The Student Loans Company has apologised after it sent a statement detailing a debt of nearly £12,000 to the family of an undergraduate who died a decade ago.
The SLC requires a copy of a death certificate to write a balance off, but it said that “human error” meant that no such request was despatched after Tania Scott (pictured) was killed in a taxi crash in Brazil in 2005.
Ms Scott was aged 20 and was studying Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Leeds at the time of the accident, which also killed her father, Noll Scott, a Guardian journalist.
The annual statement, which was received by Ms Scott’s mother, Patricia Leon Jones, earlier this month, details annual interest accruals that have pushed the total balance up to £11,973.
When Ms Scott died, she had completed two and a half years of study at a time when tuition cost £3,000 annually.
The statement was the first thing that Ms Leon Jones had heard about the loan since she received a letter from Surrey County Council that offered condolences in the immediate aftermath of Ms Scott’s death.
This letter said that issuing further correspondence in Ms Scott’s name would be avoided to prevent causing distress, and did not ask for a copy of the death certificate.
Ms Leon Jones questioned why a statement had been issued after such a long period of silence, arguing that only “inefficienct bureaucracy or software pursues 20-year-olds beyond the grave”.
“It was extremely upsetting,” Ms Leon Jones said. “It is really disturbing if you have dealt with somebody’s death in tragic circumstances, and come to terms with your grief, and you are suddenly faced with them being ‘resurrected’ with this debt around their neck,” she said.
Ms Scott, who was originally from Surrey, was on a year abroad at a university in north-east Brazil at the time of her death.
An SLC spokesman said that the company offered “sincerest apologies to Ms Scott's family for any distress and inconvenience caused” by the issuing of the statement.
“SLC was notified of Ms Scott's death in 2005 by her local authority. At this time, we advised the local authority to request a copy of the death certificate when they wrote to the family, so that the outstanding balance could be written off,” the spokesman said.
“All address details on Ms Scott’s account were amended to prevent further correspondence being issued. However, due to a human error, Ms Scott’s deceased status was not recorded, and no direct request from SLC for a copy of the death certificate was issued.
“As a result, during routine reporting, the address details on the account were unfortunately reverted to those previously held and a statement was issued.”
The spokesman said that the status of the account had now been updated and that, if a copy of the death certificate is provided, the balance will be written off.