The simple guide to student finance applications

Time's ticking on your applications, and if you've not written them yet, it's time to get weaving. Let student finance expert David Ellis show you how.

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The Independent Online

These moments of the year are often spiced with a faint unease, an unremitting ‘what have I forgotten?’ When student finance applications opened in February, good intentions meant applying for the loan hit the top of the to-do list, but as other distractions come along, it stays there, watching items below getting crossed off, slowly but surely becoming just a guilty feeling in the back of your mind.

If you want financial support, though, these forms need to be filled out and the sooner the better. There’s some to-ing and fro-ing using the post (the post! How quaint) which means if you like money on time rather than half a century delayed, your application should be well ahead of the May 31 deadline. The form is sufficiently confusing to draw doubts saying ‘I can barely complete this form. Not feeling too great about a degree right now…’ and hence, this column of answers.

This information is appropriate for UK students entering their course at an English university in September 2013.

What do I need to fill out the form?

The Student Loans Company (SLC) is pleasingly keen on ensuring money goes to the right person, so you’ll need proof of who you are and where you’re headed. Have to hand passport details, national insurance number and bank details - all preferably your own - along with details of your university or college course.

I can’t fill out my course because I’m not 100 per cent sure where I’ll go. It all depends on my results...

Easily solved – just put your first choice. If the exams don’t go as planned and you end up elsewhere, a short telephone call to the SLC will sort everything easily enough.

On that note, if details need changing or updating, it can be done in a few clicks - just in case you decide to amuse yourself by using the title ‘Reverend’, forget to correct it and later receive some confusing telephone calls - a mistake I won’t be making again in a hurry.

I can’t find my passport and besides, I think it’s out of date

The SLC has no interest in your actual passport – just the number and validity dates, so don’t send yours in.

If your passport is out of date and you’re unable to have it renewed in time, your actual birth certificate countersigned by a person of good standing confirming your identity is an acceptable substitute.

Who counts as a person of good standing?

Though personal experience tells me they are up there with the best humanity has to offer, your favourite barman is perhaps unlikely to suffice, if only because they must have known you for two years.

The form suggests someone with a professional qualification (suggestions include teacher, accountant and solicitor), a civil servant, bank or building society official, police offer or a minister of religion – I’m assume the chap standing at the front of your local Jedi gathering  won’t count but if anyone has the gall to try…

The loans and are assessed on ‘household income.’  What is household income?

‘Household income’ means the income your parents or partner receive, plus your own. Income is both money earned and unearned, so any benefits, pension payment or investment pay-outs will be taken into consideration. Sadly, it is calculated on income before tax and national insurance payments.

How do they decide whether it’s my parents' or partner's income that counts?

Whether your parents or partner count as contributing to your household income depends on your age and circumstance. If you’re under 25, living with family and financially dependent on them, the government will look at their income. If you’re over 25 and living with your partner, they’ll accordingly consider your partner’s income. This distinction is referred to as ‘dependent’ or ‘independent’ students.

Would anybody know if I say our income is lower than it is?

Yes. Student finance England and the SLC are operated by the government and the trouble with governments is they have access to all sorts of information. They’ll check your parents’ financial records directly with HM Revenue and Customs. If there is a discrepancy between your application and their findings, they’ll ask for more evidence.

I’m eligible for a maintenance grant – will it affect my loan?

The maintenance grant (which needn’t be repaid) will affect the amount of maintenance loan (which does) you’ll receive; for every pound of maintenance grant you are eligible for, 50p is deducted from the loan you’ll get; it’s a favourable system as it means you’ll borrow less and duly owe less.

The application wants details of our household income from last tax year but recently, our income has dropped significantly, so I need a higher amount of maintenance loan. What can I do?

If your household income has dropped notably – by 15 per cent or more, your parents (or partner, as above) will need to fill in the Current Year Income form, which will become available in April. This information will then be used to recalculate your loan and grant eligibility. 

I’ve got more questions. Help!

Breathe. Walk to the kitchen. Put the kettle on. For a comprehensive read of all loan and grant information, try this guide. 

Alternatively, if you want a live chat with a real person for instant, easy to understand answers, try using the live Q&A on Student Money Saver, found as an orange box in the bottom right of every page. You’ll get a live response every day between 9am - 6.30pm, but there’s the option to email and all queries are answered within a few hours.