Q&A with Nichola Malton from the Student Loans Company
In the aftermath of the tuition fees hike, Nichola Malton from the Student Loans Company joined us in March 2011 to answer your questions about the funding students are entitled to for tuition fees and living costs, how to apply for this money and when you need to start the process.
New students 2011 | Household income assessment | Assessment process | Financial reassessment | Childcare | Adult dependent grant| Returning to study | Repayments | Eligibility | Non-payment of fees | New students 2012
Q. fitflopqueen: Hopefully, my daughter will be going to university this autumn, we would like to know how to start the ball rolling about tuition fees and a student loan. If the fees are not payable until the end of the degree, is interest applied from the beginning ie from 2011 or from when the student starts earning?
A. Nichola Malton: If your daughter is going to university this autumn, from 16 March 2011 she'll be able to complete the online application form. It will help to have certain information to hand, such as her passport number, bank details, National Insurance number and course details. It doesn't matter at this stage if she hasn't accepted a place yet, she can use her first choice of course to start things off and then change it later when she's decided where she's going.
In response to your point about interest, student loans are different from normal commercial loans because the interest rate is subsidised by the Government and you don't have to start making repayments until you've left your course (for income-contingent loans, until you're earning over £15,000 a year), but interest accrues on student loans from the date they're paid to you until they have been repaid in full.
Q. waffleanddaub: Is this just about England? If not, could you please advise me how my daughter can get a loan to cover her living expenses if she goes to a university away from home, in Scotland? As far as I can tell from the website, she is only entitled to the minimum loan of around £900 due to our income. We do not have savings and have two younger children and can't afford the £400 a month for accommodation. It looks like in England she could get a maintenance loan, not dependent on parental income? Does this rule out attending the university of her choice? I am quite surprised by this, after all you pay back a loan, why can't she get one?
A. Nichola Malton: Yes, students from England who are eligible in principle can apply to Student Finance England for a maintenance loan if they are studying in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. All full-time students can also apply for a maintenance loan to help with their living costs.
The exact amount she can borrow will depend on your household income, where you live, when she starts her course, what year of study she's in and what help she gets through the Maintenance Grant. She can apply for 72% of the maximum maintenance loan amount without your household income being taken into account. How much she receives of the remaining 28% will depend on your household income.
Q. Dropdeadfred: If one person is supporting two full-time university students - one their wife and one their daughter - is that taken into consideration when their one same salary is used to calculate both students' loan entitlements?
A. Nichola Malton: Because you are supporting your wife and your daughter, your income is only used for your daughter's assessment not your wife's, as she is assessed as a single independent student on her own income alone, if she has any.
When household income is assessed in a situation where, for example there are two full-time students who are siblings being supported, this will be taken into account. Where there is more than one eligible student in a household, the household income figure is reduced by £1,130 and this figure is then used in the assessment calculations.
Q. Ponders: I have a son in second year at university, and another who will be starting in the autumn. I have just done the online application for next year for the eldest, and when it asked "Do you have any other children in further or higher education?" I said no, because I don't - my youngest is at sixth form college, that's not further education, is it? So presumably DS1's finance will have been calculated on the basis that he's the only one we're supporting next year.
Also, the total amount is less than for this year by about £400, although income pretty much the same: how come? When I come to do the youngest's application, after 16 March, I will clearly answer yes to the same question - will DS1's finance then be recalculated? Also, when and how do we get a Student Loans Company finance ID number for the younger one?
A. Nichola Malton: Technically, you should have said 'yes' as sixth form college is classed as further education. However, in this scenario, it won't make any difference as you would have declared him in the other section: 'Any children not in FE or HE'. The questions are split this way as we ask further questions about children's income who are not in FE/HE, but if he has no income (as he is at college), it will make no difference in this situation. Regarding the lesser amount, you should call us and get a full explanation. Your younger son will get an ID when he logs on and creates an account to apply for his finance.
