Q&A with Nichola Malton
To mark National Student Finance Week (12-16 March 2012), Nichola Malton, Assessment Manager for Student Finance England, answered your questions on how to get through the application process, what repayments you will have to make and how going overseas and other personal circumstances may affect the funding you receive.
Q. KalSkirata: Why is the online application process so difficult with so many computer lock-ups that we eventually had to phone for a postal form?
A. Nichola: Sorry to hear you've had difficulty with our online application. We process more than one million student finance applications in England every year but there are a small number of cases where students have to fill in paper forms. If your application has been submitted to us we will ensure that it is processed as quickly as possible.
Q. Lambbone: From September 2012 I'll have two of my children at university. I can't see anywhere on the forms where you can record this. Is this a consideration when calculating the maintenance loan?
A. Nichola: I would encourage your children to apply for their student finance as soon as possible and they can do this online at our website www.direct.gov.uk/studentfinance. When you support their applications you will be asked whether you have any financially dependent children in education within your household. Here you should enter your children's details, including where they are studying and on what course. An allowance is made against the household income for dependent children, £1,130 per child. This allowance reduces the household income for the purpose of calculating the students' means-tested entitlement.
The non-repayable maintenance or special support grant is based on the household residual income for each student. When the means-tested element of the maintenance loan is calculated the number of children in higher education who have applied for finance is taken into account and the parental contribution is divided by the number of students within your household. The final calculation will not occur until both students have applied, the deadline for a new student entering a course in September 2012 is 31 May and for a student returning to their course in September it is 29 June, so to have peace of mind and details of their entitlement I would encourage them to apply as soon as possible and for you to do your part too. Thanks, I hope this helps.
Q. maturestudent1982: I am currently a 29 year old mature student and a mum of a six year old boy and I have a disabled partner. I must say that Student Finance England have made the whole experience of being a student the most awful time ever. Their phone lines take ages to answer, their system is "always down" and the staff on the phone are none the wiser as to what the assessors need and the assessors themselves don't take phone calls. The assessors are equally unhelpful people. Every time you try to complain they say "well we have got 50,000 claims to deal with"…
A. Nichola: I am very sorry to hear you've had a difficult experience with your applications for finance so far. I might be able to help you through your application; if you contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org our team will forward your details to me so I can contact you. Please put your Mumsnet user name 'maturestudent1982' in the subject title. I look forward to hearing from you, many thanks.
Q. Giorgos9: I dropped out of university this year (1st year) and I have decided to start a different course in another university next year. However, when I try to follow the guidelines that your site gives I can't change my application online. The button to edit inside my account is not there. How do I let you know that I am planning to change university?
A. Nichola: I would recommend that you contact us to ensure that we have up-to-date information about your circumstances. Your ability to apply for a new course depends on whether you have already advised us that you have withdrawn or transferred from your initial course as this needs to be done before you can apply as a new student again for your new course online. Please call us on 0845 3005090 and we will be happy to assist you.
Q. Ballstoit: Why do you require evidence that someone who has previously been married is now living alone, but don't require proof that someone who has never been married lives alone? Are people who have been married before more likely to lie. Also why is your system set up to make it difficult to actually speak to someone who knows what they're talking about? Why don't you request all the documents you need when you process the application, instead of asking for one document, getting it back and then asking for another? Why is it currently taking over a month to respond to complaints (my assumption is that it's because you have so many because of the poor training and skills your staff appear to have)?
A. Nichola: Thanks for your question. There are various elements of the student finance application where we ask for evidence to verify the information we are provided with, such as identity, household income and marital status. When a student or a parent applies online a summary of the evidence we need to see is provided to them. If the first evidence document provided does not sufficiently discharge the evidence requirement then we will ask for another. If you are experiencing any difficulties in providing any information we have asked for then please speak with one of our advisors on 0845 3005090 they will be happy to try and advise you of alternative evidence that you might be able to send.
Our complaints department will acknowledge a complaint within five working days and will respond after a further ten days.
Q. MrsdotAverage: I am currently helping my son complete his application, however I am concerned that so much is still "yet to be confirmed".
Could you please tell me…
1. When will final terms and conditions be published? Current one (which has no date or version number for reference) merely states to keep checking on the site. I am advising my son not to sign until clear terms and conditions are available.
2. Why has the maintenance loan for 2013/2014 been set at the same as 2012/2013 when we are still expected to have inflation at 3-5%? How are students expected to live on loans that do not keep up with prices?
3. Given the above can you guarantee that tuition fees will not rise in 2013-2014? Why will interest still be at RPI plus 3% when the loans are not increased by RPI?
