Friday, 17 December 2010

Student Loons Company

One quango that most students will have had contact with, aware or not of its status as a quango not a private company, is the Student Loans Company. The majority of students in this country take out a loan from the Student Loans Company (essentially from the Government). The SLC has been going 20 years now, yet still it is having issues with its basic remit.

David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham wrote in the SLC Annual Performance and Resource Agreement Financial Year 2010/11 that "we cannot afford another delivery failure". Yet, this is exactly what has happened. About 100,000 undergraduates started university this year without their funding in place, this on top of the similar debacle the year before.

The SLC does four main things: assess an application...wire the money...(pause)...start collecting repayments...stop collecting repayments. I can go onto any number of apparently legal websites to "get cash, quick" if I "have too many bills this month" -, i', or if I remember their names correctly. In 15 minutes I can have money in my bank account and my balance with the 'company' will start gently accruing interest somewhere north of 2500% per annum, or 5000 times the Bank of England's current interest rate. Once you've paid back your loan (assuming you can), they stop taking your money (or take your first born).

Now, it's certainly in their interest to be good at this - it is their job. Yet the SLC, who do the same thing for students can't get money their 'customers' over a course of months, and seem to have no particular system in place for stopping taking graduates' money. I was one of many graduates, a few years back for me, who tried in vain to only pay off what they owed. I still get letters from SLC letting me know my account still has an outstanding balance (because they haven't managed to get it back from HMRC), despite paying off the full amount through PAYE years ago. Months of phone calls to HMRC and SLC managed to get blame shifted left, right and Chelsea but I still ended up paying several months more than I owed and many more months before they reimbursed me. I was not alone.

My point in comparing the poisonous loan shark websites to the SLC is that the SLC is a non-elected Government body and the other a profit-making machine but both with near identical processes. It is indicative of the malaise and inefficiency within the non-market threatened public sector that an organisation with such a simple remit can continue to fail so spectacularly at a process which is handled with inestimable ease by sharp operators of the internet back streets. Maybe before we ban these awful sites that play on those poor of pocket and of judgement, we should ask them to teach our public sector a few things.

No comments:

Post a Comment