School uniform costs are proving to costly for parents. BACK-to-school time can be costly for families but a little-known scheme could help… if you live in the right area.
Parents spend an average of £70 for one set of school uniform and one in five parents spends £150, according to Citizens Advice Bureau research. The good news is that parents finding things tough could get a grant of up to £150 per child.
But a Sun on Sunday investigation found getting the cash is a postcode lottery and each district has different criteria.
School clothing grants are managed in England by local councils who have powers under the Education Act 1996 to give financial help to low-income parents to help their children attend school.
Some areas don’t offer the grants and several have cut back the service, blaming austerity. Those that do provide the grants offer sums ranging from £15 to £150.
Some councils only provide grants to children who get free school meals, whose parents receive certain benefits or whose family income is below a set level.
Several refuse to pay for children at academy schools, run independently. And many only give for certain school years, the start of primary or secondary school when parents have to buy lots of uniform.
So it all becomes a bit of a postcode lottery.
In Nottingham, pupils going into reception and years one, four, seven, nine and 11 are eligible for grants between £15 and £40 if parents get benefits such as income support or jobseeker’s allowance.
But in Lancashire, pupils with free school meals are only eligible if their uniform has been lost in “fire or flood”, they have a medical condition that requires extra clothing or they have been forced to move school during the year due to family problems or special educational needs.
A postcode lottery for grants
CITY OF LONDON – £135 for children starting secondary school or £30 for those starting primary school reception.
HOUNSLOW, GREATER LONDON – £60 grant for pupils in years seven or nine only.
ROTHERHAM, SOUTH YORKS – grants no longer offered.
SOUTHEND, ESSEX – grants no longer offered.
NOTTINGHAM – £15 to £40 grant to reception and years one, four, seven, nine and 11, depending on what year the child is in.
NEWCASTLE – no grants are offered.
ISLINGTON, LONDON – £150 for kids starting secondary school.
CUMBRIA – Offers clothing vouchers.
EAST SUSSEX – Grants no longer offered.
SCOTLAND – minimum £100 grant.
NORTHERN IRELAND – grants of between £22 and £56.
The council makes clear that “low income in itself would not generally be considered an exceptional circumstance”. In contrast, Scottish parents on low incomes get minimum grants of £100 per child from this academic year, after the Scottish government set a standard level to avoid the postcode lottery. The £12million scheme is expected to benefit 120,000 children this year.
In Wales, the Government provides a one-off school uniform grant up to the value of £125 for pupils entering year seven and claiming free school meals. In Northern Ireland, the education authority pays a uniform grant of between £22 and £56 to pupils on free school meals.
It can be confusing to work out whether you are eligible, so contact your local council or search for “Uniform grant” in the “Education” section of their website.
Charities in some parts of the UK also help. For example, Wood Street Mission aimed to give uniforms to 55,000 children in Manchester in 2015. Search online for “school uniform charity” and the name of your area.
Also look out for local second-hand uniform sales, often advertised in community centres or on social media.
Or buy at Tesco, Asda and Aldi, where a uniform set can be just £5.
You can also appeal to your child’s school if worried about affording uniform, and contact Citizen’s Advice if the school is forcing you to buy from a single expensive supplier.
Consumer expert Anders Nilsson, of myvouchercodes.co.uk, adds: “Discount codes, cashback sites or even waiting until the kids have returned to school to take advantage of sales are also ways to save.”
Edited by Daniel Jones (The Sun news paper)