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Help with school costs

This advice applies to England

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 lunches if you get any of these benefits:

  • Child Tax Credit - but you can't apply for free meals if you're also entitled to Working Tax Credit and your yearly income is £16,190 or more before tax
  • Working Tax Credit run-on - you might get this for 4 weeks if you're no longer eligible for Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit if you started your claim before 1 April 2018 or you earn less than £7,400 a year net (not including benefits)
  • 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 lunches.

Apply for free school meals from your local education authority (LEA). You can find your LEA on GOV.UK.

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

Even if your child gets free lunches, 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 like 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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