. This issue needs addressing.

STEVE, DONCASTER: 'REAL PROBLEM IS THE WEBSITE'

The real problem seems to be the website - thousands of people have had to change their applications due to not meeting their initial grades. There is no way of doing this online, which is why the company is having to process so many thousands of paper forms. They should have seen this coming!

I'm one of those who's had to send off a 'change of circumstances' form and it took nearly a month for any recognition that they had received it. I still don't know when I will receive my funding.

I'm really angry that they haven't seen these problems from the outset, and that us students are basically being subject to an experiment to see if this system is better. It just isn't. Why did they even try to fix the old system? From what I hear, everybody liked that.

Who is responsible for this? They should have the decency to resign and let a more competent person take over.

MEMORY: 'I MIGHT HAVE TO GIVE UP THE COURSE'

I applied for my student loan in the early months of March and I only got the confirmation some time in the summer.

I keep getting letters in the post every other day and the letters have different amounts of the loan and grant that I'm entitled to, so at the moment I just don't know what is going on.

I suppose I just have to wait until the semester starts to know where I stand financially. I might have to give up the course.


AJ, IPSWICH: 'SLC HOLDING DOCUMENTS FOR THREE MONTHS'

This SLC have been holding my original ID documents for the past three months and no one else has done this to me before (not even the passport office, DWP, Jobcentre or bank).

Now I am unable to provide any documents at the uni registration events, at the bank or Jobcentre or at ASDA during the job interviews.

Could the government intervene and do something immediately with SLC?

DOM, LONDON: 'IT IS A COMPLETE JOKE'

It's a complete joke! We are starting next week and have had nothing to say that we are getting finance. The website is awful and doesn't actually tell you what to do next.

Then you get rude emails saying that we haven't sent "evidence in". We have to send our original birth certificates off to these people... I wonder how many have been lost so far.

DANIEL, SALTASH: 'WHY HAS THE GOVERNMENT NOT STEPPED IN?'

I applied for a student loan over five months ago now, and at that time I sent everything Student Finance England stated they required, as did my parents.

I received a letter back from them stating they had received all my information, that it was all present and correct, and returning my birth certificate. Yet their website is telling me they still need it four or so months on.

I've rang them on many occasions, and I've been told it's just the system is slow to catch up. I've been told this every time, until a week ago when their website told me I still had not sent in my birth certificate.

I have 3 days until I start my course and have been ringing non-stop to try and find out where my application stands, with no luck. I've been told to check the website, which has now had many services taken off it, and I've just been cut off with no warning. It seems I may have to apply for a second loan, just to cover the cost of all these phone calls.

With so many courses starting in the next 2 weeks, why hasn't the government stepped in to try and aid countless numbers of anxious and despairing students?

TOM, STAFFORD: 'I CANNOT AFFORD ANYTHING AT THE MOMENT'

I start my University course next week and have still yet to receive any notification about funding, even though my application was sent off in April.

Without my grant and loan, I cannot afford anything at the moment, and with the massive level of unemployment I also find myself jobless, meaning I am practically living out of my savings at the minute, and when they're gone I have no fall back money. Thanks a lot Student Finance.

ASHRAF, LEICESTER: 'CLEARLY NOT ACCEPTABLE'

We applied for my son's student finance back in May, applying for both a maintenance loan and a grant.

Three months down the line they had only sorted out the loan and not the grant. They claimed we had not sent my wife's P60 when we clearly had.

Couple of faxes and numerous phone calls later, still not sorted. My son starts university end of September and things are getting very desperate. Somebody needs to be held to account. This is clearly not acceptable. Totally frustrated and let down.


DAN, PLYMOUTH: 'NO IDEA HOW WE WILL PAY RENT'

My partner applied for her loans back in May and they are still not being processed. The first time she applied she was asked to re-apply so she did, then we heard nothing.

After hours and hours of phone calls and being hung up on we finally found out five months later that they messed it up again! So she had to reapply again. God knows when she will get any sort of confirmation but I can't imagine it will be soon.

I have no idea how we are going to pay rent and bills for much longer as my wages only just cover all our out-goings and it's only because I have a graduate overdraft that's kept us going, but this is being stretched to its limit.

I can't imagine any of us will get an apology over any of this. I think everyone affected deserves an explanation as well.


FIONA, SOUTHPORT: 'CAN'T ENROLL WITHOUT PAYING TUITION FEES'

I applied for my student loan at the beginning of the year...now when I log in to my account it says that 'A declaration has been sent to you to sign and return'. This was well over a month ago, surely the British Post Office isn't this slow?

I'm due to start at Manchester Uni on Tuesday. How am I supposed to pay the first rent for my Halls and most importantly, what about the tuition fees?

I can't enroll without paying them! Will I have to put my studies on hold for yet another year?! What is going on? We are not informed enough and can't get through to them. They're risking the academic futures of thousands of students, if not more. This simply isn't good enough!



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SEE ALSO
Student cash fears as term starts
15 Sep 09 |  Education
Students demand action on loans
11 Sep 09 |  Education
Problems hit student loans system
10 Sep 09 |  Education
Student finance 'shambles' anger
14 Sep 09 |  Education

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