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Back to school: Struggling to make ends meet? A summary of some of the help available with meal, uniform and transport among other costs




Rachael Williamson, head of fundraising, communications and research for Citizens Advice East Herts, who lives in Bishop's Stortford, writes a fortnightly column for the Indie...

We’ve received lots of queries recently from people struggling with day-to-day costs, particularly those with children.

If you’re on a low income or unemployed, you might be able to get help with some of the costs of sending your child to school, including school meals, transport and uniform. Here is a summary of some of the support available:

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Free school meals

Children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 automatically get free school meals. If you have older children you can apply for free school meals if you get certain benefits. You can see the full list of eligibility requirements on the Citizens Advice website.

To apply for free school meals, you need to contact your local authority. You can check the details at www.gov.uk by typing in your postcode.

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Transport and other costs

If your children are aged 5 to 16, your local education authority (LEA) might offer free or lower-cost transport if you don't live near school or your children are unable to walk there. Children might also be entitled to help with music lessons.

You need to apply to your LEA for help but in general you should be able to get support if your children are eligible for free school meals or if you get:

  • Child Tax Credit, payable at a higher rate than the family element (more than £547.50)
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Housing Benefit
  • Council Tax Support (not including second adult rebate)
  • Universal Credit with annual earned income of no more than £7,400 (for 100% music help) or £15,000 (for 50% music help) after tax and not including any benefits you receive.
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School uniform

Some local authorities offer help with uniform costs for those in need, but unfortunately Herts County Council is not one of them.

Essex County Council provides some support in exceptional circumstances – see www.essex.gov.uk/grants-in-exceptional-circumstances. It’s worth checking with the school to see if it knows of any support available.

Schools can also advise on whether there’s a system in place for accessing second-hand uniform – and some are registered with www.grownoutofit.co.uk/school-uniform/.

Children aged 16+

If your child is staying in education after Year 11, you must tell HMRC’s (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) 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.

Benefits calculator

Our free online benefits calculator provides a quick and easy way to check if you might be entitled to income support, which may in turn unlock further help with childcare costs. See www.citizensadviceeastherts.org.uk/benefits-calculator/.

* Citizens Advice East Herts is a registered charity that offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all issues. You can call us on 01920 459 944 (leave a message for a call back). See www.citizensadviceeastherts.org.uk for more details.



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