Advice Column: School Costs

Thursday 15th October 2020

As part of the Citizens Advice Exeter and The Express and Echo weekly advice column, this week we focus on help with school costs.

My children have gone back to school, but I am struggling financially as we have been living off a reduced furlough income and now my hours at work have been reduced. Is there any support available to help with school costs?

We know the  costs of schooling can be a stretch for people’s budgets, particularly if you’re on a low income. If you’ve claimed benefits for the first time during this pandemic, or have seen your circumstances change, it’s worth checking whether you can apply for extra help with costs such as school lunches, transport or uniforms.

Here is our checklist for help with ongoing school costs:


  1. Free school meals. Children in Reception and Years 1 or 2 automatically get free school meals. If you have older children you can apply for free school meals if you get certain benefits:

    – Universal Credit  – if you started your claim for Universal Credit before 1 April 2018 or generally earn less than £7,400 a year after tax, not including benefits.

    – Child Tax Credit – but 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 four 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)

    – Asylum Support – if you’ve asked for asylum and you’re waiting for a decision.

    To apply for free school meals you need to contact your local education authority.

  2. Help with transport to and from school. If your child is aged five to 16, the local education authority may offer free or lower cost transport if you don’t live near school or your child’s unable to walk there. You need to apply to your local education authority for help.
  3. Help with activity costs and school uniforms. If you’re on a low income, your local education authority might help you with some other costs, such as uniforms or musical instrument lessons. You’re probably on a low income if you get means-tested benefits such Universal Credit, tax credit or Income Support, Housing Benefit, Employment Support Allowance or JobSeeker’s Allowance. If you’re not sure, you can ask staff at your local education authority. There may also be local charitable schemes to help with school uniforms – it’s worth checking with the school to see if it knows of any. Schools can sometimes also advise on finding second-hand uniforms.
  4. Disability living allowance. This is extra money to help with everyday costs if your child is under 16 and disabled or has a health condition. You can get between £23.60 and £151.40 a week, and it isn’t means tested, so how much you earn doesn’t impact how much you can get.
  5. Carrying on learning after year 11? If your child is staying in education after year 11, you must tell HMRC’s Child Benefit Office if you want to continue receiving child benefit and any extra support for children within means-tested benefits. When your child turns 16, HMRC will send you a letter asking whether your child will stay in education or training. You must reply to this letter to keep getting Child Benefit.

Further information and advice is available at:

Watch out for our advice column next week when we focus on Child Trust Funds.

The information contained in these articles does not constitute advice. Citizens Advice Exeter and The Express and Echo accept no liability for the information published. Citizens Advice Exeter is unable to respond to individual requests for advice through these columns. Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date information, please visit