So just as I was settling into my new lifestyle of endless Disney marathons and constant cups of pretend tea, life has been turned upside down once more.
I toyed with whether to post this or not. I don’t usually shy away from posting anything, but this related to our financial situation, and is also a bit of a rant, so I couldn’t quite decide whether or not it was best to publicly vent. Still, like I’ve always said, this is all about the reality of being student parents, and part of that reality is when the authorities mess it up – and sometimes, they mess it up big time.
As I said in my previous post, we were told that because D is a student and I am not, and because the child benefit is in my name, we would be ineligible for the childcare grant that Student Finance Wales provides, covering 85% of childcare costs. Even with the wages I was earning, there was no way we could afford full-time childcare along with rent and bills, so I handed in my notice and quit my job, and prepared to become a stay at home mum.
Due to the evidence for D’s student finance taking ages to be processed, he got a small amount through in mid-September, at the same time as everyone else, and then received his full entitlement a couple of days ago. He checked his student finance account, to see that Childcare Grant was part of his scheduled payments. Of course, we were baffled, and a little bit panicked too – were they about to send us a load of money, only to determine two or three months down the line that we aren’t eligible and demand it back?
D called them up, and spoke to a helpful advisor, who said that he could see no reason why we would have been told we were ineligible – because we’re both living in the same property, and are both named on the birth certificate, D is eligible for childcare grant just the same as I was. We didn’t mention to him at this point exactly what the consequences of the incorrect advice had been for us, but I was already absolutely livid. It didn’t seem worth taking it out on the advisor – he isn’t the one who gave us the wrong information, after all, and was just doing his job – but I couldn’t believe they’d messed up so monumentally.
As a result of someone giving us the wrong information, I’d had no choice but to give up a well-paid, full-time job that I was doing well at. We’d rearranged things so that I could become a stay-at-home mum, cancelling SB’s nursery place at very short notice, disrupting not only us, but the nursery too. We were worrying how we’d cope financially, desperately trying to jig things about in the hopes that I would find a part time job that would miraculously fit around D’s hours. The most stressful part of all was that D was told all of this while I was stuck in hospital, on a drip, as doctors tried to decide whether they needed to take my appendix out urgently, and he had to deal with that panic and stress at the same time as looking after SB and worrying about me.
Some people have suggested that we should take them to court, either for the confusion and distress caused, or just for the loss of earnings, but I am not going through that rigmarole. The stress is something we really could have done without, as I’m now jobless for no good reason, and waiting on the results of this week’s MRI scan which still could result in me having to have my appendix out. We’ve managed to get SB’s full-time nursery place back, but only because the nursery are miracle workers, and I cannot thank them enough for the strings they’ve pulled for us. I’ve now arranged to do short courses and to attend open events for my PGCE next year that wouldn’t work if I tried to get my old job back, and I’m not sure I’d be able to anyway – I know I wouldn’t be able to go back to my old team, or even my old department, as they’ve (quite rightly) filled my space, and I’m not sure I can adapt to a new department and a new team, even if they did take me back.
For the first time since SB was born, we’re having to put in a claim form for housing benefit. We’ve coped for the last eighteen months, but this cock-up hasn’t given us much choice, really. Filling in the form is soul-destroying; it feels like we’ve failed, somehow – even though it’s the mistake of that one employee at Student Finance Wales.
Do I want to see him lose his job? No. I have no idea if he’s got a family to support or anything like that, I don’t want to see him out of a job. Do I want him spoken to, and made to realise the consequences of giving false information? Absolutely. I also want to know why the call wasn’t logged properly – the details of the last call do not mention that we were told that we’d be unable to claim childcare grant, apparently, so I’m interested to know why exactly the gentleman D spoke to chose to omit that. More than anything, I want to make sure that they appreciate the effect a mistake like this can have on a family. It’s easy to assume that mistakes or delays in student finance just means that a student will have to wait a little longer for drinking money, but in actual fact, even the average student needs to pay rent and buy groceries, and depends on student loan to do that – especially if they haven’t yet found a job, or their course is so demanding that they have no time to. When you add on the extra financial responsibility of a student being a parent, and suddenly it’s not just that a student is living off 10p noodles and a bit behind on the rent – it’s a family with a young child risking homelessness from being unable to pay rent, and scraping money together to buy nappies. Thankfully we have some savings that would see us through for a short amount of time, but others aren’t so “lucky” (I use speech marks because the “luck” is actually compensation from a car crash, so not all that lucky, but hey).
Don’t get me wrong – I am eternally grateful for the fact that student finance offer extra help to encourage parents to study, and to enable people to stay in education if they fall pregnant. That gratefulness doesn’t take away from the fact that one of their advisors has given incorrect advice that resulted in someone quitting their job, giving up a nursery place that we very nearly didn’t go back, and caused so much stress at an already stressful time. I have no intention of taking action against them, or anything like that, but a strong letter of complaint will be making its way to them, to make sure no other student parents have to go through what we’ve been dealing with for the last month.
So why have I blogged about it? I’m not sure, really. Venting, mostly – just getting it off my chest, because I’m still livid at what has happened. Also a warning to other student parents, to double check what your student finance provider tells you, as quite often they’re not totally clued up on the finance situation for student parents, and just assume you’re in the same situation as any other student. Finally, it’s to call for clearer, more easily available advice for student parents. Benefits calculators on government websites and other agencies make a point of saying that they are not applicable to students, meaning that the student parents themselves have to navigate a minefield when applying for any benefits alongside student finance, with very little support available. Further down the line, once all this is done, I’m going to look into creating a resource for student parents, to advise on finance in a clear and concise way, as I’ve certainly never found it anywhere else.
For now, though, all we can do is hope that student finance are a little more stringent in making sure their staff don’t make such costly mistakes in future.