MPs have debated the retrospective hike in student loan payments, following a call from founder Martin Lewis for people to get their MP to show their opposition to the changes.

The Westminster Hall debate was scheduled after more than 130,000 people signed a petition (which quoted MSE) calling for the Government to stop retrospective changes to the way in which English students who have started university since September 2012 repay their loans.

The Government had promised to increase the £21,000 repayment threshold every year to reflect earnings. But because the Government has since gone back on its word and frozen the threshold, many students will pay back more.

For example, if you earn £24,000 and the threshold had increased to £24,000, you'd have repaid nothing. But with the threshold at £21,000, you repay £270 a year.

Martin Lewis
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Martin, who watched the debate in person, is at the forefront of the fight against the student loan hike. Last week he called on all interested parties – including students, graduates and parents – to make their voices heard by asking their MP to represent them today.

Opening the debate, Helen Jones, the Labour MP for Warrington North, said: "The worst thing about this decision is it is retrospective. A commercial organisation wouldn't be able to do this, but the measures it imposes on others it appears [the Government] is not prepared to adhere to itself."

Today's debate follows an earlier House of Commons debate on the issue, which was secured by Labour MP for Walsall South, Valerie Vaz. She had taken Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson to task over the Government's decision to ignore 84% of responses to a consultation last year, which were against freezing the threshold at which students repay their loans.

Speaking at today's debate, Vaz said: "It [the retrospective change] affects people worse off disproportionately, including women and those from ethnic backgrounds."

'Shaky ground'

Jones said of the previous consultation: "When a Government gets a massive thumbs down and still goes ahead you know they are on very shaky ground. [The Government] is not getting enough money in, so it has resorted to this underhand tactic to get more.

"This is a flawed system all the way through and trying to fix it by making it even more flawed is not going to work. There is a chance with a new Chancellor in place to revisit this... I urge him to take that chance."

Labour MP for Sheffield Central Paul Blomfield said he had been contacted by scores of concerned constituents and highlighted one Sheffield Hallam University student who had told him that "a retrospective change will destroy any trust she has in the student finance system".

Blomfield added that Universities Minister Johnson had "drawn the short straw" by being at the debate "because he's having to defend the indefensible".

MPs debate retrospective student loan changes in Parliament
The debate was arranged after more than 130,000 people signed a petition, which quoted MSE

Wes Streeting, a Labour MP who represents Ilford North, finished his speech by urging the Government to "come forward with alternative proposals that don't lead to future Governments changing conditions".

Labour MP for Cambridge Daniel Zeichner also spoke, and described a letter in which a constituent wrote that "it breaks my heart to see my family saddled with huge debt".

After about an hour and twenty minutes of debate, Universities Minister Johnson responded to the issues raised.

Johnson said he recognised the strength of feeling for all involved, but gave no sign the Government would be prepared to back down. Regarding the decision to freeze the repayment threshold, he said: "We need to make sure higher education funding remains sustainable."

'We're still having it talked about'

Speaking after watching the debate, Martin said work to overturn the changes would continue with the forthcoming higher education debate, and he hopes to get a meeting with new Prime Minister Theresa May to discuss the issue.

"This isn't fair, this isn't right, we need to overturn it," he said. "I knew [the debate] wouldn't deliver anything – there was no real vote at the end of it. But the fact is we're still having it talked about, and that's what counts."

Watch Martin's full response to the debate from outside the Houses of Parliament below.

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