Students Loans Company criticised over data breaches

The Student Loans Company has been criticised over a series of data breaches, involving several incidents where information held about students has been sent to the wrong people.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has reported several incidents where classified data held about students, including medical details and psychological assessments, had been sent to the wrong people. An ICO investigation found that not enough checks were carried out to safeguard protected information, and more sensitive documents actually received fewer checks.

Since students are required to send personal information when applying for loans, this lack of security and leaking of information has breached primary principles of the Data Protection Act, which ensures that personal information is secure and protected.

The ICO Head of Enforcement, Stephen Eckersley, is reported as saying, “For the majority of students, the Student Loans Company represents a crucial service that they rely on to fund their studies. Students are obliged to provide personal information to the loans company, both while they receive the loan and in the years when they are paying it back, and they are right to expect that information to be properly looked after.

He continued, “Our investigation showed that wasn’t happening. We’ve spoken with the company and made clear that changes need to be made, and a formal undertaking is now in place.”

Imogen Crane, a first year student at Regent’s Park College, commented, “It’s a huge breach of student trust, especially considering how many students rely, almost completely, on the loan company for their day to day life, as well as larger bills. It’s incredibly irritating because we are so dependent on the loans just to afford university so to hear that they have lost and misplaced our personal information reinforces my dislike of the loan system that is currently in place.”

Welfare Officer, Isobel Wilson, expressed similar concerns, “As a welfare officer, it’s worrying to hear that students who are already under extreme stress have to deal with the possibility that the loans system they rely on is insecure. It is not conducive to a healthy college atmosphere to have any worries regarding misplaced information, especially that as sensitive as loans, grants and psychological tests.”

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Tom Rutland, OUSU President, told Cherwell, “This is disappointing news – students taking out loans with the Student Loans Company should be able to trust that their data and personal information is safe.”

The Student Loans Company Ltd has signed an undertaking that ensures future correspondences involving protected data will be better secured and thoroughly checked so as to prevent future incidents.