Some tertiary students have been unable to afford basic necessities as they wait for their StudyLink allowances to be approved.
Ministry of Social Development figures show roughly 65 percent of student allowance applications have been finalised for study beginning this year.
That reaches 80 percent for applications received by the target date in mid-December.
Otago University first year student Aroha Stapleforth applied for a student allowance in late January, and said she was given no information that it needed to be done earlier.
She has been without any income for five weeks while living by herself for the first time – fortunately her rent for her student flat is paid off in lump sums in the middle and end of the year.
“Just having to ask my family for a little bit of assistance where I can get it to get by for food and whatnot. It’s very hard to get the things that I need for my particular classes – all the textbooks and whatnot – so I’ve had to put that off and try and work around it because I don’t have access to the money to get it,” Stapleforth said.
“I’ve been finding it hard to wrap my head around university life, new city life and being on my own. That on top of the student allowance problem has been a bit stressful.”
She had budgeted for a phone with her expected allowance, but has been relying on borrowing phones off friends.
There has been a lot of back and forward emails with StudyLink about the information she provided.
“It’s taken about four tries to get it right and I had to spend about a week trying to get in contact with them and ring them up, and the information that they asked for in regards to my parent’s income was completely different to what it said on their website. So there’s a big confusion there,” Stapleforth said.
The Otago University Student Association confirmed there had been a noticeable number of students presenting concerns about StudyLink.
“I think a lot of us are at the point where it’s urgent now, where we’re not really coping because I’m not in a big university hall so I’m not getting my food provided for me. I think what they could do is just try and get in contact with students rather than waiting for them to get a hold of them.”
For Otago University, just over 58 percent of student allowance applications had been approved or partially approved. Of the remaining applications, 25.5 percent were incomplete and were awaiting supporting information or evidence from students or third parties, 14.5 percent were declined or withdrawn, and 1.9 percent were in the process of confirming study details.
Ministry of Social Development client service support group general manager George van Ooyen said the ministry was working hard to process StudyLink student allowance and loan applications after receiving a late surge.
More than 9000 additional students applied and 13,221 more applications were processed between 13 September and 27 March than during the same period last year.
More than 3700 additional applications for Jobseekers Student Hardship have been made during the same period this year compared to in 2020, bringing the total to 19,107.
That had added to workloads, van Ooyen said.
“We are experiencing a surge in late applications, possibly due to Covid-19 economic impacts, as more people opt to study due to job uncertainty,” he said.
“Of those student allowances still being processed, in the majority of cases that is because we are awaiting further information, for example on parental income. ”
Anyone who is experiencing hardship is urged to contact the ministry on 0800 88 99 00 so their applications can be prioritised.
The Otago University Student Association student support manager Sage Burke said the main issues raised about StudyLink was the wait time for student loans and allowances as well as ongoing difficulties interacting with the Studylink call centre.
“This has starting affecting people’s ability to study and access necessities. Students have also reported ongoing difficulties in interacting with the StudyLink call centre,” Burke said.
They had received good support from the local StudyLink staff member and the issues seemed to be with central processing, he said.
“It is very disappointing to hear that members of our community have had to leave because of this. We encourage any students who are struggling to visit OUSA Student Support for assistance.”
In response, MSD said it had not been made aware of students moving home due to delays in receiving student support.
“Our frontline staff have vacant appointments and have not noted any increase in students reporting hardship when presenting for appointments. Students who are experiencing hardship while waiting for student support payments to commence are encouraged to contact us,” the Ministry said.