Computer problems delay study grants for up to 150,000 students

Technical problems at Liberata, an outsourcer to the Learning and Skills Council, mean 150,000 students have not received their study grants despite term starting for many this week.

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Up to 150,000 students have not received their study grants, despite term starting for many this week, following technical problems at Liberata, the company hired to deliver the grants.

Thousands of students are still waiting to hear if their application for an Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) has been accepted after Liberata, an outsourcer to the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), reported problems with its online systems and telephone helplines.

Under the EMA grants scheme, students between 16 to 19 years from low income families that are taking A-Levels, diplomas or GCSE re-sits, can receive up to £30 a week. It also offers bonuses to students who meet targets set at the start of their course by their teachers.

The council and Liberata declined to disclose the nature of the technical problems. Liberata was this year awarded the £80 million, five-year contract to process EMA applications, taking over from Capita.

Capgemini provides desktop support, system development and other IT services to the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) but is understood not to be responsible for the EMA application processing.

The EMA application system has had a history of problems this year. The online system was scrapped at the start of the summer following a series of technical problems, according to reports. Students can still apply on paper, and application phone lines have been overloaded with students trying to find out the progress of their applications.

All payments that are delayed will be processed in the next few weeks and will be backdated, the LSC said, so that “no-one will miss out”.

“This year there have been some unacceptable delays in notifying learners that they are eligible and we are working closely with Liberata to make this happen,” said Trevor Fellowes, director of learner support at the LSC. “[Liberata] has taken on an additional 400 extra staff, at their expense, to ensure a swift turnaround.”

“Regrettably we have experienced some delays in the process, including some technical difficulties with the helpline, but we are committed to resolving these to make sure learners receive their money promptly”.

Some 157,000 applications have been processed, and 133,000 students have so far been informed they are eligible for the grant. Around half a million students receive the grant, it has been reported.

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