Furious campaigners say they are “appalled” and “dismayed” by new figures that show no improvement in the lengthy delays faced by disabled students applying for vital support grants.
Three months ago, the Student Loans Company (SLC) apologised and launched an internal review after completing only 2,500 of the 14,000 disabled students’ allowance (DSA) applications it had received by late October.
But figures unearthed by the Conservative Party, through a Freedom of Information request, show no improvement in the delays and backlogs.
Of 19,006 eligible applications received, only 6,507 have been fully processed and approved by SLC.
Figures from 28 October showed SLC had yet to begin processing 2,000 applications. This fell to 1,361 by 25 January.
But the 28 October figures also showed 1,000 applications that had been returned after independent assessments and were waiting for SLC to complete the application process. This number has now risen to 1,662.
Barbara Waters, chief executive of Skill, the disabled students’ charity, said she was “appalled” at the latest figures.
Skill now plans to ask the Commons business, innovation and skills (BIS) committee to investigate, and will seek a meeting with BIS secretary Lord Mandelson.
The British Dyslexia Association said it was “dismayed” to learn of the “severe delays”, which it said could cause many disabled students to drop out of their courses and could have a “serious impact” on their future careers.
Shadow universities and skills secretary David Willetts said the figures were “truly shocking”.
He said: “Almost four months after term started, and two months after the government said the problems were being fixed, thousands of disabled students are still waiting for the funding they need to pay for vital equipment.
“Twice as many disabled students have not been paid their grants as have been paid them.”
An SLC spokeswoman said they were reviewing procedures and would be “improving the training of specialist advisors”.
She added: “We do recognise there is a problem. We are working as quickly as we can to resolve this issue. We have said and continue to say we are sorry to students who have experienced difficulties.”
A BIS spokeswoman said processing DSA applications was “inherently complex” and many students “choose not to apply” until after they start their course.
She said SLC had received more than 5,000 DSA applications since the start of November and was “taking action to deal with these as quickly as possible”.
4 February 2010