Mixed feelings from North East students on plans to prosecute those who don’t pay back student loans

Photo by: Picture by: Chris Radburn / PA Wire/Press Association Images.
Photo by: Picture by: Chris Radburn / PA Wire/Press Association Images.

Students across the North East appear to have opposing opinions on Government plans to make it a criminal offence to not pay back student loans.

Almost 2,000 people from across the North East have signed an online petition backing calls to stop these plans.

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Tsvetelina Dobreva, vice president for education at the Sunderland Students’ Union, fully supports the petition, saying that the risk of prosecution is “extreme for such circumstances”.

She adds: “I understand that the Government aim to optimise repayments and I believe that action should be taken towards people who purposely avoid repayment. However, facing prosecution is way too extreme.

“I think that there is still a conflict between experience and qualification on the job market, as a lot of newly qualified individuals are struggling to get into positions which enable them to start repayment of their loan.”

However, Newcastle University student Toni Pringle, 18, has slated the petition, claiming she “doesn’t understand how people can think it is okay to not pay back money you have borrowed”.

She said: “The student loan is called a loan because it is just that. We have to pay it back. No matter what your background is or anything, if you borrow money you have to pay it back.

“If it was in any other sense where someone borrowed money, they would be prosecuted if they didn’t pay it back”.

The Government has issued a statement in response to the petition, claiming that they will “continue to take action where it is clear people are seeking to avoid repayment”.

A spokesperson from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “There is a legal obligation on all borrowers to make repayments if income is above the repayment threshold.”

The Government also highlighted the new increased loans for living costs in place of maintenance grants for new students this September.

Miss Dobreva claims that the Government should instead be “concentrated on promoting more opportunities that would enable the repayment to start as soon as possible, as that would help young professionals’ development as well as quicker repayment of the loan”.

Meanwhile, Miss Pringle claims repaying the loan “is not a big issue.

“I haven’t heard very much about people avoiding payments, however it definitely should be an offence. As a student myself, I am so grateful for the loan and the way it works so no, repaying it is not a big concern.”

The petition, which has gained over 53,000 signatures nationally, is in response to Universities Minister Jo Johnson’s statement to Commons, where she said: “We will take stronger action to trace borrowers, including those overseas, act to recover loan repayments where it is clear that borrowers are seeking to avoid repayment, consider the use of sanctions against borrowers who breach loan repayment terms and, if necessary, prosecute.”

As it stands, students begin to repay their loans once they are earning more than the repayment threshold of £21,000, with deductions of nine per cent off their income. Any outstanding debt left over after 30 years will be written off.

The Government has said this student repayment system “protects lower earning borrowers, while those who earn more will pay back more quickly”.

They add: “A guiding principle in the Government’s approach to managing public money is Zero Tolerance for fraud. Prosecution will be considered in cases of fraudulent evasion of payment.”

So what do you think? Should the Government prosecute students who don’t pay back their loan? Let us know what you think on our Twitter poll.

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