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Help with school costs

This advice applies to England

Coronavirus – if your child needs a computer or internet access

If your child can’t go to school, their school might give them work to do at home on a computer or online. Contact the school if there isn’t a computer with internet access your child can use. The school might:

  • give your child a computer or internet access
  • change the work your child has to do

If you're on a low income, you might be able to get help with some of the costs of sending your child to school, including school meals, transport and uniform.

You're probably on a low income if you get benefits such as tax credits or Employment and Support Allowance. If you're not sure, you can ask staff at your local education authority (LEA).

Your LEA is the local council that deals with education in your area - you can find your LEA on GOV.UK.

Getting free school meals

You can apply for free school meals if you get certain benefits.

Coronavirus - getting food if your child is off school

If your child gets free school meals because of your benefits, you'll get supermarket vouchers or food instead of meals at school. You'll keep getting these until your child goes back to school, including vouchers during the 2020 summer holiday.

If you can't apply for benefits because you have 'no recourse to public funds' (NRPF), you might still be able to get vouchers or food. You should ask at the school and show them the government's temporary rules for people with NRPF on GOV.UK.

If your child gets free school meals because they're in reception or years 1 or 2, you're not entitled to vouchers or food.

Getting the vouchers or food

Your school will either offer:

  • supermarket vouchers for £15 a week
  • food - this might be delivered or you might have to collect it

During the 2020 summer holiday you’ll get 1 voucher to cover the whole period.

If the school hasn't contacted you, tell them you're entitled to this help and ask what you need to do.

If your child doesn’t already get free school meals you should apply before the end of the summer term so you’ll get them over the summer holiday.

If you get an email asking for your bank details, it might be a scam. Check with the school or whoever the email is from before you give any information. You should also delete the email if you’re not sure who sent it.

If you get Universal Credit

You can apply for free school meals if you either:

  • started your claim for Universal Credit before 1 April 2018

  • earn less than £7,400 a year net, not including benefits 

You’ll remain eligible for free school meals until 31 March 2022, even if your earnings increase or you stop getting Universal Credit. If your child is getting free school meals on 31 March 2022, they’ll keep getting them until they finish their stage of education, for example primary or secondary.

If you get other benefits

You can apply for free school meals if you get any of these benefits:

  • Child Tax Credit - you can't apply for free meals if your yearly income is £16,190 or more before tax or you're also entitled to Working Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit run-on - you might get this for 4 weeks if you're no longer eligible for Working Tax Credit
  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Guarantee Credit (part of Pension Credit)

If you've asked for asylum and you're getting asylum support while you wait for a decision, you can also apply for free school meals.

You can apply for free school meals on GOV.UK.

Your child will automatically get free school meals if they're in reception class or year 1 or 2.

Even if your child gets free meals, you should tell your local council if you're on a low income and get benefits. You might be able to get other help with school costs - and your child's school might get extra money.

Getting help to pay for activities and uniforms

If you're on a low income, your local education authority (LEA) might help you with some costs. For example, they might help with the cost of uniforms or learning a musical instrument.

You'll need to ask your LEA what help they can give you. You can find your LEA on GOV.UK.

If your child is at a maintained special school, ask your LEA if they can help pay travel costs so you can visit.

Your child's school can ask you to pay for some activities such as museum or theatre trips. They should tell you if it's a voluntary payment - if you can't afford to pay, they can't stop your child from attending. But the school can cancel the activity if they don't get enough money to pay for it.

Applying for help with transport to and from school

If your child is aged 5 to 16, your local education authority (LEA) might help with free or lower cost transport if you don't live near school or your child's unable to walk there.

If your child is older and in a sixth form or is an apprentice, what help they can get depends on where you live. You can find out more about free transport for people over 16 in full-time education or training on GOV.UK.

You'll need to apply to your LEA. You can find your LEA on GOV.UK.

If there's a school nearby that your child could get to more easily, your local education authority doesn't have to pay for travel to and from their school.

If you think your child should get free travel but your local education authority refuses, you can appeal.

You can find out more about appealing on the Child Law Advice website.

Your child can't walk to school

If your child can't walk to school because of their special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), they should be entitled to free school transport.

You might also get help if your child can't walk to school because it's dangerous - for example, because they need to cross major roads.

You don't live near the school

If you're on a low income, your child might get free travel if they go to:

  • a primary school more than 2 miles away
  • a secondary school between 2 and 15 miles away

If you're not on a low income, your child might get free travel if they're:

  • under 8 and their school's more than 2 miles away
  • between 8 and 16 and their school's more than 3 miles away

Getting advice

You can find information and advice about free school transport on the Child Law Advice website.

Getting help from the PTA or charities

Ask your school's parent teacher association (PTA) if they help parents financially. You'll usually get their contact details from the school office or on the school website.

You can check if there's a charity that can help you with school costs on the Educational Trusts' Forum website.

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