Norfolk students left without loans
Thousands of teenagers will start university next week without their lifeline loans, it was revealed last night. The Student Loans Company is struggling to cope with the volume of applications.
Thousands of teenagers will start university next week without their lifeline loans, it was revealed last night.
They face taking one of the biggest steps of their lives worrying about how to pay for accommodation, books and food because the Student Loans Company (SLC) is struggling to cope with the volume of applications.
Students at the University of East Anglia (UEA) strongly criticised the company as they made an increasingly desperate bid to get hold of their money.
Last night SLC said it had a backlog because of an increase in loan applications and late applications.
But UEA students told how they had encountered a litany of errors - despite getting their applications in as long as five months ago.
They complained of problems including missing documents, and help lines they try for hours to get through to, which then offer them no help.
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Hannah Evans, from Altrincham in Cheshire, who will start a history and politics degree on Monday, said: 'I only applied for a non-means tested application and even though I applied back at Easter time, it still took months for them to get around to doing anything with my application.
'Because UEA was not my original first choice, I had to send off a ridiculous form in the post and they have still not processed my change of university, even though I move in on Saturday.
'Currently my loan is being paid to a different university. According to the website, my first payment won't be given to me until two weeks after the UEA term begins. I'm just hoping this is all sorted in time.'
Anna Larsen, an environmental science student from Bedford, said: 'Having applied to go to a different university last year and having applied through the new system this year, I can definitely say that the old way of sending applications to the local education authority was so much more efficient in terms of time and sending in documents.
'I've heard of so many applications that are on hold due to several requests of documents or scanners and processing machines crashing.'
An estimated 50,000-plus students in England are being hit by the delays - 5pc of the one million applying for loans this year.
Hardest hit will be those on the lowest family incomes, because above the basic level of a maintenance loan (which all full-time undergraduates are eligible for) is an additional means-tested element and the processing of those requests is to be done second.
Those eligible for other extra support, such as loans for child care will also be affected as these are means-tested.
This is the first year tuition fee loans, maintenance grants and maintenance loans have been processed by one organisation - Student Finance England, run by the SLC.
They used to be dealt with by the prospective student's local authority.
Student Finance England is only dealing with first-time applicants. Applicants who have already had one year at least in higher education are still being dealt with by their local authorities.
SLC has sought to calm fears with more phone lines and another 24 staff, in addition to the 120 extra staff announced earlier to help with handling inquiries.
Chief executive Ralph Seymour-Jackson said in the past four weeks there had been 120,000 new applications.
'We have had real problems answering the telephones. We have struggled with people trying to get through to us.'
He said the decision had been taken to process all students for a 'basic level' of funding so that everyone had some money to start their courses.
'We admit the situation is not perfect, but it's reasonable,' he said. 'It is genuinely very difficult for students to get through on the telephone so they worry they won't get their money on time, but they will.'
Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, said: 'It is unacceptable that so many people are having difficulties getting through to the helpline. Student Finance England must improve its enquiries system so that anyone who is concerned about their application can get the information they need.'
Natasha Barnes, the communications officer for the Union of UEA Students, said: 'The delays and the poor quality of service from the SLC are obviously very disappointing. We hope that no student will have the start of their university course spoilt by these problems.'
Most English universities start on Monday or a week later, but some courses - such as teacher training - have already begun.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the umbrella group Universities UK, said universities understood the 'concern and anxiety' felt by students.
'Universities have measures in place, such as the Access to Learning Fund, to support those students who face serious financial difficulties through no fault of their own,' she said.
To read Steve Downes's blog on this and other education issues, visit www.edp24.co.uk/steve-downes.