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Award Agency blamed for debt decision

A Livingston mother and former student on an access course is being forced to abandon her university degree after being saddled with debt of Pounds 2, 655 by the Student Awards Agency.

Margaret Laird blames an administrative mistake by the agency that should have been picked up when she first applied for support last year.

"I feel it's scandalous of them and I've been landed with this debt through no fault of my own," she said.

Mrs Laird, who has three school-age children and gave up her job to go to university, has been penalised at the start of her second year on a BA honours course at Napier University. The agency discovered over the summer that Mrs Laird was not entitled to dependant's allowance because of her husband's earnings.

Mrs Laird maintains the agency had all the facts last year. "On the basis of the award, I decided to give up work to concentrate on my studies and also to spend more time with my children. I successfully passed the first year of study and subsequently applied for my grant for the second year with disastrous results.

"The awards agency made a mistake. This mistake has left me jobless. I would not have given up my job on the grant they now say I should have received. I am in debt to the tune of Pounds 2,655 and unable to continue my course," she protested.

In a letter, the agency "very much regretted" that the error had occurred but insisted public funds are involved. It had a duty to recover the money.

The Livingston MP, Robin Cook, Labour's shadow foreign secretary, has taken up the case.

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