Jammed phone lines, missed and unauthorized payments: Grads frustrated with student loan centre

© Shutterstock / Nirat.pix Post-secondary graduates have turned to social media to voice their frustrations over problems with the National Student Loans Service Centre as they try to repay their student loans.

Unauthorized bank withdrawals. Statements showing missed payments. No answers about repayment assistance. And long wait times — if anyone answers at all — on the National Student Loans Service Centre (NSLSC) phone line.

These are just some of the many frustrations being aired on social media by former post-secondary students upset with the federal government over the lack of transparency and accountability for mistakes and delays regarding the repayment of student loans.

Mistakes aside, others are just upset the government is forcing them to restart their loan payments despite youth employment rates being among the slowest to bounce back as the Canadian economy tries to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s all been incredibly stressful … I don’t even know when I’m going to have an income again. And at present, the money that the [Ontario Student Assistance Program] wants to take out of my account for the October 31 payment is going to wipe me out completely,” said Rachel Trout, an English major who graduated from the University of Windsor in 2017.

“I don’t know how I’ll pay rent this month.”

Trout was laid off from her job at an escape room in the spring as businesses shuttered due to COVID-19 restrictions. She hasn’t had consistent shifts since her work reopened, she said.

In March, the federal and many provincial governments froze repayments for nearly one million federal student loans for six months as part of their unprecedented efforts to support Canadians through the pandemic.

But as those six months came to an end on Sept. 30, problems with the national student loan centre became apparent.

Missed and unauthorized payments

Trout said her NSLSC account says she missed a payment on Sept. 30, even though repayments weren’t supposed to begin until October. And her pre-authorized automatic payment on Oct. 31 still hadn’t been withdrawn from her bank account as of Friday afternoon.

Miranda Niittynen, a 2018 graduate currently working as a contract faculty member at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., had the opposite problem.

She was able to plan for the end of the repayment freeze, and paid back more than her required monthly payment at the beginning of October. But last week, she checked her account and found that the NSLSC had automatically withdrawn an additional $250 payment from her account, putting it into overdraft.

That was particularly concerning, Niittynen said, because she has never given consent for automatic withdrawals.

“On my profile it says it’s pre-authorized now, but I’ve never accepted. I’ve never had that. So I don’t know exactly what’s happening on their end,” she said.

Niittynen said she has contacted her bank to block the NSLSC from withdrawing money from her account, because she hasn’t been able to get through to a representative to sort out the issue.

All of these problems are unacceptable, according to Nicole Brayiannis, national deputy chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students.

“We’re still learning about the exact scope of how many students have been impacted by this, but really what it comes down to is that even one student who’s been impacted is one too many,” Brayiannis said.

“Students have really been hurt through COVID-19. They’re really feeling the financial effects of this, and they’ve received little to no financial relief from the government. So now is the time that they really need the government to be prioritizing student needs, and that’s simply not been the case.”

Petition to extend loan repayment freeze

Patty Facy, a recent grad from University of Toronto, thinks she has a solution to at least help students who graduated in 2020: extend the federal student loan non-repayment period by an additional six months.

With the support of NDP MP Daniel Blaikie of Manitoba, Facy initiated a petition to the federal government on Nov. 3, because she says recent graduates didn’t benefit from the same six-month freeze as other graduates because they were already entitled to the standard six-month interest-free loan relief all graduates receive upon completing their program.

“Normally, I think that six-month repayment period, you’d assume it would give students the time to look for work and sort of start to slowly enter the workforce,” said Facy. “But we haven’t really had that same advantage. So over the summer, a lot of students were probably relying on [the Canada Emergency Response Benefit] and on [the Canada Emergency Student Benefit], and now suddenly we’re just expected to start making those repayments.”

NSLSC sees ‘very high’ call volume

One of the most common critiques of the national student loan centre’s response has been a lack of availability, with many students posting images and stories of their long wait to speak to an NSLSC representative.

An emailed statement from Employment and Social Development Canada says the NSLSC has experienced a “very high call volume” since the end of the repayment freeze, and it has increased the number of available lines to help prevent dropped calls and is “actively exploring other solutions to improve access to service representatives.”

The loan centre has also posted on its website and social media pages that delays should be expected with repayment assistance plan applications, and that people who set up automatic payments through their bank as opposed to through their NSLSC account prior to the repayment freeze will need to contact their bank to re-activate the payments.

The federal ministry says any delay in processing applications of payments will not have any negative implications for the accounts.

Employment and Social Development Canada says any students continuing to experience issues should contact the NSLSC at 1-888-815-4514.

Source: CBC News