4. Having read other comments on here about the Student Loans Company's lack of performance, what will the Student Loans Company be doing to ensure my son has an error-free 30 years with your organisation?
5. HMRC is moving towards Real Time Information over the next few years. What changes will be made within the Student Loans Company to also offer students up-to-date information, interest and payments at any point in any year?
I look forward to your responses.
A. Nichola: The Student Loans Company administers student finance on behalf of the government according to the Education (Student Support) Regulations. We do not have any input into the loan and grants package amounts, tuition fee amounts or terms of repayments. If you would like more information regarding interest rates please see the relevant webpage, which can be accessed here http://bit.ly/GCTYuc
Our company has made a lot of progress in the last couple of years and we are very committed to working with our customers and stakeholders to continue to improve the student experience. We now deal with over one million applications for finance a year and the majority of our students have been paid their loans on time, once they register at university.
Q. Mansj: I am a mature student. I was born in the UK and I have always been an English national. I worked in Australia from 08/02/09 - 07/03/11 on a temporary basis. On my application for student finance how should I answer the question: "In the three years prior to the start of the first academic year of your course, did you live outside the UK at any time?" If I reply "no" it asks me to provide my addresses, but asks for no other information, and then tells me I am not eligible for student finance.
This is in contrast to the definition of an "ordinary resident" set out on the direct.gov website: "You're an 'ordinary resident' in England if it's where you normally live, even if you live abroad on a temporary basis."
I have been in contact by phone and by email with the Student Loans Company about this but no- one has been able to answer my query. While I was in Australia I put all of my UK affairs to the postal address of my family home in Devon, for that reason should I use that address to declare my address for the last three years when applying for student finance? I would very much appreciate any advice you can offer on this matter.
A. Nichola: If you are applying for support for a new course you are starting from September 2012 you have to declare if in the period, 01/09/2009 to 31/08/2012 you lived outside the UK. You would need to clarify the reason for your temporary absence and provide us with more details and evidence that it was of a temporary nature and we could then review your residency and determine your eligibility to student finance. If you wish to send me your details I can review it for you. If you put your Mumsnet username in the subject header, and email your details to email@example.com, I will see if I can help you.
Q. OliviaMumsmet: When will the part-time application form be available in the summer for learners to complete? Will the College stamp/sign the application form when the student starts the course as they do currently? Will you be issuing a guide for financial support for part-time adult students, and if so when will this be available to download on your website?
A. Nichola: Part-time learners will be able to apply from the end of July. New students will be able to download their application form from the launch of the part-time service on our website. Students returning to their studies in September will be sent an e-mail with a link to download their application form. Returning students will still need to have their application stamped and confirmed by the university and college once they are in attendance on their course. There will be fact sheets and advice and guidance available on our website from July for all part-time students.
Q. StarlightDicKenzie: Do you still have unreasonable and aggressive methods of "attempting" to recover payments from people who earn nothing, not even benefits, and as such cannot prove this? I had to drop out of university due to simply not being able to borrow enough to cover my rent, let alone the cost of living too. I lived with my mother, begged a well-known bank for a loan and continued my degree with the Open University. Even though I was studying the same amount as a full-time student, the Student Loans Company would not recognise this as full-time education, and as such demanded that because I could not produce benefit documents I would have to be subjected to regular bailiff threats. I eventually finished my degree and got a well-paid job which enabled me to pay back the money in one go. It was never my intention "not" to pay it back. What safeguarding policies and procedures do you have to ensure that no-one else is put through such an ordeal now?
A. Nichola: I am sorry to hear that you have had a difficult experience with the repayment of your previous student finance. We are legally bound to recover public funds through repayment and we follow all the recommended guidelines on the recovery of finance. I would recommend that anyone who is experiencing any difficulties to contact us to discuss their personal situation and we will help as much as we can. Our repayment website is www.studentloanrepayment.co.uk and the number to contact is 0845 073 8891.
In response to your second comment, students from low-income households may be eligible to apply for the full amount of support available under The Education (Student Support) Regulations through us. This support includes non-repayable maintenance grants and loans for tuition fees and maintenance costs. Loans do not have to be repaid until the student has graduated and is earning over £21,000 for those starting their course in 2012 or over £15,000 for those whose courses started before 2012. Non-repayable bursaries may be available depending on household income from the individual university or college that the student is attending to further support those from low-income families. I would advise students to seek advice from NASMA members at their university, college or student union on financial support while studying and to seek out information and guidance from our website www.direct.gov.uk/studentfinance. Students can also use our online student finance calculator to give them a flavour of potential entitlement.
