Student loans firm faces record level of complaints

Fourfold rise in grievances among borrowers

The number of students and graduates complaining about the handling of their loans has soared in recent years, amid growing concerns that the cost of higher education is fuelling discontent in universities across the country.

Figures obtained by The IoS reveal the number of borrowers who made complaints against the Student Loans Company (SLC) rose from 1,441 in 2005-06 to 5,648 in the year to this April. The 2010-11 total was more than double the 2,566 complaints of the previous year.

Grievances ranged from lengthy delays in the payment of loans to the "harassment" of graduates by debt-collection agencies hired to ensure that they kept up with repayments.

Details of the rising toll of complaints come a year after the SLC's boss was forced to resign after an organisational debacle that left thousands of students waiting months for loan and grant payments.

The company said last night that the most recent increase in complaints came after it took over processing many applications that had previously been handled by local councils.

But student leaders claimed the growing complaints demonstrated unease about the cost of higher education – as well as discontent about the way borrowers are treated. They also warned that the situation will deteriorate further as higher tuition fees force hundreds of thousands of students to rely more heavily on loans.

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, said: "The complaints demonstrate students' growing dissatisfaction with all parts of the higher education funding system. We will be keeping a close watch to ensure there are no repeats of debacles like the one in 2009."

An itemised account of grievances logged against the SLC, obtained under Freedom of Information legislation, shows that "collections disputes" accounted for more than a third of the 1,441 complaints five years ago. "Arrears and agency issues" was consistently among the highest single category of complaint in subsequent years. Sarah Teather, the education minister, has said that many of her constituents have complained that "the SLC has failed miserably to stop taking payments after the loan has been paid off".

The SLC was plunged into chaos in September 2009 after it failed to process 209,000 students' grants and loans – more than half of all applications – by the start of the university term.

Weeks after the coalition government was established, Ralph Seymour-Jackson, the company's chief executive, resigned after ministers made it clear they had no confidence in him.

An SLC spokeswoman said last night: "The Student Loans Company processed 967,000 applications last year, and the increase in complaints highlighted for 2010-11 represents an increase in customers who were previously assessed by local authorities."

Case study: Stephanie Babet, 21

Third-year student of creative writing at Liverpool John Moores University

"Last summer, while filling out my student loan forms, I did it online for the first time. It took me for ever as the website is so confusing. I clicked 'yes' when it asked if I needed to submit evidence – like a passport – thinking it would keep me on the safe side. I didn't think it would cause so many problems; how wrong was I?

"I ended up not getting the first instalment of my loan until November, because they were waiting for information that I had provided two years earlier.

"I found the Student Loans Company useless, and it wasn't until my mum sent a very harsh complaint that the problem was fixed. All in all, SLC caused me a lot of unnecessary stress and worry in my final year of university, and were not at all helpful whenever I tried to contact them. It annoyed me greatly that, at 21 and a final-year university student, it wasn't sorted out until my mum got involved."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Imperial College London: Safety Training Administrator

£25,880 – £28,610 per annum: Imperial College London: Imperial College London ...

University College London: Client Platform Support Officer

£26,976 - £31,614 per annum: University College London: UCL Information Servic...

Guru Careers: Instructional Designer / e-Learning Designer

£30 - 32k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking an Instructional / e-Learning De...

Recruitment Genius: Schools Education & Careers Executive

£30500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Schools Education & Careers Executive ...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing