Denied Student Loan due to COVID-19 - now plunged into unplanned debt!

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themorrisesthemorrises Forumite
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I wonder if anyone has any advice for this terrible situation....
1. My daughter got offered a place in university in 2018 - but since she was in the UK on an ancestral visa, without the money to pay for university, she deferred to 2020 - when she would be eligible as a Home Fee student and thus for a student loan.
2. COVID-19 hit the Government departments hard in 2020 and she should have received her INdefinite Leave to Remain in July 2020 - but due to closures of various Govt departments and offices during the first Lockdown - she only received it on 04 September 2020.
3. She approached the University of Bristol (who had offered her a place) stating that the delay in her ILR was 100% due to COVID-19 and this was the reason that she did not have ILR by 01 September 2020, but instead 3 days later.
4. The university eventually conceded and registered my daughter as a Home Fee student - taking the delay caused by COVID-19 into account. We were all elated! She could now study as a Home Fee student and more importantly, apply for a student loan!
5. This opened up the UCAS webportal to allow her to apply for student finance, which she did - confirming to the university that she had applied for a loan from SLC.
6. TWO MONTHS after applying, her loan application was declined! The reason stated was that she had not been living in the country for 20 years!  She called them and informed SFE that she had not applied under those terms, but as a person with settled status. They mentioned that she was entitled to an appeal and she should submit all necessary details about her status and proof of the effect COVID-19 had on the delay of her obtaining settled status.
7. Again it too another TWO MONTHS for them to again decline the appeal. She was now well into her first year in university and had in fact already written first semester exams. The university started pressuring her to pay the fees. The reason given for denial was that she only received her settled status on 4 September, when it needed to be obtained by 01 September. SFE/SLC said they had no mandate to take the delaying effects of COVID-19 into account and 'rules are rules.'  
8. Being 9250 GBP in debt - she of course appealed for a final time (there are 3 allowed), but it does not look promising.

So the situation is this:
1. She started studying based on the fact that she had been granted Home Fee status. Being granted this status fully and reasonably created the expectation that she would get student finance.
2. Now this has been denied - yet the university wants their money.
3. She has lost out on a year which she could have kept her jobs (she gave up to start studying).
4. She has to pay for a year of study which she will have to repeat if she is to be funded by SFE at all (they wont pay 2nd or 3rd year if you pay privately for 1st year - it seems bizarre but true - google it. :( )
5. It takes her one year later into the job market in the STEM field which she is passionate about.

Any suggestions anyone might have as to how we can take this situation forward without her starting her life with this massive unplanned debt? The student loan debt was planned and had a reasonable payoff plan - but this...?

Looking forward to the thoughts of  all the financially intelligent people on this forum!

Thanks
The Morrisses
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Replies

  • Voyager2002Voyager2002 Forumite
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    Has she sought the help of her MP? How about her university's welfare officer?
    As I understand the issue, she was denied a student loan because of a delay on the part of a government department (Home Office). It would be monstrously unjust for her to suffer because of a failure of government: the official able to reverse this is called the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the only way to seek this assistance is for an MP to refer a case to this Ombudsman.

  • themorrisesthemorrises Forumite
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    Thanks for the response. Yes she has sought the help of her MP (who has been brilliant in all this - writing to the Minister of State for Universities on our behalf). The solicitor who helped us with her 3rd appeal (outcome still pending - this whole process has been 8 months so far....) mentioned that after the third appeal fails then we can enter the complaints phase (e.g. Parliamentary Ombudsman etc.)  I did not realise that this complaint has to be done via our MP, so this is useful input.  Thanks for that.
    The Government has just tabled (passed?) a new Bill about Student mental health. They seem to be targeting the universities, but based on what I read, and current experience, SFE also has a lot to answer for regarding mental health of students. 
  • themorrisesthemorrises Forumite
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     It would be monstrously unjust for her to suffer because of a failure of government: 
    'monstrously unjust' is right. When we tell people this story often they seem incredulous that this could happen in the UK.
    Interestingly, on the SFE website they state that 'It is taking longer than usual to respond to appeals because of coronavirus (COVID-19).', however the same reason for Govt delay is rejected by them in my daughter's application and appeals.
  • themorrisesthemorrises Forumite
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    UPDATE: One of the television networks has shown interest in this story.  Watch this space.  In the interim we have received a response from the SFE Independent Assessor (at 3rd stage appeal) who stated that while the regulations were correctly applied they recommended that the Govt urgently review the regulations since they have put students like my daughter 'in an extremely difficult and unfair situation.'
    We have the support of our MP so I guess the next step is the Parliamentary Ombudsman.....
  • Just to be clear, was the Home Office required to respond within a certain timeframe as I see you use the term should?
  • edited 23 May 2021 at 9:00AM
    unforeseenunforeseen Forumite
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    edited 23 May 2021 at 9:00AM
    Just to be clear, was the Home Office required to respond within a certain timeframe as I see you use the term should?
    They have 6 months unless you go for super priority service 
    https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-visas-and-immigration/about-our-services
  • themorrisesthemorrises Forumite
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    Correct. Super Priority Service (SPS) give one 24-hour turn around, so she 'should' have had her ILR long before 01 September. However SPS was suspended due to COVID-19 (it is now possible to select it again, but at the time of our application it was not possible).  Our Immigration Solicitors mentioned in their covering letter that my daughter required ILR before commencing her course in September and that we had wished to use SPS but this service was suspended during the first lockdown. 
  • unforeseenunforeseen Forumite
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    So if SPS was suspended then it would only have been best efforts even though your solicitor mentioned when it was needed for.
    It looks like they tried but failed by a few days. 
  • themorrisesthemorrises Forumite
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    Indeed. And the few days (72 hours) failing has had MONUMENTAL effects.  Also our MP wrote to the Home Office from her side also asking for ILR to be expedited.  I believe that her intervention and representation did speed things up, however not enough to meet the deadline of the regulations so rigidly applied by SFE. 
  • themorrisesthemorrises Forumite
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    Our story was on ITV West Country earlier today. A few small inaccuracies but the gist of the story is correct. It should be available for viewing for 24 hours - Catch up: ITV News West Country (West) for Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset | West Country | ITV News
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