Why You’re Wrong About Government Plans To Prosecute Graduates Who Don’t Repay

Over the last week, words of outrage have begun to appear on my Facebook feed, all expressing horrified reactions to headlines along the lines of:

“Government will prosecute those who fail to repay their student loans on time, warns Jo Johnson” – The Independent

“UK student loans: ‘we will trace and prosecute borrowers who don’t pay'” – The Guardian

Usually I’m one of the first to throw myself into outrage at any injustices towards students, and the first to start signing and sharing petitions, such as the one which has littered my newsfeed this morning in response to this same announcement. However, this time, I can’t help but think my fellow students and Facebook friends have got something wrong.

To the 15,000 people who have already added their names to a petition against the prosecution of graduates who don’t pay back their loans, sadly, you’ve been misinformed. Either you’ve fallen victim to snappy and controversial headlines that have caught your eye, yet failed to read the article (shame on you – don’t you know how clickbait works?) or you probably also sympathise with tax evaders.

The description of said petition which has already been signed by over 15,000 people as of this morning reads:

“There are plans to make not repaying a student loan a criminal offence, meaning no matter how much you earn you still have to pay it back in a certain amount of time. This could make it very hard for current and future students to live a basic life.”

If this were true, then yes, it would make it very hard for students to live even a basic life – in fact, maybe impossible. But luckily, this is completely untrue. Anyone who finishes reading the articles that stirred up this reaction, or even makes it as far as the fourth paragraph, would realise the government aren’t actually going to force you to repay your loan “no matter how much you earn”.

  • The government are not (this time) trying to increase the amount we pay back each month to ensure that even those on a life-long salary of £22,000 will fully pay off their loan in 30 years.
  • They are not going to imprison you if you earn under the repayment threshold of £21,000.
  • Nor are they going to visit you on your deathbed and demand that you pay them a lump sum to remove your debt.

What Jo Johnson, Minister for Education and Science actually said was this:

“We will take stronger action to trace borrowers including those overseas, act to recover loan repayments where it is clear borrowers are seeking to avoid repayment, consider the use of sanctions against borrowers who breach loan repayment terms and, if necessary, prosecute.”

There’s a crucial phrase here.

“where it is clear borrowers are seeking to avoid repayment”

This means people who disappear abroad after graduation to pursue an extended “gap yah” and end up earning well above the £21k threshold whilst soaking up the sun in Australia while never paying back a penny. This means people who are earning enough to make the standard repayments, but instead have found loopholes, or cheated on their paperwork and banking to ensure they get to keep their cash. This isn’t akin to being “unable” to pay back your loan: this is akin to tax evasion.

Personally, this isn’t something I want to sign a petition against. Like most students, I wish my student debt was smaller. In fact, in an ideal world, it wouldn’t exist at all. But it does, and like the majority of graduates, I will repay 9% of my hard-earned income above £21,000 each year until it’s either paid back or wiped out.

And I’m fairly sure that a lot of students would agree with me that we don’t want people to get away with cheating the system, while we hand over our money honestly, even though we’re only earning a starting salary of £23,000 , whilst attempting to survive in London (which I’m told is no mean feat).

If suddenly the government does decide everyone will repay their loans in full or else face prosecution, that’s when the estimated 45% of us who will never fully repay our loans should be worried. But until then, stop signing petitions before reading the full story.

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Featured image: Ben Stephenson

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5 thoughts on “Why You’re Wrong About Government Plans To Prosecute Graduates Who Don’t Repay

  1. The Tories are not to be trusted and will probably find a way to abuse this new proposed law to harm normal people. Sign the petition I say. Don’t give them an inch or they’ll take a mile.

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  2. I signed it because the history with this government is say one thing but then use the excuse “We Believe they are trying to dodge paying” to go after anyone they like, it is not as though this government has lied at all……..

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  3. I signed the petition, not because I don’t think that those who are deliberately trying to evade repayment shouldn’t be prosecuted, but because I fundamentally disagree with the whole concept that students should be self-financing when they lack the means to do so. The loans system shouldn’t exist in the first place, and that’s the bottom line. It’s inherently unfair & by its very nature makes higher education elitist. It’s a measure introduced in order to subjugate the working classes. To a Tory Government & their wealthy supporters they protect, there is nothing more dangerous than an educated working class.

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    1. Unfortunately I don’t think that particular petition addresses the underlying issue. When the government sees the petition and responds (which they are supposed to as it has over 10,000 signatures) surely they’ll only address the issue of the petition misinterpreting what they said, and clarify their stance, rather than address student loans and tuition fees as a whole. I think the loans system is necessary – in the sense that we need some kind of maintenance loan to survive at university and without it parents/students would have to pay living costs upfront. But the tuition fee system is definitely flawed and I agree that it is a barrier to the working classes and that education should be accessible to everyone, no matter their means or parents’ income.

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  4. The whole student loan thing is a complete mess and totally flawed as a policy. Education is a public good and as such should be funded publicly.

    A degree level education provides the necessary skills for an advanced economy to grow and thus benefit the whole of society. So everyone should make a contribution according to their means.

    The argument that university students should pay for their own education because they benefit from it would be logically extended to encompass the whole of a student’s education. The reason we don’t do that is precisely because it is a public good – education benefits the whole of society.

    Why not extend the concept to public health. We should all pay back the cost receiving healthcare based on what services we need as we grow up. How about emergency services – all public services?

    By introducing this policy the government is abdicating its responsibility to educate the citizens of this country and outsource the financing to a credit company.

    Better to examine the profligate waste of money that occurs at universities. Can it really be good value for student to pay £20-£30 each per contact hour while studying? More efficient universities would be easier to finance from the public purse.

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