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Supreme Court rules government student loan scheme is disproportionate

Department for Business Innovation and Skills did not consider the impact of immigration-related blanket ban for student loans on young people with strong ties to the UK

30 July 2015

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A Supreme Court ruling has re-opened the door to university education for hundreds of British-educated teenagers previously unable to obtain student loans under government policy.

The UK's top judges found that rules preventing anyone except UK citizens, or those with indefinite leave (ILR) to remain, from applying for student loans were disproportionate and could not be justified.

Campaigners say the court's ruling will benefit hundreds of young people who have been blocked from taking up university places.

Since 2012, and the implementation of the Education (Student Fees, Award and Support (Amendment) Regulations, young people who have been granted 'discretionary' (DLR) or 'limited' (LLR) leave to remain, have been ineligible for student loans and treated as overseas students by universities, regardless of how long they have resided in the UK. As a result, universities can charge tuition fees several times the current £9,000 maximum.

The case was brought by Beaurish Tigere, a former head girl, who is lawfully resident in the UK. The Zambian-born 20-year-old, who has been in the UK since the age of six, achieved A-level grades of A* A C, and has five unconditional university offers.

The legal charity Just for Kids Law intervened in the case having estimated that between 600 and 1,000 students a year have been affected since the restrictions were introduced in 2012.

The charity provided the court with witness statements from 36 young people it had worked with who have been blocked from attending university because of lack of access to student finance.

Giving the lead judgment, Lady Hale, said: 'The reality is, even though she [T] does not have ILR, her established private life here means that she cannot be removed from the UK unless she commits a serious criminal offence and she will almost inevitably secure ILR in due course. She is just as closely connected and integrated into the UK society as her settled peers.'

Explaining the court's reasoning, the deputy president of the Supreme Court, added: 'These young people will…find it hard to understand why they are allowed access to all the public services, including cash welfare benefits, but are denied access to this one benefit, which is a repayable loan.'

Research from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), a respondent in the case showed that male graduates pay £264,000 more in tax during their working lives than non-graduate males; women graduates pay £318,000 more tax than non-graduate women.

Prof Ian Walker from the department of economics at Lancaster University, who gave evidence in the case, stated: 'The implication is that there would be sizeable gains to the exchequer in the long run to extending student loans to this relatively small group'.

Giving his judgment, Lord Hughes said there was no evidence that BIS considered the impact on young people with strong ties to the UK, whose future is clearly here, when it amended the rules.

Welcoming the judgment, Just for Kids Law director Shauneen Lambe said: 'This ruling is wonderful news for many ambitious and academically successful young people, who would otherwise be blocked from ever entering professions which require a degree.

'We look forward to working with government to make sure their ability to get a loan is restored in time for this year's A-level results day on 13 August, so that students who have achieved their grades have the chance to take up their university places in the autumn.'

Solicitors acting for the appellant were Paul Heron, Padraig Hughes and Emily McFadden, of Public Interest Lawyers.

Just for Kids Law's intervention, on behalf of the Let us Learn campaign, was led by senior education solicitor Rachel Knowles, with pro bono support from barristers David Wolfe QC, Karon Monaghan QC, Sarah Hannett, and Nick Armstrong from Matrix Chambers.

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