Students planning their finances for the next academic year are being urged to get their funding application to the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) this month to avoid last year's saga of late payments.

Almost 6000 Scottish students were left struggling for cash last autumn with their applications still unprocessed by the end of October, which the Scottish Government said was because they had typically not been submitted until September.

Some students do not decide on their future until later in the summer, but the SAAS says that to guarantee payment for the start of next year, application forms should be submitted by June 30. A spokeswoman said: "Call handlers at the SAAS helpline have trebled to help students with any aspect of their application form."

Mike Heffron, at NUS Scotland, said it was working with SAAS to encourage all those who could do so to apply by the end of the month. "The majority ought to be able to do that," he said.

The government says Scottish students will next year benefit from the best funding package in the UK, with SAAS administering fees, bursaries and loans totalling £600 million, incorporating guarantees not previously available in Scotland and still not available in England and Wales.

It has made a commitment to new and continuing students in 2013-2014 of a minimum income of £7250, through a combination of bursaries and loans, for students with a family income of less than £17,000.

All students, irrespective of circumstances, will be eligible for a student loan of £4500 a year, in a move particularly welcomed by NUS Scotland, which wanted to see more cash in student pockets across the board.

Previously in Scotland, as south of the Border, loans were means-tested on parental income. Finally, part-time students in Scotland with a personal income of less than £25,000 will, for the first time, receive full support for tuition fees as a proportion of the full-time fee equivalent. For full-time students, the standard tuition fee of £1820 a year is paid by SAAS for students living in Scotland, while institutions in England and Wales can charge tuition fees of up to £9000 a year, inflating typical student debt.

All students need to apply online for their fees to be paid by SAAS. They don't have to apply for a student loan to be entitled to a bursary, and if applying for a loan, they don't have to apply for the full £4500. All students studying a full-time HNC, HND or degree are eligible.

David Wallace, chief executive of SAAS, said this week: "By starting early and submitting the application by June 30, students can get on with enjoying their summer without worrying about funding tuition fees and living costs for the next academic year. This will be one of the biggest financial transactions in their lifetime so it is vital students take the time to fill in the form accurately and post any supporting evidence needed to us in time to ensure payment for their first term."

If applying for a loan of more than £4500, a bursary or a living costs grant, and household income is less than £34,000 per year, household income details have to be posted separately. This includes documents such as parents' P60 for year ending April 2013, or, if applying for the lone parent grant, a tax credit letter or council tax bill.

If parents are divorced, a solicitor's letter or divorce decree should be sent when the student first applies to SAAS. For continuing students, if household income has gone down for any reason, such as reduction in self-employment income, redundancy or retirement, applicants can complete an estimate of income form and SAAS will reassess the funding application to see if they are entitled to more money.

Students who are married or who have children should send copies of their marriage or birth certificate, and if they're applying to be assessed on a partner's income rather than that of their parents, proof of household residency should be sent, such as a joint mortgage agreement.

Meanwhile, NUS Scotland this week said it hoped to persuade campuses to ban advertising by payday lenders, which could target vulnerable students with expensive debt offers. The union said it would "work with students' associations across Scotland to replicate the excellent work done by other students' unions across the UK to prohibit on-campus advertising by payday loan companies".

Michael Ossei, personal finance expert at, said: "With the cost of living rising and tuition fees and books not getting any cheaper, it's easy to see how so many students could fall back and rely on payday loans to get them through university or college. It's great to see the NUS stand up to these companies and protect vulnerable students from being bombarded with advertising tempting them to take out loans that could potentially land them in financial hardship."

The Office of Fair Trading is said to be poised to refer the industry to the Competition Commission.


Melissa Stephen, 22, approaching her final year studying French at Glasgow University, supports the NUS Scotland campaign to get payday loan company advertising banned on campus. "It targets the most vulnerable and those in the low-earning bracket with a quick fix," Ms Stephen said. "But you are going to be back in the same situation when that money comes out of your account; you are going straight back into debt." The student has a part-time job in a shoe shop in Glasgow city centre, partly to help make ends meet, but says: "I like having a job, and it looks better on your CV." She made sure of getting her SAAS application in early as she is eligible for a higher funding level by virtue of her parents being divorced. "It is easier to get more support because it is just assessed on my mum's income." That means sending SAAS timely proof of income.