Student loans company boss says sorry for applications backlog

Up to 170,000 wait for news about requests for college funding

The head of the body responsible for administering student loans today issued an "unreserved apology" to tens of thousands of applicants who are struggling to confirm their funding for this year.

Ralph Seymour-Jackson, chief executive of the Student Loans Company, admitted that it had difficulties processing all the applications before the new term. He insisted it was down to an unprecedented rise in late applications – triggered in part by the recession – rather than problems in the processing of forms. He apologised that up to 170,000 students who are still awaiting the outcome of their application have struggled to contact the organisation's phone lines, admitting that they have all but ground to a halt.

The SLC has had more than 1m applications for loans this year, the first after the organisation took over responsibility for the process from local authorities. It amounts to a 16% rise in applications despite the fact that student numbers have increased by only 10%, something being put down to more people opting for loans in the recession.

Some 830,000 applications are complete but 170,000 remain. Some of those applicants could choose to drop out and others applied as late as last week despite a June deadline for applications. Seymour-Jackson said: "The problems with phone lines are real. We're not pretending any different. Students are struggling to get through and we can't pretend otherwise. For that we apologise unreservedly and ask people to use the website as much as they can. We guarantee that all students who applied before the deadline have already been processed."

He said there were data processing problems earlier in the summer, but the 830,000 applications completed amounted to more than the 450,000 who applied by the June deadline and 50,000 more than at the same point last year.

"We've certainly struggled with the telephones and processing. The workload is very hard. We are telling out staff they can have all the overtime they want. But the applications are unprecedented."

Students need a letter confirming their funding to enrol for their first term. Universities are promising not to penalise students caught up in the problems. Most do not demand fees until the end of the year, but some students could struggle to pay their rent without their loans.

The higher education minister David Lammy is receiving daily updates on the situation.


Polly Curtis, education editor

The GuardianTramp

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