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Back-to-school checklist for first-time benefits claimants

7 Medi 2020

Citizens Advice has seen double the number of visits to its Help with School Costs page during the run-up to the first week of term for many pupils in England and Wales. Page views jumped from 5,566 in August 2019 to 12,069 in August 2020. 

Rachel Ingleby, Benefits Expert at Citizens Advice, 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 during this pandemic, 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.” 

Below is the charity’s checklist for help with ongoing school costs in England (the rules differ in Wales): 

  1. Free school meals. Children in Reception and Years 1 or 2 automatically get free school meals. If you have older children you can apply for free school meals if you get certain benefits:

    Universal Credit  - if you started your claim for Universal Credit before 1 April 2018 or generally earn less than £7,400 a year after tax, not including benefits.

    Child Tax Credit - but you can't apply for free meals if your yearly income is £16,190 or more before tax or you're also entitled to Working Tax Credit.

    Working Tax Credit run-on - you might get this for four weeks if you're no longer eligible for Working Tax Credit.

    Income Support.

    Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance

    Income-related Employment and Support Allowance

    Guarantee Credit (part of Pension Credit)

    Asylum Support - if you've asked for asylum and you're waiting for a decision.

    To apply for free school meals you need to contact your local authority, you can check the details at by typing your postcode in.
  2. Help with transport to and from school. 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.
  3. Help with activity costs and school uniforms. If you're on a low income, 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 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 secondhand uniforms.
  4. Disability living allowance. This 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.
  5. 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.

Notes to editors

  1. Citizens Advice is made up of the national charity Citizens Advice; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.

  2. Our network of charities offers impartial advice online and over the phone, for free. 

  3. We helped 2.8 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2019-20. And we had 34.5 million visits to our website. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.

You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 for Welsh language speakers.