More than a hundred student nurses have been told they will not receive any further loan instalments for their living costs this academic year, following an error by the company that distributes the money, it has been claimed.
Students in England may be facing financial hardship because of the decision by the Student Loans Company (SLC) not to provide further instalments, after it mistakenly overpaid the trainees at an earlier point in the year, according to the Royal College of Nursing.
“I am very concerned about the considerable amount of distress and disruption this error and subsequent action is causing”
According to the union, trainees at nine universities have received letters from the SLC explaining that the government-owned body will be recovering the cash by not making further payments.
The RCN has called on the loans company to write off the overpayments, which it said range from £600 to £3,900, and were made to second and third year students.
In response, the SLC said it did not want affected students to suffer hardship and that it would use its discretionary powers “to defer the recovery action, if appropriate”.
It is understood that the trainee nurses – as well as other healthcare students – were paid too much due to an error linked to the switch from bursaries to loans in autumn 2017 for all new students.
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Nursing Times understands the second and third year students, who are still funded through the bursary scheme, were accidently given the full maintenance loan instalment instead of the smaller amount they were due under the old system.
According to the RCN, the largest overpayments were made to the poorest students – those receiving means-tested grants, who are often mature students and who have children or caring responsibilities.
“The amounts overpaid…. range from a few hundred to a couple of thousand pounds”
The RCN said the loans company had been aware of the issue since January and that students who had queried the payments had initially been told by the SLC there was no error. The union said it had now written to the company urging it to waive the erroneous payments.
“Students budget according to loan forecast and a sudden withdrawal of payment can have disastrous results, such as inability to pay rent. This action comes at a critical time when students are studying for exams and projects,” said RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies in the letter.
“I am very concerned about the considerable amount of distress and disruption this error and subsequent action is causing. Student nurses, or indeed any students, are simply not in a position to cope with a sharp reduction in expected loan payments,” she added.
The University of Suffolk has at least 50 nursing and midwifery students affected by the error and said it was providing support to them.
“The amounts overpaid, in cases reported to our student services, range from a few hundred to a couple of thousand pounds and the university is doing the best it can in supporting these students,” said Dr Sam Chenery-Morris, head of nursing and midwifery at the university.
“With the students’ union, we have offered drop in sessions alongside our existing appointment system,” she said. “We met with students today and will continue to do so.”
“We do not want any affected students to suffer hardship and will use our discretionary powers to defer recovery action”
Student Loans Company spokeswoman
The University of Southampton said at least 115 of its nursing and allied health professional students had also been told their student maintenance loans had been overpaid this year.
“We are aware that this error on the part of the SLC has also been repeated at least eight other UK universities. As a consequence, these students will not receive the April loan instalment they were expecting and could experience significant hardship,” said a spokesman for the university.
“They are also being asked by the SLC to begin repaying the amount they were overpaid when they have carefully budgeted according to the payments they were expecting,” he said. “Understandably this has caused enormous anxiety for those affected, at what is for many a crucial time in their studies.”
The spokesman added that the university had been in contact with the loans company about its concerns but had not yet received a response.
He said the university had moved “swiftly” to work closely with its students to “ensure that all who have been affected are kept fully informed and in receipt of the services and support they need including financial assistance”.
A spokeswoman for the Student Loans Company said it was looking into how the error had taken place and that it was in contact with students and universities about the matter.
“We are investigating exactly how this error occurred and we are in contact with the students and institutions affected to make them aware,” she said.
“We do not want any affected students to suffer hardship as a result of this issue and will use our discretionary powers to defer the recovery action, if appropriate,” she added.
The company said anyone affected by the error should email email@example.com.