LOCAL authority chiefs have warned the government that its new student support system could founder if details are not ready within a month.
They say some of the smaller authorities will not be able to put means testing and tuition fee payment arrangements in place for September unless the government explains fully how the system works, before the end of February.
And they have called for a clearer explanation of proposed means testing bands, amid fears that confusion will lead students and their parents to dispute requests for fee payments. The Local Government Association says although some preparations have been made for the new system, the timetable for its introduction has been jeopardised by delays in finalising regulations governing means testing.
Alex Duncan, the LGA's policy officer for student support, said: "The government is about 80 per cent of the way to informing us about the new system. But the timetable has slipped, and we are already pushing it close to the wire. Some of the smaller authorities are not well prepared to put things in place at the last minute."
Mr Duncan predicted widespread confusion and delays in fee payments to institutions because the government had failed to provide clear information on means testing. Parents are likely to be caught unawares by the technicalities. Some who thought they would not have to pay fees could find they have been invoiced, leading to disputes and hold-ups, he said.
"The government has not managed this well and is now attempting to ignore the problem," he said.
Graham Lane, chairman of the LGA's education committee, said it would have been better for the government to put the introduction of the new system back a year.
But a government source said: "There is no question of the system being delayed for a year. What we are seeking to do is get the right balance between national and local government in the administration of the new system."