Thousands of Scottish students 'still without payments'

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Media captionThe government said student applications were being processed as fast as possible

Almost half-way through term thousands of students at Scottish universities have yet to receive payments for living expenses such as rent and food.

The BBC has been told of complaints, delays and claims of "chaos".

Student leaders called for an inquiry into why so many bursaries and loans have not been distributed.

The Scottish government said all of the applications still to be processed had been submitted after the 30 June deadline.

The "vast majority" of these late applications had been submitted in September or October and were expected to be dealt with by the end of next week, it added.

A total of 5,936 applications have yet to be processed by its agency, the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS).

But it said it had invested in new technology to make the SAAS system more efficient and believed anyone who applied by the end of June would have received payment.

Dominic Smith, a physics student at Glasgow University, said: "I applied a few weeks after I finished my exams in May. It's almost November but money still isn't through. I'm using a bank overdraft to pay for things like food.

"When you phone up you go through this system then get put on hold for what can be up to 40 minutes or not get through at all. I'm even paying for that call with my overdraft."

Craig Angus, vice president media and communications of the university's Student Representative Council, said: "It seems to be chaos. We know of 15 students who have been asked to resend their proof of income because it seems to have been mislaid. We suspect there are many more cases.

"It is so frustrating because students can't even get through on the phone to find out what is happening."

He added that because applications were stuck in the SAAS system students often had no proof they have had no payment, so they may struggle to access emergency welfare pay-outs from universities.

Investigation call

SAAS has revealed it is receiving up to 1,000 calls a day from students among the 151,000 original applicants. In a letter to universities it also revealed it is so overwhelmed with calls, two weeks ago it started closing the phone lines entirely one day a week.

It said this would allow it to spend more time dealing with applications and mail.

Robin Parker, president of National Union of Students Scotland, said the agency's staff were no doubt working hard in difficult circumstances.

But he added: "The Scottish government needs to investigate why students will still be waiting for their support payments in November, and look very closely at providing the additional resources SAAS would need to process applications quicker.

"Students who have not received support funding have every right to be upset, and are absolutely right to expect a better level of service. Many students rely on this funding to afford their education, and could struggle to remain at university without this much-needed support."

A spokesman for the Scottish government said: "SAAS are committed to ensuring students get the help they need and 100% of applications received before the deadline on 30 June were processed before the student's course began.

"Even including late applications, over 95% of the 151,000 applications received this academic year have already been processed.

"New and corrected applications continue to be received daily and these late applications are being dealt with as a matter of urgency."

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