To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what proportion of higher education students in England in the academic year 2020-21 have had applications for a full maintenance loan declined as a result of not being able to provide information about their parent or guardian’s financial circumstances because the definition of estrangement, as outlined in the current Student Support Regulations, was not met.
The government is aware of the disproportionate impact that the COVID-19 outbreak will have on some students. I have written to universities and other higher education (HE) providers to highlight the vulnerability of estranged students and ask them to prioritise this group for additional support.
The Student Loans Company (SLC) does not hold readily available data on the number of people who applied for means-tested living costs support but did not provide household financial information to support their application and then subsequently made a maintenance loan application on the basis of being estranged from their family.
The SLC data for new and returning full-time undergraduate students for the 2020/21 academic year suggests that 7,917 applicants originally stated they were estranged when applying for a maintenance loan. Of these, 598 applicants (7.55%) have so far been awarded only the non-means tested basic rate of maintenance loan because they have either not demonstrated they were estranged or otherwise independent, or they have not provided any household financial information.
7,319 of the 7,917 applicants (92.45%) have so far been awarded their entitlement as an estranged student, as they requested. Students who have so far been awarded the non-means tested basic rate of maintenance loan only may be awarded a higher rate maintenance loan if they provide the required information at a later point in the academic year.
All eligible students qualify for a partially means-tested loan for living costs. Students on the lowest incomes, including most students assessed as estranged from their parents, will qualify for the maximum loan for living costs which has been increased by 2.9% for the current 2020/21 academic year and 3.1% for 2021/22 to record levels in cash terms.
The government has meanwhile worked closely with the Office for Students (OfS) to help clarify that HE providers can draw upon existing funding this academic year to increase hardship funds and support disadvantaged students. HE providers are able to use OfS Student Premium funding worth around £256 million towards student hardship funds. We have also made an additional £70 million of student hardship funding available to HE providers this financial year. HE providers will have flexibility in how they distribute the funding to students, in a way that will best prioritise those in greatest need.
Additional bursaries are offered by some HE providers for students who are estranged from their families.
I would be happy to meet with the hon. Member for Cambridge to discuss this matter.