Local authorities are expected to use a "fast-track" authorisation system for student loans to overcome delays caused by the new computer software, writes Olga Wojtas.
Councils have warned that students awaiting loans may face problems due to the new system of processing applications and the software required for it.
A quarter of each loan is means-tested and local education authorities are responsible for passing information to the Student Loans Company. But under the fast-track system, councils can instruct the company to pay the non-means tested element immediately, although students' full entitlement has not been assessed.
A spokeswoman for the Student Loans Company said the fast-track scheme was already in place as an interim measure to cope, for example, with students whose parents had not filled in the necessary eligibility forms.
"If the local authorities say they want to fast-track loan applications, they can pass them through to us, saying 'Just pay 75 per cent', and they will catch up with the 25 per cent later," she said.
A DFEE spokeswoman said: "Local education authorities have been told that if in exceptional circumstances they are unable to complete the means test for any eligible students in time for them to get a cheque on the first day of term, they should use the fast-track system to ensure students get a cheque."
The DFEE expected it would apply only to "a very small number" of students. She added: "Fast-track arrangements are not a bolt-on, they are an integral part of the new loans arrangements which ensure that late applicants can get three-quarters of the maximum loan as quickly as possible."
The National Union of Students claimed a "real victory" in gaining government assurances that students would have most of their entitlement from day one.