Loans Company leaves students out of pocket, again

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The Student Loans Company has left many students in confusion and facing a lack of funding for the second year running despite changes intended to prevent familiar problems.

Last year thousands of students in England were left without grants or loans after administration problems meant that the Student Loans Company (SLC) could not cope with a record one million applications. Students were left helpless and universities forced to pay out hundreds of thousands of pounds in emergency funds to students left without their agreed funding.

The SLC blamed problems with the telephones and a faulty scanner system, but later reports revealed management had underestimated the scale of the task ahead of them.

Universities minister David Willetts said that new leadership was necessary for the company at the beginning of the summer.  Shortly afterwards the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced that the chief executive of the Student Loans Company, Ralph Seymour-Jackson and chairman John Goodfellow were quitting.

Willets said: “Last year the service fell short of what students and their parents had every right to expect.”

Following the appointment of Professor Sir Deian Hopkin, former Vice Chancellor of London South Bank University, as interim chairman, the SLC assured students that their service would be vastly improved this year.  But although the system has allegedly received less complaints than in previous years and the number of already processed applications has increased on last year from 46% to 60%, there are still problems.

Students and their parents have been asked repeatedly to send birth certificates and sensitive documents, many of which have been mislaid. There have also been thousands of complaints about the SLC help lines which have left students trying for hours to get through before then being offered no help.

As Lonsdale Co-President Matthew Power explains: “I recently received my breakdown for the next academic year and the amount of my grant has changed, despite no change in my personal circumstances. My attempts to find out what had changed were in vain – I spent a great deal of time in a queue on the phone and when I finally spoke to someone, they seemed to know very little about my case or indeed, the way grants work in general”.

Giving evidence to the Public Affairs Committee in late July, Simon Fraser, the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said that improvements at the company between December and February were not fast enough, but he said he was “confident that there will be a better service this year”.

Lauren Dalton-Jarvis, a student at Lancaster, described the service offered this year as “appalling.”  Ste Smith, another Lancaster students agreed, saying: “They [the SLC] didn’t have a clue”. Smith went on to describe the problems that he has faced this year.

“I sent all of the documents I needed to send back in April, got an assessment, signed it and sent it back like you’re supposed to and thought everything was fine. I then got a letter saying that we hadn’t sent anything… I was on the phone for an hour… they then miraculously had all the documents they needed and said they were going to reassess everything… and I’m still waiting” he stated.

Ste Smith’s experiences are not isolated, with a great many students having their own negative accounts about the way in which their applications are still being dealt with by the SLC.  Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter feature many posts indicating that the common feeling amongst students towards the SLC is far from one of satisfaction.

SLC bosses have insisted that any delays this year are in line with previous years, but the BBC reports that a Freedom of Information request revealed that some 50,000 students were still waiting for their loans.This is equivalent to 5% of the one million students who have applied for loans this year.