The balance on my student loan is a mystery I can’t solve

In December, I received a letter from the Student Loans Company (SLC) telling me I was due to finish repaying my student loan within the next year, and that I needed to change my payment plan to avoid overpaying. I called and was told that an error on my account was preventing them seeing my balance, so they weren’t able to tell me how much I still needed to repay, or discuss my options. When I logged on to the portal online to check my balance it said: “This service is not available for your account.”

Despite calling every month since, nothing happens except that the SLC takes more than £1,000 from each payslip and my balance continues to be a mystery. On some of these calls, they have told me that HM Revenue and Customs handles the payslip deductions and the error is on its side. HMRC says it provided all the information requested by SLC in January, and hasn’t had any further enquiries. With a mortgage and wedding this year, I could do without the SLC sitting on possibly thousands indefinitely.
RC, Londen

You appear to have fallen victim to that common corporate pitfall – “system improvements”. SLC has been overhauling its processes to allow, among other things, more frequent data-sharing with HMRC, and an online repayment service. Hitherto, repayment notifications were passed by HMRC to SLC annually at the end of each tax year. Now customers can find their current balance via the Online Repayment Service.

Or that’s the theory. In practice it seems SLC customer services are thoroughly confused. SLC says that if, at the end of the tax year, the repayment figures from HMRC don’t tally with those of SLC, a customer’s access to the online account is restricted while the anomaly is thrashed out. “In this instance, SLC could not reconcile the end-of-year repayments that we received from HMRC," dit sê. “We received two files from its automated process that appeared as two sets of repayments, by two different employers. “On investigation, it appears that both returns are from a single employer, but one was made in error. When the customer inquired about this issue, we failed to explain this clearly, or to provide appropriate support.”

You were told that due to errors at HMRC’s end it was impossible to view your balance. Moreover, while I was told two duplicate returns had been received from your employer, you were told your employer was blameless. Miraculously, as soon as I intervened, SLC was able to access your account and confirm that you still owe £2,022, which you plan to pay off as a lump sum to avoid the risk of overpayments in future. HMRC told me it made no errors but did not wish to comment.

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