Student Finance Victory!

Having reviewed my situation, I was indeed correct and a mistake had been made. My student finance for this past academic year was refunded in full.

The energy price increases of 2022 had a catastrophic impact on my thriving business, having clawed my way out of foodbank poverty, I couldn’t believe I’d been knocked back into the spiral of financial uncertainty once again. I decided that enough was enough and finally embarked on my journey to get my degree and climb that ladder out of the depths for good.

There is no other option for someone like me other than The Open University. I am a single parent with no support network and a business to run, the same reasons I’d delayed my studies so long. Deep breath, let’s hope my brain still works at 46, it’s been a long time since I engaged with any academic science or maths!

I started my full-time degree in Environmental Science in October 2022, driven by a fundamental need to learn, improve, and escape a financial situation that had engulfed me since leaving my job in aerospace, as a single parent to a small baby.

And here’s the reason for me sharing my journey. I receive a small amount of Universal Credit (UC) as a single, working parent but had budgeted my first year as a student based on my student grant award from Student Finance Wales. Unfortunately, upon receipt of my first UC payment after starting my course, they had classed all of my student finance award as ‘income’ and deducted the full amount from me. While I’m extremely grateful for every penny in funding help while I study, this didn’t seem like a positive way to encourage anyone out of poverty.

I contacted my MP to check that this was indeed how the system worked. ‘Yes’ was the reply. Thus my year of crippling financial stress began. I almost quit my degree many times during this past year, but made it through to June, when I applied for my 2023/24 student finance. The award letter arrived and stated that my ‘Welsh Government Learning Grant’ had been awarded as a Special Support Grant (SSG) and should not be classed as income. 

Utterly confused, I contacted Student Finance Wales to clarify why my student award was classed differently for this coming year. They were just as confused as me but stated that anything that came under an SSG would be stated as such on the award letter; my award for the previous year had been correctly classified. I wasn’t satisfied with this, my circumstances hadn’t changed and I could find no information regarding a policy change with regards to student finance.

After around 30 conversations with various student financial advisors and official bodies, all of whom told me I wasn’t entitled to keep my student finance for the previous year, I finally got a response from Universal Credit: a full apology. Having reviewed my situation, I was indeed correct and a mistake had been made. My student finance for this past academic year was refunded in full. A remarkable outcome, and a huge surprise given all the advice I’d been given.

This may not be something that impacts many students, but I believe that I’m not the only one who’s had my student finance classed as income in error. If I can help anyone else climb out of poverty with the full financial support they should be getting, then it’s worth me writing this.

If you were awarded in Wales (I think there’s an equivalent grant in other UK countries) a Welsh Government Learning Grant that was classed as income by Universal Credit, this may have been awarded as a Special Support Grant that would not have been stated on your student finance award letter in previous years to 2023 and you may be able to claim it back.

Off to prepare for my second year now, free from financial anxiety. Waving goodbye to poverty and looking forward to a bright future. Good luck to all students, you’ve got this!

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Kerry Mackay

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