When a young person considers going to university, one of the key questions is ‘can I afford it?’. Understanding and accessing finance is a daunting process for all students – it’s a long-winded, bureaucratic process and quite likely some people’s first experience of ‘life admin’.
While different systems of loans and grants are available to help fund studies in different parts of the UK, there’s plenty of evidence to show that all too often, they’re still not enough. In his Student Loans Myth-busting tips Martin Lewis warns that the system incorporates an expected parental contribution to students’ finances and urges parents to start saving early to ensure they can manage the extra costs. Estranged young people aren’t able to ask their parents to pick up the slack, so what can they do?
It’s possible to borrow more money, however it can be a gruelling and traumatic process for estranged young people to be able to prove their status to access this additional debt. And, of course, that leaves some of our most disadvantaged young people leaving university with more debt than their peers.
Estrangement isn’t documented by social workers, or court orders; students need to reach out to other people to corroborate their situation and the stigma and shame associated with this can make it difficult – or sometimes impossible – to do. In addition, when you enter this process, you have to explain deeply traumatic experiences to a complete stranger and, in doing so, you’re forced to re-live that trauma all over again; now, and every time you need to confirm your status to access support.
“With estrangement, you can’t just say ’I’m estranged’ and people understand it’s been difficult. You have to say; this happened to me and this happened to me and you have to really explain it, because people don’t understand it like they understand ‘care leaver’”
The Student Loan Company is in a position to validate the status of estranged young people – they are unable to access finance otherwise. We recognise how traumatic it is to need to tell your story again and again and so we’ve made it a part of our application process that students submit a cover letter from the Student Loan Company to confirm their status as an estranged young person to save them reliving their trauma to access our support. We know that they can then use this same letter to access support in other areas throughout their journey at university.
This week we’ve written to the Student Loans Company to ask if they will produce this confirmation letter, as standard, for all estranged students, so that they have official validation of their status to use throughout university. We’ve also asked them to look at how applications for independent student finance are assessed each year, to reduce the amount of bureaucracy that each student faces through having to reapply – and re-explain – every year of study.
We know it isn’t perfect, but if agencies such as the Student Loans Company can take a lead in reducing the emotional labour that estranged students face in trying to get help, they can help reduce the anxiety and stress that these young people face. It’s a step in the right direction.