A mistake in the legislation governing student grants means that thousands of students could be eligible to claim more than £1,000 in extra maintenance support that they were not supposed to be entitled to.
According to the Government's stated policy, students from households earning between £,120 and £38,330 may claim grants of between £50 and £1,230 on a sliding scale according to family income.
But an error in the Student Support Regulations, which came into effect in March 2007, means that all students whose parental income falls into this bracket are entitled to the full £1,230 grant.
The error was discovered by David Willetts, Conservative Shadow Secretary for Higher Education, who accused the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills of incompetence. "Last week we discovered that the DIUS was paying maintenance costs to prisoners. This week we found out that they can't even write a regulation for receipt of the maintenance grant that matches their official policy."
Mr Willetts added that grant applicants "would have a strong legal case against the Government" if they were not given the full £1,230.
Gemma Tumelty, president of the National Union of Students, suggested that students should try to claim the extra cash. "Students should claim whatever financial support they are entitled to. Given the prospect of increased graduate debt, they cannot be blamed for seeking the greatest support available."
A DIUS spokesperson said: "Local authorities use the guidance to make student finance decisions. None has raised any concerns over the regulations."
A new student financial support package is due to come into effect from September.