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Age limit on student loan breaches human rights legislation

by on May 23, 2016

Thanks to our friends at Lewis Silkin for their tweet earlier today which alerted us to this news item.

As reported here in the Herald Scotland, a judge has ruled that a ban on student loans for living costs to those over 55 is in violation of the human right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of age. The case was brought by a mature student Elizabeth Hunter, aged 56, who challenged a decision by Student Awards Agency for Scotland to deny financial support because she was one year older than the loan threshold.

A longer analysis of the decision is set out here on the Scottish Legal News website. It seems that the judge was not persuaded by the argument (in favour of the age restriction) that it was “much less likely” that a loan provided to a student aged 55 or over (compared to a younger student) would be repaid or repaid in full. Rather the judge relied on the primary purpose argument, namely examining whether the age restriction was consistent with an aim “to encourage greater access to higher education, primarily for those wishing to improve their skills and qualifications, and hence to improve the skills and qualifications of the workforce”. She found that it wasn’t consistent. Indeed, I think we can say that with longer working lives, it’s highly likely that those in their 50s and older might wish to improve their skills and qualifications in the context of work.

Of course the legal system in Scotland is different to that in England and Wales and some of the delegated legislation around education also differs. The NUS website has a handy guide to provision for mature students here.

According to this, the upper limit for a living costs student loan in England and Wales is 60 but here you can apply for a special support grant instead if you’re over 60. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in all parts of the UK as a result of this judgment.

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