Romanians and Bulgarians ‘pulled’ off courses after funding freeze

Student Loans Company payments suspended until proof given to support residence claim

January 16, 2014

Some Romanian and Bulgarian students are being “withdrawn from their courses” after their funding was frozen by the government, according to the National Union of Students.

In November, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, announced that Student Loans Company fee and maintenance funding had been suspended for Romanian and Bulgarian students at English universities, where those students were claiming maintenance loans or grants.

The students affected must supply proof of residence – including three years’ worth of bank statements and utility bills – to the SLC to have their funding released.

Mr Willetts told a committee of MPs this week that 7,448 students “had payments blocked”. Of those, just 853 have had payments reinstated while 2,783 have “now replied with evidence”.

To be eligible for maintenance funding, European Union students from outside the UK must have been resident in the UK for three years before starting their course. The funding suspension indicates that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills believes that some students were claiming maintenance funds when they were ineligible.

Mr Willetts froze the funding after BIS uncovered a £1.4 billion shortfall in its budget – largely caused by the greater than expected number of students entering higher education under the new system, and a failure to control student numbers at private providers.

All EU students at private providers in receipt of maintenance funding also had their maintenance and fee support frozen.

Ella O’Neil, a fourth-year law and sociology student at the University of Warwick who was born in Romania but has been resident in the UK for 10 years, said she had missed an £800 tuition fee payment owed to the university in November as a result of the funding freeze. She said she had also missed out on £1,800 in maintenance funding and a university scholarship due to her on 6 January.

“It’s very stressful. [I’m] in my final year [and] rather than concentrating on my exams I also have to focus on student finance,” she said.

Warwick has been “quite understanding” and is “not pressing for tuition fee payments”, she continued. But Ms O’Neil added that she still feared what might happen in the future. “I know that if they [the SLC] turn around and say you are not eligible or the evidence [of residence] is not sufficient, then I will have to pay the tuition fees,” she said.

A letter from her sixth-form college stating that she had taken her A levels there had been deemed not to be evidence of residency by the SLC, she said.

Ms O’Neil explained it was Warwick that informed her in November that her funding had been suspended, and that the first letter from Student Finance England did not arrive until this week.

The SLC told her this week that it would take three more weeks to resolve her residency claim, originally submitted at the beginning of December, according to Ms O’Neil.

Daniel Stevens, NUS international students’ officer, said: “I am hearing horror stories of students suddenly being withdrawn from their courses without explanation. It is incredibly unfair to target groups of students by cutting them off from their studies completely.”

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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Reader's comments (6)

While I can understand that only bona fide students should qualify for the loans, surely this approach is "guilty until proven innocent". Perhaps a more humane way would be to simply notify all the students that they have X months in which to prove residence, and, failing to do that would result in freezing of the funds. And why are only Romanian and Bulgarian students being targeted?
It happened to me. This is extremely unfair and the entire thing will turn against them soon. Any comment, any share makes a difference! Speak out guys! Explain the issues this causes to you. Every little action matters! <3
Happened to me to! Been trying to sort this out for over a month now and they have totally disregarded the fact that I've been a British citizen since June. I can't believe they had the nerve to tell my university that they had notified everyone affected as anyone I've spoken to is gobsmacked about what has happened.
All these students already had to prove their residence status when they began their studies; the idea that students were fraudulently claiming funding is BS. This happened to my wife and son - both year 3 students. They were both also asked to immediately pay back some of the funding they received - supposedly for 'overpayment'. This is clear discrimination, and in direct breach of the Equality Act 2010. I am trying to gather enough signatures in order to launch a Class Action Suit against the SLC and the UK government. I'll post more in a few days; watch this place.
My daughter's finance was stopped as well. Mine and my wife's tuition fee only loan to OU was stopped as well ,though we were entitled to it as members of EU country. After writing a letter to my local MP about the issue, my daughter's and mine loans were sorted out quite quickly. I would advise you to write to your local MP. His contact details can easily be find on http://www.theyworkforyou.com/ typing in your post code. Good luck!
Tried getting in touch with my MP, all that did was get a letter from from student finance saying that they apologies for the inconvenience but there is nothing they can do. Their latest excuse for not reinstating my loan is that the evidence I sent started in March 2009, rather than September 2009, which seems to me like nothing more than an excuse to drag this out longer.

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