As Canada’s university and college campuses brace for next month’s swarm of fresh faces, a lobby group is pushing Ottawa for an independent arbitrator to help negotiate student loan disputes.
Currently, students have nowhere to turn when they run into problems with their federal loans, said Julian Benedict of the Coalition for Student Loan Fairness.
The coalition wants the federal government to set up an ombudsperson’s office to provide students with an unbiased advocate when they find themselves in a dispute.
“Basically, student borrowers have no options right now — they can either talk to the national student loans centre or pretty much have the issue fall by the wayside,” Benedict said.
“The idea is to have a neutral party that can look at a situation and make a determination.”
Currently, there’s no mechanism in place to allow an independent review of student loan complaints, said Rosaline Frith, director general for the Canada Student Loans Program.
If borrowers have a problem that can’t be resolved with a customer service representative at the national call centre, the complaint gets forwarded to a case officer, Frith said. From there, if the borrower is still not satisfied, he or she can file an appeal with the director’s office.
When students have a complaint, it’s usually about the program’s policies and has nothing to do with customer service, Frith said.
Benedict, however, said one of the most common complaints the coalition gets is how long it takes to solve administrative problems.
“When a problem is identified, it doesn’t get resolved for at least five or six phone calls,” he said.
Frith acknowledged it can take time to resolve problems, and multiple phone calls can be necessary when dealing with complicated issues.
But Benedict said those complicated issues are precisely why an ombudsperson is needed: to help deal with payment processing errors, incorrect defaults, lost documentation and credit bureau reports.
The coalition released poll results that suggest a majority of Canadians surveyed support the idea of establishing a national student-loan ombudsperson.
The poll, conducted by Decima Research over four days in early August, found 74 per cent of the poll’s 1,001 respondents think it’s a good idea.