Siblings in High Court fee fight

March 17, 2000

A brother and sister with bankrupt parents who have mounted a High Court challenge over tuition fees have told how cash problems have left them struggling to meet study commitments, writes Tony Tysome.

Christopher and Lucy Knight have had to live at home since their father's sports shop business failed, thanks to "perverse" rules that force their parents to continue to meet most of the costs of their upkeep and pay Christopher's Pounds 1,025-a-year fees.

The financial strain brought upon the family by the rules has meant Christopher has to commute two hours a day from his home in Eastleigh, Hampshire, to Portsmouth University, while Lucy faces a 20-mile round trip to go to the library or use computer facilities at Southampton University.

Christopher, in the first year of a seven-year architecture course, has had to use his student loan to pay his fees as well as expensive course material costs and has already accumulated a Pounds 3,461 debt.

Lucy, who started her mechanical engineering course before fees were introduced, had to take on a bar job because her grant was worth only Pounds 10 a week. But she was forced to abandon the job because her working hours were interfering with her study. After asking the university about access funds, she was told these were "only for people like single mums with three kids".

Their mother, Lynda Knight, said the Department for Education and Employment was using her income as a barrister's clerk in its means test, while ignoring the fact that the family had pledged to pay any surplus income to their trustee in bankruptcy.

She said: "It's a perverse rule, the fact that they do not take this into account. They have made provision for a bankrupt student, who does not have to pay fees. But it would seem a bankrupt student is better off than a student with bankrupt parents."

The siblings bring their case to the High Court for a second time today to seek a judicial review of tuition fee and student loan regulations.

At the first hearing last month, Mr Justice Dyson said he was "naturally sympathetic" to the family's case, adding he would "like to hear what the secretary of state has to say to all this".

The family's counsel has argued that the DFEE's interpretation of the 1998 Education (Mandatory Awards) regulations amounted to a breach of Lucy and Christopher's right of "access to education", enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

This week a spokesman for the DFEE declined to comment "for legal reasons".

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