BUDGET school uniforms are flying off the shelves as cash-strapped parents rush to snap up bargains before the beginning of the school year.
But did you know that some families can get up to £150 towards school uniform and PE kit costs for their children?
2 In England and Wales, local education authorities have discretion to give help with the cost of school clothing
And the extra help is needed, considering school policies — and the rising costs of uniforms — mean a million kids’ families fall into debt paying for clobber according to research from charity The Children’s Society.
So where can struggling parents find help meeting back-to-school costs? And how do you apply?
What is a school clothing grant?
Under the Education Act 1996, local authorities have the power to provide financial help to parents on low incomes to assist them with buying school clothing for their children.
How can I find out whether I qualify?AS a parent, you may be entitled to certain types of financial help, depending on your financial circumstances.Some local councils provide help with the cost of school clothing, including PE kit.
The government provides an online central service to help parents find out if their council will help them.
The service will then redirect you to your local authority’s website, where you can find the relevant information by looking at the “Education” tab.
But this is not a statutory duty.
Sadly, this means parents face a postcode lottery – as each council chooses whether to offer financial aid, who is eligible and what items they will help pay for.
Who is eligible for financial help?
Again, this will depend on your local authority, but as a general rule, grants are available for people on a range of benefits including jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment benefit or pension tax credits.
Often, children that qualify for free school meals will also qualify for uniform help – if it is offered by a specific council.
In some cases, financial help will be dependent on your children’s age or what type of school they are attending.
How much can I claim?
The amount low-income parents can claim in one-off school clothing grants varies hugely across the UK.
There are plenty of local authorities that don’t offer any help to struggling parents.
In most cases, financial help will be dependent on what year your child is in.
For example, in the London Borough of Hounslow, a £60 school clothing grant is payable to secondary school pupils attending year seven and year nine only, and only for families whose household income does not exceed £16,190.
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The City of London Corporation’s school clothing grant policy – which helps families on low incomes living in the City – offers a maximum grant of £135 for families whose children are transferring to secondary school or £30 for children starting reception class in September.
Meanwhile, the Royal Borough of Greenwich offers four different types of grant ranging from £40 for pupils starting reception up to £100 for those entering year seven.
Islington council is currently offering one of the most generous grants we found with £150 given to mums and dads towards the cost of school uniform at the start of secondary school.
This compares to just £45 from Southwark council. This scheme is available for any children who are eligible for free school meals.
Some councils, such as Lambeth, offer no help towards school clothing costs at all and advise parents to get in touch with the school directly.
2 The amount low-income parents can claim in school clothing grants varies hugely across the UKCredit: Getty Images
The situation is similar in Scotland where the amount you get very much depends on where you live.
According to a BBC investigation in 2017, in West Lothian, parents can receive up to £110 per child, while in North Ayrshire the maximum is £40.
However a recent study conducted by the broadcaster showed a 32 per cent increase in uniform grants from Edinburgh council – there are now 4,339 grants compared to 2018’s 3,281.
Grants have risen to a minimum of £100 per pupil across the board in Scotland.
In Wales, the government provides a one-off school uniform grant – currently to the value of £125 – for any pupils starting reception class in primary school, any aged four or 11 in special schools and any entering year seven – as long as they are claiming free school meals.
I live in Northern Ireland. Am I eligible?IN Northern Ireland, the Education Authority pays a uniform grant to pupils who attend a primary, secondary, grammar or special school.This means all schools are expected to give high priority to the cost of uniforms.
The eligibility criteria is similar to those used for free school meals.The level of support is as follows:
Primary school – £35.75
Post-primary/special school for under 15s – £51
Post-primary/special school for over 15s – £56
Post-primary/special school PE – £22
You can find more information on NI Direct.
How can I find out if my council offers help?
To find out whether your local authority offers school uniform grants, the first step is to visit your council’s website.
Click on the education tab or search for “uniform grant”.
There should be a section that tells you whether help is on offer, how much you might get, the criteria, and what you need to do to apply.
If your council doesn’t offer help, you can always speak to the school directly.
According to the government’s information on school uniform, you should contact charity Citizen’s Advice if your child’s school is forcing you to buy expensive uniform from a single supplier.
You can call the helpline on 03454 04 05 06.
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Do I have any other options?
Yes. According to Citizens Advice, some charities give grants to help with the costs of education.
But bear in mind that charities often have a limited amount of money to give and usually have very specific criteria which must be met in order to get a grant.
The best thing to do is to get in touch with your school to see if a local charity might help.
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