Q. slug: I work in a university. Despite applying well before the deadline and constantly keeping in touch with the Student Loans Company, a large percentage of our students routinely have to wait weeks after the start of the academic year before their loan comes through. This has a huge impact on both our administration and on the students.
If students don't have their finances in place by enrolment week, the knock-on in time and money (for extra staff) to the university is quite significant. It also doesn't help to have already financially stressed students further stressed by what should be a fairly simple process. My job is busy enough at the beginning of the year without having to spend hours explaining to students that until their finances are in place they won't complete enrolment and won't have access to some vital resources, especially when they have done everything correctly in the first place.
Given the fiascos of the last few years are fairly common knowledge, what processes have you put in place to ensure it runs more smoothly this year? How are you proposing to cope with the increase in fees?
A. Nichola Malton: We absolutely appreciate the impact it has on students and universities if they don't get their money through on time. We have made considerable changes to our procedures to make it easier and quicker for returning students to apply for their funding – for instance, if someone's circumstances haven't changed then we don't need to reassess their application and they just need to sign a form we send them and post it back to us.
For new students, we've removed the need, in most cases, for them to send original financial documents to us, for example, we can check their identity if they send us their passport number and can check income if they send us their parents' or sponsors' National Insurance number and income details.
We've put some 'how to' videos on the web to guide students though the process. I appreciate your point about next year. Our role is to get the loans and grants to students, and tuition fees to universities, as quickly as possible and we hope that the changes we've introduced this year will make a big difference and will help us provide a better service to students and universities alike.
Q. WhiteRose26: My daughter took a gap year immediately after school and worked in order to put some money away for uni. She had several part-time jobs over the year, but did not earn enough to pay tax, which gives you an idea of the fairly low amount she had. She is currently in her first year and received the full loan for this year, plus a relatively small means-tested grant based on our household income.
She is currently applying for student funding for next year and has been told via the student funding website that the amount she will get next year is less than the amount she got this year. Is this because she worked? She is quite upset about this because the student loan will not even cover her portion of the rent on the house she and a group of friends are now committed to for the next academic year. She will earn even less this year and we cannot make up the shortfall.
A. Nichola Malton: I would advise your daughter to contact us for a review as soon as possible.
Q. EduStudent: After having been approved for my second year finance without being asked to see proof of my parents' income, why was I then asked to send it in in November after being chosen as part of a random sample?
The letter we received had been sent on 1 November. We received it on the 15th. The evidence had to be sent in by the 25th. I was told I would lose my finance if it wasn't. In the end, I lost £20 through reassessment. Was it really worth it?
I suppose my question, then, is why would my finance be approved, for you then to turn round and demand a reassessment? The hassle and stress it caused could easily have been avoided if we had been asked to send the evidence in when I applied as we had anticipated.
A. Nichola Malton: Students who are returning to their course in subsequent years do not need their parents or partners to provide financial evidence as part of their application, they declare their income only. A random sample check is done on some students and their families to ensure that the income declared is accurate and financial evidence is asked for as part of this checking exercise. A reassessment may occur and there may be a change to the student's entitlement following the submission of the financial evidence if the household income differs from the original declared figures.
To address your point about sending information to us, this year we are improving the experience for parents or partners of new students and in a large number of cases they will not need to send us financial evidence as we are checking their income with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) if they give us a National Insurance number. Only in exceptional cases will we ask for copies of financial evidence when they apply.
We are working on making further improvements, such as for returning students and their families, so the need for checking and reassessments later on once their application has been assessed are minimised.
When it comes to calculating the residual income, your household contribution is assessed in the following way:
Student Finance England works out your parents' (generally including your parent's partner) residual income. It does this by taking their gross income (before tax and National Insurance) and taking off allowances for the following:
- Pension scheme payments that qualify for certain specified tax relief
- £1,130 for any child other than you who is totally or mainly financially dependent on them
- £1,130 if the parent is also a student
Once Student Finance England has taken away the relevant amounts and worked out your parents' residual income, they add this to your income and assess a household contribution.
