I’m a benefits adviser – all the help parents can get as kids go back to school

Active school kids in uniform running together in corridor. Conception of education.

THE kids will soon be going back to school, but with budgets tighter than ever, this September could be a worrying time for parents and carers.

Energy bills are going up, and the rising cost of food, petrol and other essentials means many households are struggling.

The cost of uniform, lunches and transport can add up

Citizens Advice said its Help with School Costs page has been visited more than 10,000 times in the run-up to the first week of term for many pupils in England and Wales. 

Rachel Ingleby, benefits expert at the charity, said: “We know the start of the school year 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 recently, 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.

“Anyone who needs help finding out what support is available can contact their nearest Citizens Advice.” 

Here’s her checklist so you can make sure you’re getting all the help you’re entitled to.

Free school meals

All kids in government-funded schools and in reception, year one and year two receive free school meals.

Beyond that, your child may receive free school meals if you receive certain benefits, including:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credits
  • Universal Credit

If you’re an asylum seeker you may also get the help.

If your child is eligible for free school meals, they’ll also qualify for the Holiday Activity and Food Programme (HAF), which provides food outside of term time.

To apply, visit this government website and type in your postcode.

Help with transport costs

If your child is aged five to 16, your local education authority might 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.

If your child is older and in a sixth form or is an apprentice, what help they can get depends on where you live. 

Help with activity costs and school uniforms

If you’re on a low income and live in England, 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 as 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 cheap or free secondhand uniforms.

In Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland you may be able to get a school uniform grant.

In Northern Ireland, this is up to £93.60 for the oldest secondary school pupils, up to £150 in Scotland, and up to £300 in Wales through the Pupil Development Grant, which covers school uniform and other costs.

Disability living allowance

Disability living allowance 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.

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.

Healthy start

If you’re more than 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under four, you may be entitled to get help to buy healthy food and milk.

If you’re eligible, you’ll be sent a Healthy Start card with money on it that you can use in some UK shops.

The government will add your benefit onto this card every four weeks.

You can use your card to buy:

  • plain liquid cow’s milk
  • fresh, frozen, and tinned fruit and vegetables
  • fresh, dried, and tinned pulses
  • infant formula milk based on cow’s milk

You can also use your card to collect:

  • Healthy Start vitamins – these support you during pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • vitamin drops for babies and young children – these are suitable from birth to four years old

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