Student Finance England’s Estrangement Policy Puts Students in Danger

Comment National Issues University/Local Issues

Student finance England has a strict policy on estranged students, which prevents students from making an application based on their own independent income. If you are an estranged student, this typically leaves you worse off, because you cannot be means tested, and so receive a maximum of £3500 in maintenance loan. At this point your options are to get married, and therefore count as a new household, or contact your abusive parents, putting many students in extremely dangerous situations. 

The section on the student finance website with regards to estranged students reads as follows…

 “For students to be considered irreconcilably estranged from their parents, we would usually expect them not to have had written or verbal contact with either of their parents for a significant period of time. Their estrangement must be permanent and irreconcilable.”

We should not put students in this position, we should believe victims of abuse. 

This is damaging in a number of ways. Primarily- it puts students in danger. If you are recently estranged from your parents due to, for example, an abusive dynamic, you simply cannot contact them to get them to fill in the paperwork. Student finance applications often go wrong and contacting parents to correct things is often required. When your rent and food money is on the line, the question of whether or not to make contact with abusive, toxic, and otherwise harmful people becomes incredibly difficult. 

We should not put students in this position, we should believe victims of abuse. 

This leads to my second problem with student finance’s approach- it is immensely patronizing, implying that estranged students are akin to bratty teenagers who just don’t want to speak to their parents due to some minor dispute. 

As a student who spent many of my teenage years being abused, university was my one escape, the only thing that got me through A-levels was the hope I could move away in the end. And yet I could not cut my last tether to the so-called family I was from, being forced to keep talking to them lest they threaten to not fill out the student finance application for me each year. I was lucky, Magdalen college has a very generous student support fund, and they made sure I always had a place to stay in the vacation and money for food, even when my student finance application stalled at the start of my 2nd year. Students at other colleges, and indeed at other universities are not so lucky. 

As a student who spent many of my teenage years being abused, university was my one escape, the only thing that got me through A-levels was the hope I could move away in the end.

My experience is far from unique, with Oxford University and the Student Union working together to create a new estranged student policy last academic year. 

Notably-that policy doesn’t share student finance England’s requirements, allowing students to self-declare their estranged status. It is time student finance did the same.

Image Credit: Pjposullivan1, Flickr