UPDATE: The Student Loan Company got back to me, and they were very understanding about the miscommunication. No back payments, no other penalties or demands.
I have been living in Japan for 5 years. I was working for the first 4 years. I sent the printed version of the online assessment form along with my contracts when I started each of my two jobs to the SLC. I heard nothing, no payments were taken, but I didn't think much of it, as my salary was relatively low. The phone call I made upon arriving in Japan mentioned nothing about expecting a reply or needing to update every year. I have been unemployed for 6 months, and needed to check what evidence I could provide, so I called the SLC.
It turns out they hadn't received or processed my previous letters. In fact, they had no idea where I was or what I was doing. My account has no arrears, and they aren't asking for any money. At least, not yet. My worry is, having completely the digital version of the assessment form to tell them I am unemployed, they will backdate my assessment to 2013 (part of the form is asking when you left the UK), and asking for 5 years of the default amount. Which would be about 15,000 GBP.
I presume that i could give them evidence of what I was earning during that time to amend the arrears to about 3000GBP, but I am not sure. I have no idea about how lenient they are about arrears repayments. Sources are wildly inconsistent, from threatening court action to simply being repaid through monthly repayments. I have also heard of cases where the SLC just start the process from when they received the assessment form, and not from when you left the UK. According to these guidelines , that is what they should do. It seems a weird rule, but would be very helpful if true, since I have no arrears currently.
The other worry is that they won't believe I am unemployed (it shouldn't be for long). According to their third party declaration form, if I living with someone who supports me, I just need them to sign the document and prove we live at the same address. No bank statements etc. This is from the form:
(I live with the third party: If you live with the third party you need to send evidence of your address and the third party must sign the declaration. They don’t need to complete ‘Total amount of support’.
I don’t live with the third party: If you don’t live with the third party they must complete the declaration and you must send us bank statements covering the last 3 months showing any payments you’ve received from them. If you haven’t received any payments from them send any other relevant evidence to show how they supported you.)
Just to be clear, I'd like to start paying back as soon as I am employed, and I don't mind clearing the arrears based upon my past earnings. But I don't think it is fair to be forced to pay the default amount, which is the worst case scenario.
I'd like feedback from anyone who has experienced a similar situation. Have you started making repayments years after living abroad, and did they retroactively hit you with a huge arrears? If so, did they arrange a reasonable repayment plan for those arrears? How about being unemployed overseas?