Q. Indith: Why is it impossible to get a straight answer about being eligible for childcare help? I want to return to university but I cannot do so if I don't get childcare funding. I do not expect to waltz in and have my childcare funded just because I fancy another degree, but I do expect to be able to get a straight answer from someone. All I keep being told is that I would have to apply to find out, so in order to find out if I can actually afford to do a course I have to apply for the course, go through interviews etc and then apply for my funding and have to turn the place down if the answer is no?
A. Nichola Malton: There are different forms of support for students with children that don't have to be paid back, but it does depend on your household income, the cost of your childcare and the number of children you have.
Essentially, you can get help for childcare costs if you have dependent children under 15 (or under 17 if the child has special educational needs), but you must use childcare that is registered (with OFSTED) or approved. You can get up to £148.75 a week for one child or up to £225 if you have two or more children.
When we carry out the assessment, it is based on the estimated costs of childcare and where there is a partner or spouse, on their estimated income for the academic year. This means that throughout the year we ask for confirmation of costs, and at the end of the year we finalise the entitlement based on actual income and childcare costs. It is important to keep us informed of any changes in your circumstances so that your entitlement is as accurate as possible.
There's more information about the Childcare Grant that is available.
The assessment for childcare and the other dependants grants is complex. We have had the same feedback from some universities and colleges last year. It is something we will be looking at to improve with clearer advice and guidance so that students can get an idea what their entitlement may be.
You might also find it useful to have a look at information about the Access to Learning Fund, which provides support for students on low incomes who are in financial difficulty. It's paid on top of the standard student finance package and is usually administered and paid out by student support services teams in university and college.
You need to be aware that you are unlikely to be able to access a tuition fee loan if you had a loan for tuition fees in the past. Finance is generally focused on people who are embarking on higher education study for the first time, but see my responses later to questions about returning to study.
Finally, calculate how much funding you could get for studying - you can add the courses you're thinking of doing and your household income. You can enter details of up to five universities, colleges or courses to help you compare costs and work out the best choice for you financially.
Q. Cockadoodledooo: My question is very simple. After having shedloads of information from us before loans/grants were issued, why do we have to provide more of the same? I thought once the course was finished all we'd get was a repayment schedule but no, rather we got threatening letters demanding immediate repayment of the adult dependent's grant for not having provided information we had already given before the course started and proof of no income (which is a ludicrously difficult thing to prove).
A. Nichola Malton: I'm sorry that you have had a frustrating experience. We offer additional grants for students with dependents, such as those with adult dependents, hence the Adult Dependents Grant.
The regulations that apply to the assessment for these additional grants requires an estimate of household income and financial commitments over the academic year period. Some evidence is required at the start of the academic year so that the assessment can be as accurate as possible based on estimated details. At the end of the academic year, evidence is required to prove the income and commitments paid to finalise the entitlement.
We appreciate there is, in some cases, a substantial amount of information required. As it may be in your case, we may have had to ask for more information. We will be making it clearer upfront to all our students with these grants this year what they need to do throughout the journey and giving clearer information on what to send us when we do need to finalise their entitlement at the end of their academic year.
Q. JackiePaper: I already have a student loan from a degree I did several years ago. I am starting my midwifery degree in September this year. Am I definitely entitled to the non-means tested part of the student loan?
I have been told by some people that I am not entitled as I already have one loan, but other people have told me that midwifery and nursing are exempt from this ruling. Will I be entitled to the basic loan or not?
A. Nichola Malton: Essentially, funding is focused on those students studying in higher education for the first time and that, by and large, students should only be funded for one undergraduate degree to honours level. However, there are exceptions for certain healthcare courses.
NHS-funded students on degree level courses in nursing, midwifery and operating department practice receive support for fees and means-tested bursaries via the NHS Bursary Scheme.