Q. LadySybilDeChocolate: Your computer system is a mess! I had a problem where you "lost me" for five years. You were sending deferment letters and debt collection letters to a very old address, despite the fact that I had moved twice since then, received student loans while at these other addresses and I was receiving letters and a student loan while at my current address.
I've tried to sort this out on many occasions and have been told that it's my fault as I should have told you that I've moved. I did. Hence the fact that I've had student loans from you whilst at my current address. I also received letters from collection agencies which was stressful. I am now disabled and, to be honest, it's the last thing that I need. I send deferment papers back to you and I hear nothing. I then get a letter stating that I now owe you X amount as it appears you've not received them.
A. Nichola: I would advise you to contact our repayments team on 0845 073 8889 and speak to them regarding your situation as I can't access your personal details from a public website due to data protection issues. I can certainly hear that you are frustrated and I am sorry for that so please do contact us and I am sure that we can help you with your situation.
Q. Darleneconnor : Why does the Student Loan Company charge £25 to send out letters saying you are late repaying when in fact it is them who are late in processing your deferment?
A. Nichola: If you need some help with your repayment of student finance please contact our repayments team on 0845 073 8889 or visit our website www.studentloanrepayment.co.uk for further guidance. I am afraid without more personal details I cannot help you on this public website, so please get in touch and we will be happy to assist you.
Q. goingmadinthecountry: I am shocked at the interest rate on the maintenance loan - students starting in 2012 have indeed been royally screwed. If my daughter applies for the maintenance loan (in case) does she need to take it? Or can she just then not take it and then not be liable for the stealth interest rates? I'd love to know if all other parents/students were aware just how much interest rates will be going up this year.
A. Nichola: The Student Loans Company doesn't set the interest rates; we administer and collect the finance on behalf of the Government. For further information on interest rates for 2012/13 please visit: http://www.bis.gov.uk/studentfinance.
Q. twojues: My daughter is attending University in America in September. We have to fund this ourselves. Why can't she get a student loan in the UK to use over there?
A. Nichola: The Education (Student Support) Regulations state that English students must be studying at a UK institution to attract student finance. However, if a student has to attend an overseas university as an integral part of their UK course we can still provide support. I am afraid if your daughter intends to take and complete her studies in America though, we are unable to provide any financial funding.
Q. Scaryteacher: What arrangements are in place for HM Forces kids whose parents are overseas and for UK kids whose parents are UK taxpayers, but are working abroad (non HM Forces/civil servants)?
A. Nichola: Children whose parents are in HM Forces (this does not include if they are employed by NAAFI) can apply to us as normal for their student finance. If they lived in England before they left to go abroad as part of their parents' posting in HM forces they can apply to Student Finance England. We would usually ask for some evidence to clarify the parents' situation and the details of their posting overseas.
Generally if an English student's parents are UK taxpayers but living and working abroad, we would need to establish if their absence from the UK is of a temporary nature as this could affect their eligibility to student finance. There are specific regulations around eligibility to student finance based on residency in the UK so in order to check your circumstances I would advise checking our website for guidance www.direct.gov.uk/studentfinance or contacting us on 0845 3005090. If you apply early you can get a decision on your specific circumstances to help you plan for your studies. There is also help and guidance from your own college or university.
Q. MoreSpamThanGlam: I have to defer as my uncle was terminally ill but sadly passed away recently. I want to redo my second semester (Jan-July 12) and start again 13 January. What happens to my payments for April/September?
A. Nichola: I am very sorry to hear that you've had a family bereavement.
If you haven't already done so, you need to let your university and Student Finance England know as soon as possible that you are deferring. We will then suspend your April payment. When you apply for university for 2012/13, you and your university should advise us that you have suspended your studies until January 2013, which means that your September payment will also be withheld.
You may be entitled to tuition fee support to cover your fee costs for a repeat study year and you should contact us on 0845 300 50 90 to allow us to review your case. Students aren't usually entitled to financial support when they aren't currently studying but this is decided on a case-by-case basis. I do hope this helps, best of luck with your studies.
Q. Saggarmakersbottomknocker: Why is my son (23) still not considered an independent student? Having worked full-time since age 20 and now living with his working partner (for this past few months) he still has to give mine and his father's income for assessment. He is self-supporting to everyone but Student Finance.
A. Nichola: Further information on independent student status can be found: http://bit.ly/saewlb. The Student Loans Company administers finance on behalf of the Government and follows their guidelines.
