Fresh from forcing Facebook to buckle over scam ads, MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis has now turned his fire onto university admissions service UCAS, demanding it stops sending out emails featuring “unethical” advertising from a private student loan firm which charges huge interest rates.
His call follows a raft of complaints on social media about about an email which featured marketing from private lender Future Finance, which provides loans of up to £60,000 to both undergraduate and postgraduate students.
Unlike Government-funded student loans, which have an interest rate of 5.4% and are only repaid once post-graduates start earning over £25,725 a year, interest rates on Future Finance loans range from 8% up to 23.7%.
Lewis has now written to the UCAS board of trustees asking them to ensure the organisation stops sending out emails which include this kind of ad. He has also sent the letter to the Minister for Universities and Universities UK.
The letter claims that the email advertises “a product that is inappropriate for the huge majority of recipients”.
It adds: “In allowing inclusion of this ad, we believe your charity breached an ethical line, and failed in its duty of care to the people it communicates with, which includes a high proportion of school leavers.
“UCAS has privileged, monopoly access to this young and impressionable audience. It is also seen as an institutional authority and therefore ads contained in your email are effectively being legitimised by inclusion, and some may even mistake it for a direct recommendation.
“To see your organisation tainted by allowing such ads is very disappointing. I would kindly ask that the trustees urgently consider permanently and publicly blocking the inclusion of these ads, and ads from any commercial debt firms, in future.”
UCAS has yet to respond to Lewis’ demand. However, Future Finance chief executive Olga Dolchenko said: “Future Finance is a highly valued source of funding for under- and postgraduate students who need extra financial assistance over and above Government funded support. Over the past five years we have lent over £100m to 15,000 satisfied students across every university in the UK. Given undergraduate students often have no credit history or a poor rating, they are unable to access traditional forms of finance and either struggle to make ends meet or choose inappropriate options such as pay day lending.
“We fill this gap, but never encourage students to borrow more than they can afford and actively encourage financial responsibility by engaging with our borrowers from the outset of our relationship. We always advise students to go the Student Loans Company before seeking funding from us.
“As the only specialist lender to undergraduates in the UK, we offer fully transparent and flexible loans with features specifically designed for students, such as minimal monthly payments during their studies, repayment holidays and no early repayment fees. Our terms are competitive when compared with other forms of private finance, but also need to reflect the risk we take on by lending to young people with little or no credit history.”
Back in 2015, UCAS was forced to overhaul its application form after an Information Commissioner’s Office investigation found the organisation was illegally signing up teenagers to receive ads about mobile phones, energy drinks and other commercial products and services.
The UCAS form only allowed applicants to opt-out of receiving marketing from commercial companies if they unticked three boxes covering marketing emails, post and text messages.
The wording of the opt-out also meant that unticking these boxes would result in the applicant not receiving information about career opportunities and education providers or health information.
UCAS was found in breach of both the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), which govern electronic marketing.
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