The NHS Bursary in England provides financial help to fund a limited number of places on courses in certain healthcare professions. If you are eligible to apply for a means-tested NHS bursary, you could be eligible for a reduced rate (approximately 50%) maintenance loan, whether or not you already hold a degree qualification.
You can find a full list of courses that are covered and the financial help available in the booklet, Financial Help for Health Care Students. You can download a copy from the NHS Student Bursaries website. There's also further information about finance for NHS and social work courses.
Q. Jaquelinehyde: So I'm in my final year at university and have had full student loans, bursaries and childcare etc for each year with little problem. However, I am considering deferring my final year until next year. How will this affect my finance? Will I get any help next year as I would have had everything I was owed for this this year already?
Although having said all that, I may finish this year and then begin a postgraduate course next year, which raises two further questions. If I chose to complete a two-year Master's degree in social work, what would I be entitled to? Or what if I chose to complete a one-year PGCE course in secondary English? What would I be entitled to then?
A. Nichola Malton: It's really important that you clarify your intention with your university. Assuming that academic year 2011/12 is your final year, if you take a year out until academic year 12/13, as long as your university is aware, and you go through the suspension process and then the resumption process in 12/13, this should not affect your entitlement.
If you are able to complete your studies then, generally, postgraduate students are not entitled to support from Student Finance England. However, certain courses may qualify. If you are studying for a career in social work, you may be able to get a non-repayable bursary through the NHS Business Service Authority's Prescription Pricing Division. These bursaries are available to eligible students who don't get funding from their employer and are studying an approved undergraduate or postgraduate course in social work. Your university or college will tell you if your course qualifies.
If you're doing a full-time postgraduate teacher training course, you can apply for the same student loans, grants and bursaries as other undergraduate students. Full-time teacher training students can apply for a tuition fee loan, maintenance loan and a maintenance grant or special support grant.
You may also get a bursary from your university or college of at least £329 for 2010/11 and £338 for 2011/12 if you pay the maximum tuition fees. To receive a maintenance grant your household income needs to be £50,020 or less.
If you decide to do a part-time teacher training student and your household income is below £25,420, you may be able to get a fee grant to help with tuition fees and a course grant to help with study costs, such as books, materials and travel. If your household income is £28,066 or more, then you won't be entitled to a fee grant or course grant.
Q. Loveyourspace: I am thinking of starting a postgrad course - MA in a relevant area of study for my current career. Apart from that I am just looking for work at the moment after maternity leave.
It is a one-year full-time or two-year part-time course. I have two children, one of whom will be school age when I propose to start university. Are you aware of any possible help with funding my course fees or maybe childcare costs while I study? My partner works full time. Do you have any information relating to maximum earnings before funding is unavailable?
A. Nichola Malton: Please see my answers above about childcare and postgraduate study options.
Q. onadietcokebreak: I started university in September 2010 on a three-year course. I am deferring second year as I'm pregnant. I'll be resuming in Sept 2012. Will I be hit by the new rules surrounding tuition loans? I would also like advice on what to do about my student finance. I am planning on deferring next academic year as pregnant. However, it is still early days and of course miscarriage is a risk. Is it advisable to apply online like the rest of my class? Also what happens about my childcare grant? At the moment it is paid through the summer. Would this be repayable if I don't return in September?
A. Nichola Malton: : If you have to suspend your studies due to becoming pregnant then, yes, that may affect your entitlement to student finance. I would advise you to speak to your higher education institutions to discuss this, and contact us to let us know of the change in your circumstances. As I said to Jacquelinehyde, you can defer your studies as long as your Higher Education Institution knows.
Your childcare grant for the 2010-11 academic year covers you until 31 August 2011. If you suspend your studies, your financial support could be reviewed - it depends on when your university advises us of the date you suspend your studies and the reasons for this.
We may be able to continue support for a period and would need to review your individual circumstances in more detail when the change occurs - information if your course, income or family circumstances change.
I hope everything goes well for you with both your pregnancy and studies.
