The education secretary has been urged to take immediate action after hundreds of student nurses had their loans and grants cut off or reduced due to administrative errors.
Trade unions and professional bodies have called on Damian Hinds to “urgently intervene” to ensure the affected students at 20 universities receive the loans they had budgeted for next term.
More than 800 students have been told they were paid too much money by the Student Loans Company (SLC), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said – and they were told that upcoming payments were to be reduced or stopped to recover the sums.
Overpayments of between £600 and £6,000 were made in error – and now some students are saying that a withdrawal of financial support could result in them dropping out of university.
Last month, one nursing student, from the University of West London, said she was “worried sick” about being left without enough money to pay the rent, buy food and pay for travel to university.
A new letter to the minister, coordinated by the RCN, says the union continues to receive a “huge volume of calls” from “worried and distressed students” due to the ongoing situation.
It warns: “A sudden withdrawal of payments will have disastrous consequences for these students, who budget on a term-by-term basis according to loan and grant forecasts.
“Many have families and children they will be unable to support if they do not receive additional income in the spring term.”
The RCN – joined by Unison and the National Union of Students (NUS) – has called on the education secretary to “write off overpayments in the long term for these students.”
The letter says: “We are writing to ask you to take urgent action to ensure healthcare students in England and Wales affected by errors made by the SLC will receive their anticipated payment of support in spring, as they had budgeted for.
“We also ask that you use the power at your discretion as education secretary to write off overpayments in the long term for these students.”
The letter warns: “Our student members are telling us that the risk of receiving a reduced payment, or no payment at all, will compromise their ability to continue studying.
“In some cases, we are hearing concerning reports from individual students who are considering discontinuing due to these financial pressures.”
The letter is also signed by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Occupational Therapists, Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, Society of Radiographers and the College of Podiatry.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We have been clear that none of the affected student nurses should suffer hardship as a result of this error.
“We have been working with the Student Loans Company to ensure students have the support they need and will shortly provide details on specific initiatives to help them.”