Exclusive: Young migrants face Student Finance England tactics worse than ‘hostile environment’
Tue 23 Nov 2021 07.00 GMT
Thousands of students who have lived in the UK since childhood are being subjected to a regime described as even harsher than the Home Office’s “hostile environment” tactics when they apply for study loans, according to a report.
About 8,000 students a year with an immigration status known as limited leave to remain (LLR) apply to Student Finance England (SFE) for funds to enable them to take up university places.
The students are often people of colour from countries including Jamaica, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Ghana. They have lived in the UK for much of their lives with their families.
Many come from low-income backgrounds, have excelled at school, are seen as the brightest and best of their generation and have secured university places to study subjects such as law and medicine.
Under limited leave to remain rules students are eligible for loans if they have lived half their lives in the UK and have had LLR for at least three years. But according to the report they sometimes find that even evidence provided by the Home Office confirming their eligibility is rejected by SFE.
The report, The Deintegration Generation, from We Belong, a youth organisation that campaigns for the rights of young migrants, documents dozens of examples of high-achieving students either wrongly rejected for loans by SFE or subjected to damaging delays in accessing these loans, which sometimes leads to them having to abandon their studies or not being able to embark on them at all.
Chrisann Jarrett the CEO of We Belong, said: “We are seeing instances where SFE is being more demanding and more hostile towards young migrants with limited leave to remain even than the Home Office.
“It is surely common sense that a Home Office letter should be accepted as proof that a student has lived in the UK for long enough to qualify for a loan. Evidence that is good enough for the Home Office should surely be good enough for Student Finance England.”
SFE is a partnership between the Department for Education and the government-owned Student Loans Company (SLC) to provide financial support for students. A spokesperson for SLC admitted that sometimes they had got things wrong and apologised.
Cases identified in the report include:
- A young woman who had to submit 200 pages of evidence of how long she had lived in the UK before a loan was finally granted six months after she had started her studies.
- A 17-year-old whose loan application was rejected due to a 17-day break between his first and second periods of LLR due to a mistake made by his lawyer. The Home Office accepted it was not his fault and granted a renewal of his immigration status on a “continuous basis”, but SFE said it was “an unlawful” break so he did not qualify for a loan.
- A 21-year-old Jamaican man who came to the UK aged three and had his loan applications repeatedly and wrongly rejected by SFE. He was threatened with eviction from his student accommodation and blocked from attending lectures. The error was corrected after five months after intervention from a lawyer and a We Belong caseworker.
A spokesperson for SLC said: “SLC does not set the eligibility criteria for student finance. We process applications in line with the requirements set out by government in legislation. For residency cases the regulatory requirements are complex and while we strive to process every application correctly, we acknowledge that in a small number of cases mistakes do happen.
“In such instances we apologise and seek to resolve matters as quickly as we can in line with the regulatory requirements.
“In the last year we have invested significantly in improving the support we provide to customers for whom the application process is most challenging, and are working with We Belong to improve the information provided online and at our call centres, to ensure we provide the right support to applicants.”