PARENTS may be able to claim up to £150 to help cover the cost of buying new school uniform this autumn.
As thoughts turn towards returning to school, you may qualify for some financial help – depending on where you live.
Councils in England can choose whether they offer a grant or not
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 1990, local authorities have the power to provide financial help to parents on low incomes to assist them with buying school clothing for their children.
But this is not a statutory duty in England.
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.
Lots of councils no longer offer the grant, with some blaming years of cutbacks.
The system is different in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where councils are required to offer assistance.
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 – as long as it is offered by a your 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 Greenwich, grants range from £40 for pupils starting reception up to £100 for those entering year seven.
In Tower Hamlets, pupils can receive £110 when they move into year seven.
If you live in Sandwell, the council offers £20 for a child starting in an eligible reception class, or £25 for a child at an eligible secondary school in years seven to 11.
What about in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales?
If you live in Wales, all councils will provide a grant of £125 which can be used to buy school uniform, equipment, sports kit, and kit for activities outside of school.
The amount is set centrally by the Welsh government.
And in Scotland, councils are required to provide grants of at least £100 to cover the costs of school uniform, and in some cases offer higher amounts.
In Northern Ireland, primary-age pupils can receive £35.75 towards uniforms and PE kit, secondary school kids under 15 can get £73, and kids in school over 15 can get £78.
This is administered by the Northern Irish government, rather than by individual councils, so you will need to apply there instead.
How can I find out if my council offers help?
You can use this government website to work out which local authority you fall under.
Then, 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.
School uniform costs can quickly mount up
When do I have to apply?
The deadline for applications varies from council to council.
In many cases, it is before the end of September, although some councils close applications for new claimants as early as July.
Others extend the scheme until the end of the financial year, meaning you can apply until March 31, 2021 and still receive the money in the next academic year.
Do I have any other options?
Yes. Some charities give grants to help with the costs of education.
But bear in mind 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.
For example, members of union Unison can access grants of between £50 and £150 if they meet other income criteria.
And struggling parents who work in supermarkets can apply for a new £150 grant to help with the cost of school uniforms.
The School Essentials Grant, which was launched by the charity GroceryAid last month, is aimed at helping to ease the financial burden of kids going back to school in September.
Or, if one parent works or has recently worked for a UK fashion or textile company, you can apply for a grant from the Fashion and Textile Children’s Trust.
Some towns have specific trusts which support this: if you live in Evesham, Worcestershire, you can apply to local charity John Martin’s Charity for help towards uniform costs.
The best thing to do is to get in touch with your kid’s school to see if a local charity might help.