Page last updated at 09:50 GMT, Wednesday, 9 December 2009

'Fiasco' of student loan failures

A lecturers' leader says the failures "beggar belief"

Student leaders say that "heads must roll" after a report into university loan delays in England found "conspicuous failures".

There have been widespread complaints about the Student Loans Company - with the problems still unresolved as the end of the university term approaches.

The report found only 5% of phone calls were answered at the peak of delays.

In response the Student Loans Company says there will be a "restructuring" of senior management.

The report from Professor Sir Deian Hopkin examined delays which saw universities having to pay out hundreds of thousands of pounds in emergency funds to students left stranded without funds.

'Total fiasco'

It found that the processing system had faced problems with lost documents, failures with equipment and difficulties with the online application system.

The report also claims that some board members of the loans company had to rely on news reports to find out the "full extent of the problems" - and that students unable to get advice had to set up Facebook groups to share information.

I am a 30-year-old mature student with a one-year-old child. I have embarked on a one-year PGCE course... I applied at the beginning of the year and have not received any funds at all. My tax credits stopped when my course began and I cannot pay my child's nursery fees. I am struggling to survive financially and cannot afford to live never mind buy the books. I fear I will be forced to leave university in the New Year if someone does not intervene.
Louise, Sunderland (E-mail sent this week)

"The poor leadership and management of the Student Loans Company has led to disruption and hardship for hundreds of thousands of students," says NUS president, Wes Streeting.

"Given the catalogue of failures identified by this report, heads must roll if the public are to have any confidence in the SLC in the future."

Sally Hunt, leader of the UCU lecturers' union said this has been "a total fiasco from start to finish" - with failures in service that "beggar belief".

"Moving to university is a stressful and expensive time and to attempt to do that without finances that had been promised is just not on."

Since problems began to emerge with the loans system before the beginning of term, there have been thousands of e-mails sent to the BBC News website from worried students and their families.


They complained of huge problems in contacting the Student Loans Company and then difficulties in getting any information when expected funds failed to arrive.

This has continued throughout the term - with the most recent e-mails claiming that they have been told that problems will not be resolved until next year.

The report also accuses the government of being "too distanced" from responding to problems with loans that had been widely reported for several months.

'Breathtaking incompetence'

In response, England's Higher Education Minister David Lammy says there should now be changes in how the Student Loans Company is managed.

"I am now clear that decisive action is required to change the service and that the key to this is strengthening the leadership of the company," Mr Lammy says in a written statement.

My daughter has been told she is eligible for a grant and loan. She has received nothing. I lost my job and have had to borrow the £1,060 first payment for hall-of-residence and pay for food etc. Neither her father nor I went to university and we are so proud of her. She is sick with worry and does not want to be a burden to us. She then received a letter telling her she will get no money until January. She is distraught and about to leave, thankfully, she received an A for her first piece of work. She has agree to stay but says money worries are affecting her study and health. She is not the only one.

MPW, Long Buckby

But he said it was for the Student Loans Company board to hold the executive to account.

The Liberal Democrat university spokesman Stephen Williams said: "The government must not be allowed to shrug off all responsibility for this fiasco. Ministers failed to ensure the SLC was delivering what was expected of it and they must explain why they did not intervene earlier."

"This report is truly damning, revealing a breathtaking level of incompetence within the Student Loans Company."

The Conservatives said that ministers should "hang their heads in shame, both for their serial failure and their attempt to pass the buck".

"The government were told about the problems with the system more than a year ago but they failed to act as it fell apart. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of students - and particularly those that are disabled - are facing hardship or having to drop out of university because they cannot afford to keep themselves," said Shadow Universities and Skills Secretary, David Willetts.

The Student Loans Company chairman, John Goodfellow, says the agency recognises the need to "engage more effectively with its customers" - and says it will be "restructuring the senior management team".

Concerns about next year's cycle of applications were raised by Pam Tatlow, chair of the Million+ group of new universities - who said that the loans company this year had "clearly failed in its responsibility".

Due to NO FUNDING, my son was unable to continue his education at the London South Bank University and has given up and got a temporary job at Watersons in Taunton for Christmas.
Daniel, Hemyock, Devon

I was returning to uni to complete the second part of my architecture degree. Applied 6 months in advance then a series of "Lost forms" (3 times) told not eligible because I already had a degree and many hours waiting for no one to answer the helpline. Resigned from my job to start the course but then told would not get either a grant or loan, 5 days before the course was due to start. Luckily I managed to get my job back and eventually (on appeal, twice) was told that I was in fact eligible. When I finally got through to someone who knew the process and wasn't reading the standard call centre script it was too late. Had to defer until 2010 in the end. Absolute nightmare.
Matthew, London

I had to use my credit card to pay for my first term accommodation. I still haven't received my loan despite term finishing in 2 days. I'm overdrawn to the point where I'm being charged, I've had to do 14 hour shifts in my part time job. I've sent both my birth certificate and passport off several times only to hear that they never received it, I think they did, it didn't post itself back now did it. Now I'm getting threatening letters from uni telling me if I've not paid my tuition fees by January the 8th they're kicking me out. Thanks student finance.
Ben Carter, Cardiff

Mr Lammy said in his statement yesterday that he has asked the SLC to establish a Stakeholder Forum which will include representation from the National Union of Students, Higher Education Institutions and UCAS.

Why no representation from those who have done the job for the last 40 years - the local authorities?

For example, from reading the Hopkin report it seems that throughout all of this, SFE/SLC were surprised they got so many phone calls in September.

