Page last updated at 01:47 GMT, Tuesday, 29 September 2009 02:47 UK

Watchdog fears over poor students

By Gary Eason
BBC News education correspondent

campus scene
Students are now registering for their courses - often without funding

The man who champions the lot of poorer students is "extremely concerned" about the delays to grant and loan payments.

Sir Martin Harris, the director of Fair Access, urged those in difficulty to ask their university for help.

Some students say the official promise that those who applied for grants on time will get their money at the start of term is not being met.

Student Finance England has admitted it has been overwhelmed by the volume of applications for grants and loans.

Sir Martin told the BBC News website: "Clearly, we are extremely concerned by the delays currently being experienced by many students in receiving the full grants and loans they are entitled to.

"We are particularly concerned at the impact these delays may have on students from under-represented groups, many of whom may be the first in their family to access higher education."

Caveats

The Office for Fair Access (Offa) was set up to promote and safeguard fair access to higher education for lower income and other under-represented groups following the introduction of higher tuition fees in 2006-07.

The Student Loans Company (SLC), which runs the support system in England, has promised students that they will get some money soon after starting their courses, but not necessarily any means-tested funding they are seeking.

But its pledges come with caveats. It says money will go to those who applied before the deadlines it set - and who supplied all the necessary documentation.

But some complainants say it has lost paperwork or claimed never to have received it.

Some also report being told their online application accounts have been deleted and they should re-apply using paper forms.

A spokeswoman for the SLC said: "We are now working on online applications we received at the beginning of September."

'Vague'

She explained that people should not expect to get the money they had been allocated on the first day of term - it took several days to come through once their university had confirmed their registration on a course.

But some insiders have blamed the loans company itself for problems.

Local authorities used to handle applications before they were centralised this year in the SLC.

One council worker said: "The 'standard' letters that are sent out by SLC can be appallingly vague or even incorrect.

"Basic information like when a student will be paid (eg. payment schedules which automatically show the first day of term but it is actually always 2-3 days later) and how student finance works (like when fees are paid and how childcare grants are administered) is not given to students in a clear and concise manner.

"Each year this has always generated hundreds if not thousands of calls to my office which need not be made if the correct information was just given in the first place."

The SLC is also looking into cases where applicants have been allocated funding of "£00.00p".


Have you had problems with your loan or grant application or has the money now come through? Send us your experiences using the form below.

We have found the whole process absolutely appalling. We applied in March for our loans and have constantly been in contact with Student Finance to be told a number of reasons as to why it has not been sorted. Each time you speak to a different person you get a different excuse !!

What a shambles .... our loans still not sorted 29.09.09 -
Daniel Brett, Dover UK

My Daughter applied for a student loan in May this year, she hasn't even received her reference number to access her application on-line. She started University last saturday without any money, I cannot pay her fees or rent, I am just managing to give her some money for food. This is extremely stressful for her. Another student has told her that her form has been lost at the loans office and she is being asked to complete the form again. The goverment need to do something urgently, this is not fair on students who are already anxious on starting university. I am really disgusted at the way they have been left to chase up loan applications with no help or hope that it will be sorted asap.

Deborah, London

I was very annoyed by the student finance resentative interviewed on BBC breakfast who gave the impression that the volume of late applications was causing the problems, what he did,nt say was that many of these so called late applications were from students that were forced to reapply due to student finance losing their original applications! My daughter will not recieve her income assessed grant now in time to start university, she will recieve the basic loan which just about covers her accomadation, but we will be forced to try and support her until her application is assessed. We still have been given no idea of when this will be or how much she will recieve even after hours on the phone and a large phone bill. When we originally realised that there was a problem student finance were unhelpful and said that we had not sent the financial evidence required, even though they had snt us written confirmation that they had recieved it and returned the evidence to us! Finall!

y when they admitted that it was their error there was no effective method of complaint, complaints just recieve irrelevant generic replies. This is my daughters first year at university and we are stressed and upset by this absolute chaos.
mrs s a power, ross-on-wye herefordshire

Student finance have been appalling. I'm considering leaving university, as I cannot afford to pay my private landlord, and my parents don't have the means to support me. My application has been deleted from the online service, and I can't call them, as using my Pay As You Go Mobile and being on hold for up to half an hour is too expensive. They have also had my passport for nearly three weeks now, and I have no idea whether this has been lost too! It's dreadful.
Christina, St Albans

I applied for my student finance loans and grants over 3 months ago and have not even had my grant confirmed yet. I was told that I was fully eligible for my grants and loans and have sent all the necessary forms that they had asked for.

However, despite the countless times I have phoned the SLC they keep saying I am still 'being assessed' despite being told that I was assessed and successful at the beginning of my application!
Freddy Elletson, Out Rawcliffe, Preston

My daughter is now in her first year of study at the University of Central Lancashire. We sent in the necessary papers for her means-tested application in May, but in August she was told they hadn't been received. We resubmitted them, but have had no confirmation they have been received, and she reports the SLC are still claiming they don't have all the paperwork (although they won't tell her what is lacking). We, her parents, are not permitted to enquire what is going on. We are all extremely frustrated and angry.
Jeffrey Dean, Manchester, England

Both myself and my partener are now in our second week of uni we have three children one with special needs and one who is disabled. We have both not recieved a penny from student finance we phone to see what is happening and get a different story every time. We have had no letters letting us know whats happening no contact other than us constantly chasing the issue up. How long do people hae to wait? We have books that need to be bought food we need to eat bills we have to pay, its a farce!
Tracey Johnson, Barnsley England

I submitted my financial details to support my daughter's application for a grant - she should get the maximum grant - in July. In September they said they hadn't received it. But my wife's details had been sent in the same envelope, and they've apparently got hers. The phone line is unusable. The web site crashes. The government minister who didn't decide to pilot the scheme across part of the country should be kicked out. Another government IT failure.
Stuart Bell, Nottingham UK

Yep, still waiting. Online application didn't ask for all the info. Six weeks later a letter arrived asking for proof of ID. Another 3 weeks and a letter arrived requesting a form be signed by a 'pillar of the community' verifying my identity. Appalled at the lack of service, non answering of telephones and lack of information. Am currently using credit card to live on. At least 4 people on my course are in a similar situation. Amusingly, it is easier and quicker to extract money from the Job Seekers allowance, Housing Benefit and Tax Credits systems, and they all check you out 100%. Hmmm, thankyou very much for this opportunity to study Mr Government, why can't you just check who I am, give me my money and let me get on with - its money for education, not bank robbery!!!!
Scott Haigh, Grimsby, UK

Our daughter is profoundly deaf and had her needs assessed in July this year. A needs assessment was sent to the SLC in August with recommendations for equipment to support her whilst she studied at Worcester University. We tried on several occasions to seek assurances from the SLC that her equipment would be supplied for the start of her course, but they were unable to advise us. Then last week they told us that the needs assessment had never arrived (the true being they had lost it) and we have had to send another, which I was advised yesterday that they have now received and is being "processed".

In my experience this whole organisation is a shambles and inept. To say they were overwhelmed is like saying "we didn't expect that many people to watch England playing in a world cup final" - I'm no expert and I could have told them they would be busy.

I have a whole catalogue of emails and phone calls that I have made to the SLC, some of which beggars belief.
Stephen, Redditch, UK

I have been completely stuffed on this as well. applied on time, they messed up, applied again on time then heard nothing. rang up countless times to find out months later that they had messed it up again. now being told that i will probs not receive a single penny until November at the earliest. shocking and i'm stuffed.

Where are all the students who should be protesting and quite frankly close to rioting on this. get organised!
dan, plymouth

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