The Royal College of Nursing has said that hundreds of student nurses are suffering financial hardship because of mistakes made by the Student Loans Company.
Hundreds of student nurses have been warned not to expect further loan payments this year due to administrative errors in the loans system – leaving many concerned over rent and living costs for the next six months.
Students from at least nine universities in England received letters explaining how the government-owned body will not pay further loan instalments in order to recover the amounts. Nursing students said the decision would affect their personal budgeting through to the start of the next academic year in September.
RCN Chief Executive Janet Davies has urged the loans company to use existing overpayment policies to reach agreement with the Education Secretary not to recover the figures.
The universities involved include Derby, Southampton, Suffolk and West London. Students who queried the amounts with the loans body report receiving false reassurances that the sums were correct. The SLC has since confirmed it has been aware since January.
The largest overpayments were made to the poorest students - recipients of means-tested grants, often mature students without parental support and with children or caring responsibilities.
It is understood that the payments, made to second and third-year students, had not been adjusted for the NHS bursary they still receive. Other students received grant funding despite unsuccessful applications.
In the letter to the SLC, the RCN Chief Executive Janet Davies said:
"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.
"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."
Jessica Sainsbury, a student in Southampton affected by the error, said:
“The past couple of weeks turned the world upside down. Some of my peers see no other option than to drop out if they are unsuccessful with the hardship fund application from our university.
“As well as being extremely upset, students are shocked at how the Student Loans Company have managed this situation, with information sent in dribs and drabs and some students notified weeks after their peers.”
Emma Moss from the University of West London said:
“This is the last thing I need in the final few months of my nursing degree. I’m worried sick about being left with barely enough money to pay the rent, buy food and travel to work and university.
“When I called the Student Loans Company in September to question my payments, they told me that there was no error. Now they tell me that I owe almost £800 and will not be receiving my next instalment. If they take this money from me, I have no idea what I’m going to do next.”