We could have told them that, and much more besides about what this work entails. Many of us did at regional meetings, all to no effect it seems.

I think the attitude from DIUS/BIS and the SLC was that the warnings we gave over the last year were just 'sour grapes' at the fact that the work was being taken away from us.

I can only speak for my region, but it may surprise members of the government and the SLC that some local authorities actually care about our level of service and take pride in providing as much clear advice and reassurance as possible to prospective students during this important stage in their lives.

Anon LEA staff, England

I have had to contact student finance England about 30 times since we applied in May. I wait on average 40 minutes to get through to them. I have been told my documents were lost even though they were sent back to me, that the home office was verifying my passport ( ?), that I had not filled in the form correctly when I had. I have had to re send documents that I have already sent which I did by using registered post only to be told that they had not been received. You name it I have been told it except the funding which my daughter is entitled to! STILL waiting to hear about funding and she is home next week. Happy Xmas from student finance.
Liz Gardner, Ely Cambs

My daughter applied in plenty of time yet there is still no sign of her loan. I can't bear to list their errors, the stress it would bring on is too great, needless to say our phone bill is three times the usual and I've had to send all the latest documents by registered mail. I have managed to bail my daughter out so far from savings but our own income has been in decline. I don't know what will happen if this carries on much longer. I also have a son in his third year who didn't manage to work over the summer hols as usual. Luckily his loan was only a few weeks late. It's going to be a very sparse Christmas.
W.J.Charlton, St.Albans

To state that the expectations of students and parents were not met must count as one of the biggest understatements of the year. What purpose at this stage would restructuring the Student Loans senior management serve unless you employ persons with a modicom of common sense and experience of customer service from the private sector. My son is waiting for a reassessment - at least he got something in the form of a loan (all be it incorrect). I fully sympathise with those who are still waiting.
Peter , Southampton

The most disgusting thing with this is, that the people who really need the loans are the poorest, those that maybe are the first in their family to attend university and the ones that the government said they would do the most to insert into the university system. Please cut the contract, and definitely, no golden handshakes.
Scott Heywood, Bournemouth

I applied for Student Finance well ahead of the deadline, and despite this, only received my funding two weeks ago. That was after I had lodged an official complaint twice. They lost my documents four times, even though three times they had been sent by recorded delivery and had to be signed for. Each time I rang the helpline, the person had no idea what was happening or anything about my application. They only told me two weeks before the start of the term to send new copies of documents, after previously stating they were being processed. I found the entire service to be completely incompetent. Moving away to university is stressful enough for students and the Student Loans Company needs to understand this to provide an effective service.
Laura, Leeds

My son received his loan yesterday after weeks of stress and lack of information. He has still not received the support grant for his young son. Can those affected not claim interest back from the Student Loans Company who must have benefitted from hanging on to money that was not theirs?
Mandy Stewart, Leeds UK

I applied for DSA as soon as I could. I have heard nothing from the Students Loan Company. This is an attempt by government to give the job of loans and grants to a third party so that it (the Government)always comes up smelling of roses. They can also legitmately say that they knew nothing about the details and that these are a contractual obligation for the SLC. Nice little sidstep but where does it leave us students? This proxy approach applies also to public housing and training companies. "Proxying" has proved time and again to be a dismal failure - you would have thought people would learn from their mistakes, but alas, No! Perhaps they have learned that not taking responsibility as a Government more or less (they imagine), guarantees their survival. I don't think so - and nor will the electorate.
Peter Fallows, London

I started student finance application in April and it has just been completely sorted this week. It was has taken nearly 8 months to sort everything out and whilst processing my application they lost my bank details no less than 7 times, my birth certificate and all of my Mum's documents also. I could never get through to the helpline and had to seek an alternative number. Also it cost me over £40 in phone bills from my phone to sort this mess out!
Spencer Harris, Sheffield

Though I do appreciate what people are going through, in the interest of a balanced view, I'd like to say I'm sure I can't be the only one that had no trouble whatsoever.
Tom Taylor, Swansea

I got AAA at A-Level, and was fully expecting to go he LSE this year to study Economics yet due to the failures of student finance my loan/grant was never settled, or transferred. I now work at Debenhams, and have to endure retail until next September when hopefully I will actually secure a loan!
Sean Stokes, Banbury

I had my application complete in April, and received a notification for my parents income details in June. After everything being complete by beginning of August, the incompetence started. Firstly, my mums original p60 was "lost" then 3 month later posted back to us. Then my passport details form was lost, and despite ringing up and asking if everything was complete, to be reassured everything was ok and being processed. Then we receive an email asking for my dads details again as these were not photocopied. Now my passport had to be verified and was told it would be 3 days, 4 week later it was. Nearly 8 month after my original application went in, I'm still waiting for my loan, and face loosing my uni place due to lack of confirmation from SLC!
Rebecca Ellis, Barnsley, UK

These stories just beggar belief. It happened to my daughter too, we sent the forms about three times, they kept saying they hadn't received them, even though they had been sent by registered post and signed for. All these stories of lost passports and birth certificates. How can this happen? Were these important documents not kept safely? Who was employed in these places? Nobody ever answered the phone. I have this picture of a handful of work experience kids playing computer games amid a mountain of documents scattered randomly round the room while the phones were all put on hold. Why did NOBODY IN CHARGE sort this fiasco out? These poor students and their parents have been worried sick, and nobody seems to care . I bet they won't hang about when it comes to upping the interest on all these loans and getting the repayments. Write to your MPS and kick up a fuss.
millie, exeter

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