Q. mercibucket: Why can't your company cope with changes of direct debit instruction? Why does it take at least four months for new direct debit instructions to take effect? Why is it the only company I have encountered that seems to have this problem?
A. Nichola Malton: I'm sorry it took so long to sort out your direct debit. What should happen is when you request a direct debit to be set up, it can be done either over the telephone or on paper where you receive, sign and return a paper direct debit mandate. It should only take nine working days to set it up, depending on the date you choose for it to come out of your bank account. The first direct debit collection will either be within the month of it being set up, or the following calendar month.
If it is set up over the telephone all details are confirmed and the first direct debit date is confirmed, it should then all be followed up with written confirmation. We've now got more people on board and have provided more training to make sure this kind of thing does not happen in the future.
Q. mum2supercharlie: My husband is paying a student loan back through his monthly salary. It shows on his payslip and he has no idea how much there is left to pay back, how much he has paid back already, how long we will have deductions from his salary etc.
We get a yearly statement but he didn't understand it as the amount showing as still outstanding is what he thought the original borrowing equals. Please can you tell us where we can find this information? I don't have experience of a student loan but have heard you can do all this online. He graduated in 2004. He doesn't know if he has an account online.
A. Nichola Malton: The answer to this question depends on the loan type and whether it was an income-based loan or fixed-term loan and when it was taken out. If your husband has problems logging into his account, then call one of the numbers below to talk to us:
If it was taken out after 1998 (an Income Contingent loan) phone 0845 073 8891 (local call rates apply). If you are calling from overseas, phone 0141 243 3660, Mon-Fri, 8am-5.30pm.
If he took the loan out before 1998 (a fixed-term loan) phone 0845 073 8889 (local rates apply). If you are calling from overseas, phone 0141 243 3900, Mon-Fri, 8am-5.30pm.
In certain circumstances, when you are nearing the end of your loan repayment, we offer you the option of doing a direct debit to avoid any over-repayments. The best thing to do is contact us on one of the above numbers.
Q. tyler80: When new fees are introduced and the repayment terms are altered so that loans are only paid back on income earned above £21k, will this only be for students paying the increased fees? Should I resign myself to paying a percentage of everything I earn over £15k until I'm 65/die?
A. Nichola Malton: When the new fees are introduced from 2012/13 academic year, you will not start paying anything back until you start earning over £21k and the rate of interest will be linked to the RPI rate.
For people who are currently studying, for income-based loans you currently pay 9% of anything you earn over £15,000 gross per year. This may change in the future.
Q. MABS: My daughter will have to be overseas for her A-levels, just two years. Not her choice, her father's job. After university she will stay in England to work. We own a house here. Why won't she be entitled to a student loan?
A. Nichola Malton: In order to be eligible to apply for student finance, your daughter needs to be "ordinarily resident" in the UK for the three years prior to the start of the course, but we can consider temporary absences. Please get in touch with us to discuss your daughter's situation.
Q. cheapskatemum: My son has not yet received his student loan. He is halfway through his first year of a Business Management BA, but is thinking of giving up. Is it possible to cancel the loan application? What should he do if the money arrives after he's given up the course?
A. Nichola Malton: As a matter of urgency your son needs to log in to his Student Finance England account to check progress or give us a call.
If he does decide to give up his course, if any tuition fee loan has been paid to the university or college he is studying at, it may have to be repaid, although if the loan application has not been processed yet this is unlikely. The university or college may charge for some or all of the tuition fee cost. It's important your son discusses this with the university or college and contacts us for clarification.
Q. pinkbraces: My daughter will hopefully be going to university, autumn 2012. In order to miss out on all the confusion and general lateness of receiving finances, when is the earliest we can apply for the relevant monies? I would really like to avoid some of the horror stories I have heard.
A. Nichola Malton: At this point in time we don't know the precise date for applying for student finance for the 2012/13 academic year. The best thing to do is keep checking online for more information on dates to apply for student finance.