A first year law student has caused turmoil within the Student Loans Company (SLC), the body set up by government to oversee university loans and grants, by pointing out that its terms and conditions are not applicable.
David Gale, a mature student at the University of Derby, started his law degree in 2015 but quickly ran into difficulties as 30% of his support was withheld on the basis of strict rules that SLC cited as being contained within its terms and conditions.
After an eleven-month complaints marathon, the SLC’s Independent Assessor found in Gale’s favour stating that there had been breaches of the SLC’s complaints procedure, as well as a complete failure by the SLC’s legal department to respond to correspondence, and an abuse of the SLC’s relative position of strength. The Independent Assessor also recommended that the SLC address a fact pointed out by Gale: that a link on the Student Declaration Form did not, as claimed by SLC, link to a terms and conditions document, and that no terms and conditions were readily accessible on the Student Finance England website.
Gale said, “One of the first areas that my law degree covered was that of contract law where studies included the impact of case law on the validity of contracts. There is an old case, Parker v South Eastern Railway Co , which has been referenced in many modern cases, which states that any terms and conditions must be readily accessible at the point at which the contract is agreed. The SLC tried to say that it would not pay the outstanding sums based on the fact that I had agreed to its terms and conditions that were linked to from its Student Declaration Form. I checked and even made a video showing that there were no terms and conditions available via the link on the form, and that a search for terms and conditions on the Student Finance England website provided no return.
I did eventually find a terms and conditions document using a Google search but, even then, neither the terms and conditions nor the statutory instruments covered the areas claimed by the SLC.”
Despite the Independent Assessor finding that the SLC had acted beyond its legal remit in numerous areas, Gale claims that the SLC has still has not paid the outstanding grant, putting his continued studies in jeopardy.
Gale is the voluntary CEO of Kids for Cash UK, an organisation he founded in 2012, and has already: successfully called for a review of the historic Leicestershire child sex abuse cases; freed an unlawfully imprisoned mother who had been framed by South Yorkshire police; forced a Ministry of Justice investigation into legal aid fraud; and is now supporting victims at the national child sex abuse inquiry. Gale continued, “I started my law degree with the intention of beefing up the capabilities of Kids for Cash UK but, despite getting a number of high grades in my first year at uni, it now looks highly doubtful that I can continue.”
Gale is quick to point out that he’s not the only one suffering the consequences of the SLC’s chaotic regime, “My core professional skills come from twenty-five years in private and public sector business transformation. My assessment of the SLC’s processes have led me to conclude that the student loans system is not fit for purpose and is, in many areas, out of control. I struggle to see how any mature student could reasonably put their faith in the student loans system. For anyone with regular financial outgoings, committing to a university education may be a risk too far.”
In July 2014, the SLC was accused of using controversial tactics akin to those of the payday loans company Wonga after it was discovered that it had been sending out letters from what appeared to be an independent debt collection agency called Smith Lawson & Company. The SLC announced it was suspending the use of the letters, which it said had used the “secondary brand” (with small print at the bottom of the letters indicating that Smith Lawson and Company was a trading name of the Student Loans Company) to avoid paying fees to a conventional debt collection agency.
Gale’s efforts included contacting the government department responsible, headed by Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science. Gale’s documentation appears to show that the government has taken no steps to resolve the issues caused by SLC’s flawed processes, instead bouncing the problem straight back to the SLC.
The SLC’s Deputy Chief Executive, David Wallace, declined to make a comment when contacted.