Delay in student loans as record numbers apply

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The Independent Online

Thousands of 18 and 19-year-olds who are leaving home to enter university for the first time are still waiting for confirmation of loans to pay for fees and rent.

With university terms starting in the next couple of weeks, all they have got so far is a public apology from the Student Loans Company (SLC), which is struggling to deal with the thousands of loan applications pouring in every week.

The company is dealing with the biggest batch of first-year university students in the country's history. It says it has approved 830,000 applications, but more are coming in at a rate of thousands a day. At least 170,000 are awaiting news of their loan applications.

But experts say it has known for months how big this year's student intake would be, and should have foreseen that there would be a rush of applications in late August and early September, after students had seen their A-level results and knew which universities they would be going to.

The chief executive of the SLC, Ralph Seymour-Jackson, has ordered more staff to be taken on, and extra telephone lines opened, to deal with the rush.

"We're sorry that our customers are experiencing difficulties getting through to our customer advisers at Student Finance England," the company said in a statement. "This year, we have received record numbers of applications. We have increased the number of staff by 120 in order to deal quickly with the unprecedented numbers of calls and applications. In addition, we have opened up 50 per cent more telephone lines to deal with the tens of thousands of calls we are receiving every day."

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of Million+, a think-tank set up by the universities, appealed to teenagers not to give up the chance of university just because their loan has not come through. "It's very important that students aren't deterred from going to university," she said. "They should contact their universities, because many of them will look sympathetically at those who have not had their loans yet."

She added that the universities are "disappointed" that the SLC has let them down.