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UCAS finally bows to pressure and stops advertising high-cost debt

UCAS finally bows to pressure and stops advertising high-cost debt

The university admissions service has agreed to "pause" sending out emails with ads from a private loan company charging up to 21% interest, MoneySavingExpert.com can reveal – following an intervention from MSE's founder Martin Lewis.

The University and College Admissions Service (UCAS) has faced a massive backlash over emails sent through its commercial arm, UCAS Media, which featured marketing from private lender Future Finance – a firm that provides loans to both undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Unlike Government-funded student loans, which currently have an interest rate of up to 5.4% and only require you to start repaying once you've graduated and are earning over £25,725 a year (rising to £26,575 a year on 6 April 2020), interest rates on Future Finance loans currently range from 8% up to 21.3%.

Last September, Martin Lewis called for UCAS to stop sending these emails. It then partially backed down by pledging that any future messages would include "clear information on all the funding options available", but MoneySavingExpert has continued to campaign for it to ban ads from any commercial debt firms, and Martin Lewis has since met with UCAS chief executive Clare Marchant.

Now UCAS has now agreed to suspend all its activity with private loan companies, based on the feedback given by MoneySavingExpert.com, students and other groups. It's also taken on board Martin's suggestion to set up a an advisory committee for its advertising policies to scrutinise which organisations UCAS works with. 

See our Martin Lewis calls on UCAS to stop emailing ads for costly private 'student loans' MSE News story for his original letter to the UCAS board of trustees, plus the Student Loan Mythbusting and Students guides for more help.

Martin: 'Pausing the adverts is a great start'

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "This is very welcome news. When the UCAS chief executive agreed to meet me on this, we had a robust meeting, where I let them know in no uncertain terms what I thought about a charity – with a near-monopoly communication position with young students – promoting expensive high-cost debt to students.

"The fact it has agreed to pause the adverts is a great start – and we're thankful UCAS's senior team are willing to listen. We're also pleased that UCAS has taken up my suggestion to set up an advisory panel for its advertising policies, which can give it future guidance on what adverts aren't appropriate.

"It needs to ensure the panel will have the experience and authority to put students' welfare before UCAS revenue, and enough gravitas that its recommendations will be heeded. If it does so, then I've no doubt it will agree that it is inappropriate for high-cost debt adverts to be pushed in front of students' noses."

What does UCAS say? 

A UCAS spokesperson said: "UCAS takes its responsibility to provide neutral and trusted information very seriously. It is clear funding options are continuing to evolve and the cost of living while at university is a key consideration for students. It is our responsibility to help students understand and navigate all their choices.

"As this is a developing market, we listen to feedback from students and valued colleagues across the education and financial sectors, including MoneySavingExpert, to ensure we provide students with appropriate choices, including those that are commercially available. Based on that feedback, we decided to pause our activity with private loans companies, and no further activity is currently planned.

"With our new UCAS Media Advisory Group, which we are currently recruiting to, we will continue to review this maturing market and further develop a set of principles to incorporate into our advertising framework.

"As a registered charity, UCAS depends on almost half its income from UCAS Media's campaigns, keeping application fees low."

A Future Finance spokesperson said: "Future Finance continues to provide vital funding to both undergraduate and postgraduate students across the UK. We are a responsible lender and remain committed to ensuring students make the right decisions based on their circumstances."

"No one should be denied the chance to pursue higher education simply because they lack the financial means. We fill the gap where students do not have family support, the option to work or access to traditional forms of finance. We also seek to stop students turning to undesirable short-term alternatives, such as payday lenders, or other more dangerous activities, such as gambling."