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SLC Full Time Application - Service Assessment

Student Loans Company (SLC) Full Time Application service provides financial support for people studying at universities and colleges throughout the United Kingdom. The service pays loans and non-repayable grants for living costs and studying expenses and provides loans to meet the costs of tuition fees, which are paid directly to universities and colleges on behalf of students.

Department / Agency:
BIS / Student Loans Company

Date of Original Assessment:

Date of Reassessment:

Assessment stage:

Result of Original Assessment:
Not passed

Result of Reassessment:

Lead Assessor:
M. Sheldon

Service Manager:
D. Thomson

Digital Leader:
T. Knighton

Reassessment Report

8th May 2015

The SLC Full Time Application service has been reviewed against point 10 of the Service Standard at the end of beta development.

Outcome of service reassessment

After consideration the assessment panel has concluded that the SLC Full Time Application service has shown sufficient evidence of meeting the Digital by Default Service Standard and should go Live as a Digital by Default service on GOV.UK. The service can now remove any Beta branding.


The service team demonstrated that they had undertaken thorough research into their assisted digital users, contacting a significant number of people who had used offline methods to complete the application in the past, and by working very closely with their contact centre agents. The team demonstrated an understanding of user needs and had designed appropriate assisted digital support based on this research.

The telephone support has been iterated to include needs assessment, dedicated assisted digital agents, and telephone talk-through by appointment or at the time of the call. There are legal barriers to SLC completing the form on behalf of users by telephone. The team are seeking to resolve this, either through policy or by the use of a third party. Although there was no demand during beta, the team identified a potential need for face by face support through user research and are offering this if required, through outreach.

Availability of the current service is good and the team have imminent plans to improve user awareness of support and to reduce the availability of the paper form.

The service team have a good plan for improving support post-Live, including exploring web chat, co-browsing and the ability for someone else to complete the transaction on a user's behalf. They plan ongoing engagement with Higher Education Institutions around support that is offered to students. Assisted digital support will be monitored through analytics and feedback, and the service team have developed a strong pool of users who are willing to contribute to further user research as the support is developed. The requirements related to face by face support will continue to be tested, and senior managers at SLC have committed to supporting the assisted digital procurement framework.


After going Live, the team commit to:

  • Continuing to iterate assisted digital support based on analytics and user research.
  • Continuing to work with GDS assisted digital team on procurement of third party support.
  • Improving digital take-up by encouraging use of assisted digital support.
  • Testing GDS draft guidance for measuring assisted digital transactions through their assisted digital support.


The service has now fully met the Digital by Default Service Standard, with the service team responding quickly and positively to the feedback from the original assessment. The team have shown a high level of commitment to meeting the needs of assisted digital users, and have clear plans for ongoing improvements to the service post-Live.

Summary of Original Report

19th February 2015

Assessment Report

The SLC Full Time Application service is seeking permission to be branded a Live Digital by Default service on the domain.

Outcome of service assessment

After completing the assessment, the assessment panel has concluded that the service does not quite meet the live requirements of the Digital by Default Service Standard. However, the panel believes that achieving that goal is well within reach of the SLC service team.

Since beta assessment, the team have made very positive progress and received encouraging user feedback from live use of the service during 2014. With significant improvements to user satisfaction, digital take-up and completion rates, and an increased focus on understanding service users, the team are transforming the service to meet user needs.


The SLC Full Time Application service is making good progress to meet all 26 points of the Digital by Default Service Standard.

The team demonstrated they:

  • Have a very good understanding of user needs, and are conducting regular and appropriate research.
  • Have a sustainable team, recently re-organised to focus on continual improvement and new projects.
  • Are engaged with the right people inside and outside of the SLC to address the security and privacy needs of the service.
  • Have used appropriate tools to build, host and operate the service and also put code in the open.
  • Have capacity and flexibility to update and improve the service.
  • Are analysing the service against all four Digital by Default KPIs, and are tracking the entire online user journey. (The team deserve considerable credit for raising these KPIs during the 2014/15 application season).
  • Have tested the service end-to-end with the ministers responsible for it.

The team must now focus on the following areas:

Assisted Digital

The team have started identifying the potential number of users who will need assisted digital (AD) support, the types of support and the projected costs. The service will now offer talk-through telephone support and provide face-to-face support at the office in Darlington. By working in this way, the team is making good progress and are on track for what would be expected for a Beta service.

There was however, not enough evidence to show that the team fully understood the needs of AD users, and the face-to-face support offered is minimal and may not scale. At a live assessment the panel would have expected to see the support thoroughly tested and iterated based on feedback.

To pass a live assessment the team must:

  • Use a more robust survey method for assessing assisted digital needs for users without online access or skills.
  • Thoroughly test the telephone and face-to-face support with users to ensure that proposed support meets user needs. 
  • Have a plan to iterate and measure the support based on ongoing user research.


Since the beta assessment, the team have continued to iterate the design of the service, making improvements based on user feedback to ensure it is simple to use. This work has been carried out whilst engaging with the GDS design patterns and Hackpad, as well as with the wider government design community. However, the service contains inconsistencies throughout, from its design and interactions to its typography and content.

Although the service is responsive, many design elements such as the progress bar are not optimised for smaller screens. 30% of users are already accessing the service on mobiles or tablets, and this will only increase as smaller screens become users’ primary digital devices.

The panel understands that the team have prioritised focusing on features such as change of circumstances and graduate medical entry, which was the right approach to take. Having done so, the team now have the opportunity to make the user experience of the service as consistent as possible, focusing on tried and tested design patterns and following content style guides.

The panel recommends that the SLC team:

  • Assign ownership and responsibility of the service’s user experience to an appropriate team member.
  • Aim for user experience consistency across the service by following the GDS design patterns and guidelines.
  • Focus on improving the user experience on smaller screens; especially for mobile and tablet devices.
  • Conduct a review of the service’s content.


The SLC team are building a service so good that users will prefer to use it. Doing this in an organisation undergoing transformation has been challenging. A sustainable multidisciplinary team is being built; able to operate and improve the service based on user feedback from regular research.

Digital by Default Service Standard criteria

Criteria Passed Criteria Passed
1 Yes 2 Yes
3 Yes 4 Yes
5 Yes 6 Yes
7 Yes 8 Yes
9 Yes 10 Yes
11 Yes 12 Yes
13 Yes 14 Yes
15 Yes 16 Yes
17 Yes 18 Yes
19 Yes 20 Yes
21 Yes 22 Yes
23 Yes 24 Yes
25 Yes 26 Yes