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Students continue to fund loans helpline

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Students and debt-ridden graduates have racked up over £1 million in revenue for the government’s Student Loans Company over the last five years.

Information uncovered by the Scotsman newspaper shows the revenue raised by the non-profit-making company across the UK was at £325,000 in 2010/11, and was still as high as £80,000 this year.

The SLC justifies its operation of several 0845 numbers for students and graduates to make inquiries about their loan or make repayments, with costs as high as 41p a minute from a mobile phone, by saying these call costs reduce the burden on public finances, and in a statement this week, rehashed its statement from November 2011.

The SLC said: “At peak times, SLC has seven contact centre locations and the use of 0845 numbers provides us with the most effective means of routing calls across those locations.

“Using non-geographic numbers allows calls to be routed to the next available adviser at any location, ensuring that calls are answered as quickly as possible.

“SLC is a not-for-profit organisation and wholly in public ownership. Any revenue from telephone calls is used to offset our overall telephone charges.”

From April 2010 to March 2011, the SLC made £324,872.06 from calls to its national-rate 0845 numbers with the annual spike in September 2010 calls as students begin their first term of university, driving monthly revenue to £52,093.52 before dropping to £35,334.48 in October 2010 and below £25,000 for the rest of the financial year.

A spokesman for Ofcom confirmed to The National Student that like 08 numbers, the non-geographic 03 numbers can also be routed to multiple sites, but without the revenue-sharing aspect, meaning the ability to recoup telephony overheads are significantly reduced.

Colum McGuire, National Union of Students vice-president (welfare), said: “The SLC provides a valuable service to students. We know that as a non-profit-making company it reinvests the money that it makes. However, it can never be right that students are forced to pay to get vital information which might be the difference between staying the course of their education or dropping out.

“Student finances are already under enough pressure without crucial advice putting them even further out of pocket.”

In Scotland, the message from student leaders was much stronger with a call for the SLC, which is headquartered in Glasgow, to follow the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS).

Speaking to the Scotsman, NUS Scotland president, Gordon Maloney said: “Last year, we raised similar concerns with SAAS as part of the wider review on improving their services for students, and they rightly responded by moving away from 0845 numbers.

“The SLC should follow the lead of SAAS and switch to at least an 0300 number, or better yet stop charging altogether, so students and graduates can put their money to better uses, such as paying off loan debt.”

The 03 number range was opened in 2007 to allow public sector and not-for-profit bodies to offer national access to their services at geographical call rates with a necessity for callers to be able to use in-bundle minutes from mobile networks to access the service.

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