If a student is under 25 and has been self-supporting for a period of three years in total before the start of their course, they can be considered independent for the income assessment to calculate their funding entitlement. Usually we ask for supporting evidence to demonstrate this and it has to be before the first academic year of their course as they can't become independent for this reason part-way through their course. Your son should call us to discuss his case on 0845 3005090, if he is starting university in 2012 and wants to be assessed as an independent student. New students should apply by 31 May and returning students by 29 June, so I would encourage your son to apply as soon as possible to ensure his finance is in place before the start of term and so he can plan ahead with his finances. Thank you.
Q. Enochroot: When parents are self-employed there are good income years and bad years. Why has my daughter's loan been assessed twice on the same "high" income year. She's in her second year. We've been asked for, and have submitted, four years of figures so far and you've only used one of them two years running - the highest of the four. We haven't yet applied for a loan for academic year 2012-13.
By the time she was notified of the loan assessment for the current academic year, the term had already begun and she was committed to accommodation which she could have afforded if you had used the year's figures you said you were going to use. And you'll probably reply that we can submit a current year assessment form for the academic year 2012-13 but we can't predict at this point in the year what our actual income will be for the tax year ending April 2013.
A. Nichola: Thanks for your query. Usually when parents support their child's application for student finance we ask for the previous tax year that has ended before the most recent year, for example for the 2012/13 academic year we ask for the 2010/11 tax year income. You are correct in that you can ask in line with the regulations for the current tax year's income to be taken into account instead, so for the 2012/13 academic year it would be the 2012/13 tax year. There has to have been at least a 15% drop in the household income when comparing the estimate of the current tax year, 2012/13 for example, to the prior tax year 2010/11. In order to establish this drop in income we would ask for copies of financial evidence from 2010/11 to support this.
I appreciate that it might be difficult to estimate your tax year income. You can wait and supply a Current Year Income request when you are more certain of your estimated income, you can revise it later on too and advise us as soon as you know if it is going to be any different from your original estimation. Where the estimated household income changes and a revised entitlement assessment is performed or when we finalise the entitlement at the end of the tax year, if there is an overpayment of funds to the student then this will have to be subsequently recovered. If there is an increase in the student entitlement this will then be brought up-to-date and paid to the student.
Once a Current Year Income Assessment has been awarded in the following academic year the same household income is used again until it aligns to the prior tax year again. A Current Year Income Assessment can still subsequently be applied for providing there has been a 15% drop in income again. If you need any further advice please contact us on 0845 300 5090 and we will be happy to help particularly if you want us to clarify the household income we have used so far.
Q. marygoodmum: My son is going to University this autumn. I am a housewife with no income from employment but my husband has earned income of around £20,000 a year. I have a question on filling in the income assessment application form 2011/2012 for the student maintenance grant and I hope you can help. I made some capital gains on selling UK shares (within threshold limit £10,600 this year) and small winnings on lottery, premium bond and spread betting. In the application form, there isn't a question to fill in about these profits. I have seen an online tax consultant advise that these profits won't be taken into account for student maintenance grant purpose. Please advise whether I need to fill these in and what evidence you need. Do I need to fill in the self-assessment tax return form because HM Revenue & Customs only need self-assessment tax return on income or capital gains above a certain level? Also, can the losses from earlier years be used to deduct the gains. Thanks.
A. Nicola: Thanks for your question. For the purpose of assessing student finance entitlement we take into account taxable gross income for the household income. That is income that falls under the Income Tax Act. As your comments indicate that you gained income from selling shares and lottery winnings we do not need to take this into account because these sources do not fall under the Income Tax Act and you do not need to declare it on your income.
Thanks to everyone for your questions. If you have any further questions about applying for finance for 2012/13, Student Finance England's helpline is open seven days a week to assist with students' queries on 0845 300 50 90 and we also run regular student finance surgeries on our social media sites, you can follow Student Finance England at facebook.com/SFEngland and twitter.com/sf_england to take part.
If you or someone from your family is thinking of going to university this year, apply online now by visiting www.direct.gov.uk/studentfinance. You don't need a confirmed university place to apply, choose the course you're most likely to start and you can update it later. Prospective students can go online from now to get an estimate of the financial package they could receive: www.direct.gov.uk/studentfinancecalculator and our student finance zone on The Student Room has lots of useful information for students starting university in 2012/13: www.thestudentroom.co.uk/studentfinance. The deadline date for new students to apply for student finance is 31 May 2012 and for returning students is 29 June 2012.
Best of luck with your studies! Nichola