Martin Lewis, who runs the MoneySavingExpert.com website, says that he will not be a “mule” for government “mis-selling” of student loans, as he campaigns against ministers’ plans to retrospectively force current borrowers to pay more in repayments.
Mr Lewis chaired the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information, which was established in 2011 with government support as ministers tried to ensure that students were not deterred from applying to university by the £9,000 fee regime.
That information included a government commitment to uprate the £21,000 repayment threshold in line with average earnings. Ministers had originally made the commitment to MPs in 2010 as they sought to secure votes in support of the trebling of fees.
But the government now plans to freeze the threshold for five years, a move that would affect current students and graduates who took out post-2012 loans.
“If this proposal goes through, the government will have mis-sold student loans,” Mr Lewis told Times Higher Education.
He added: “I do not want to have been their mule who mis-sold these loans…Governments shouldn’t lie. And who can trust them when they make retrospective changes?”
If the government were to instead say that the freeze would apply only to new starters from 2016 “while I wouldn’t like it, I wouldn’t be objecting to it in the same way”, Mr Lewis said.
The government had “made it very clear there would be an uprating with average earnings from 2017”, he continued.
“I promulgated that information as head of the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information. I asked the question countless times and was told…[the threshold] would be going up.”
Mr Lewis said that the retrospective freeze plan would deter more “risk-averse” students from poorer backgrounds in particular.
“If you cannot believe that the finance at the time you take it out is going to be stable going forward, and the situation changes, it makes the decision [to go to university] that much more difficult,” he added.
MoneySavingExpert.com opposed the plans in its submission to a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills consultation, which closed last month.
A freeze affecting current borrowers is BIS’ “preferred option”. A department spokeswoman said that its final decision would be set out “in due course”.