Page last updated at 16:46 GMT, Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Thousands wait for student money

student in library
Record numbers applied to UK universities this year

Tens of thousands of English students may still be waiting for maintenance grants, latest figures suggest.

The Student Loans Company said that as of 18 October, 985,000 had applied for support, up 9.1% on last year.

Some 844,000 had been approved - though 39,000 were interim assessments - while some 70,000 were still being processed.

The National Union of Students has called for the student loans chief executive to resign and opposition politicians are also critical.

In a statement, the SLC said: "We are very sorry that some students have had difficulties with their student finance applications this year and we are working very hard to resolve those issues as quickly as possible."

Some 698,000 (83%) of those approved had received a first payment, its figures showed.

On the face of it, this left about 146,000 whose applications had been approved but who had not received a payment.

But people can apply for different things: a maintenance grant, maintenance loan, tuition fee loan and perhaps a special allowance such as a childcare grant.

Some opt for only a tuition fee loan and would not have expected a maintenance payment at the start of term.

The SLC broke down the 146,000 figure to BBC News as follows:

  • 107,000 had applied only for tuition fee loans and bursaries, not maintenance
  • 30,000 had yet to sign and return their online applications
  • 8,000 were awaiting National Insurance number verification
  • 1,000 here to supply revised bank details

But as well as the 39,000 with interim assessments another 31,000 applications were described as "currently being processed" and 39,000 had been asked to supply further information.

The Conservative Party - highlighting these aspects of the figures - said that often these students said they had already provided the information that was being sought.

'Severe impact'

The shadow universities and skills secretary, David Willetts, said: "These figures illustrate how the system has collapsed this year.

"Ministers have created an over-complicated system and have failed to tackle the problem. Now students and their families are the victims.

"Even though we are well into the academic year, more than one in 10 students is still waiting for a proper assessment."

He said the crisis was having a particularly severe impact on new students and those from poorer households, while disabled students' applications seemed to have been placed near the bottom of the pile.

"There is a real risk of the crisis becoming a tragedy, for example if the problems lead to higher drop-out rates or fewer applications next year," he said.

'Broken promises'

The National Union of Students (NUS) has called for the resignation of the loans company chief executive and the Liberal Democrats called the figures shameful.

Tuition fee loan: up to £3,225
Maintenance loan: up to £3,564 non-means tested
+ up to £1,386 means tested
Maintenance grant: £2,906 on household income below £25,000
tapers up to household income of £50,020
Maintenance loan reduced by 50p for every £1 of grant
Bursaries determined locally
Special Support Grant instead of maintenance grant of up to £2,906 for those eligible for means tested benefits (loan not reduced)

NUS President Wes Streeting said: "This year, hundreds of thousands of students have been affected by late payments or lost documents and have endured a miserable start to term.

"The SLC has given students a string of broken promises about when they should expect to receive some or all of their loan payments.

"SLC bosses have failed to acknowledge the distress they have caused to students and have sought to apportion blame anywhere other than their own doorstep."

The loans company (SLC) has faced repeated complaints over poor service after it took over the processing of the whole system this year.

Previously initial applications went via local authorities.

The SLC has admitted to problems with its scanning system.

The provisional figures it has published - "due to high levels of public interest" - show that it has approved a smaller proportion of claims this year: 85.7% of those received compared with 88.7% under the old system at the same point last year.

The number of students receiving their first maintenance payment was up from 677,000 to 698,000.

But this was a smaller proportion of those received (71% against 75% in 2008) and of those approved (83% this year compared with 85% in 2008) .

Ministers have set up an independent review, headed by former South Bank University vice-chancellor Sir Deian Hopkin.

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