Help with school costs
If you're on a low income, you might be able to get help with some of the costs of sending your child to school, including school meals, transport and uniform.
You're probably on a low income if you get benefits such as tax credits or Employment and Support Allowance. If you're not sure, you can ask your local council.
Getting free school meals
Your child will automatically get free school meals if they're in reception class or year 1 or 2.
If your child is in year 3 or above, you can apply for free school meals if:
you get certain benefits
you get asylum support
You might also be able to get free school meals if you’re not allowed to claim benefits because of your immigration status - for example, if you get section 17 support from your local council.
If you get universal credit
You can apply for free school meals if you either:
started your claim for Universal Credit before 1 April 2018
earn less than £7,400 a year net, not including benefits
You’ll remain eligible for free school meals until 31 March 2025, even if your earnings increase or you stop getting Universal Credit. If your child is getting free school meals on 31 March 2025, they’ll keep getting them until they finish their stage of education, for example primary or secondary.
Even if your child gets free meals, you should tell your local council if you're on a low income and get Universal Credit. You might be able to get other help with school costs and your child's school might get extra money. Find your local council on GOV.UK.
If you get other benefits
You can apply for free school meals if you get any of these benefits:
Child Tax Credit - 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 4 weeks if you're no longer eligible for Working Tax Credit
income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
income-related Employment and Support Allowance
Guarantee Credit (part of Pension Credit)
Even if your child gets free meals, you should tell your local council if you're on a low income and get benefits. You might be able to get other help with school costs - and your child's school might get extra money. Find your local council on GOV.UK.
If you're not allowed to claim benefits because of your immigration status
You might be able to apply for free school meals. Free school meals aren’t public funds - applying for them won’t affect your immigration status.
Whether you can apply for free school meals depends on both:
your family's total annual income after tax
whether you're in an eligible group
You can apply if your total income is less than:
£22,700 if you live outside London and have 1 child
£26,300 if you live outside London and have 2 or more children
£31,200 if you live in London and have 1 child
£34,800 if you live in London and have 2 or more children
Contact your child’s school or your local council for information about how to apply. Find your local council on GOV.UK.
Applying for free school meals
Get help paying for uniforms and activities
If you're on a low income, your local council might help you with some costs. For example, they might help with the cost of uniforms, computer equipment or learning a musical instrument.
Ask your local council what help they can give you. Find your local council on GOV.UK.
If your child is at a maintained special school, ask your local council if they can help pay travel costs so you can visit.
You should be able to buy second hand uniforms for your child’s school at a cheaper price. The school should have information about how to buy second hand uniforms on their website. If they don't, show them the government guidance about school uniforms on GOV.UK.
Your child's school can ask you to pay for some activities such as museum or theatre trips. They should tell you if it's a voluntary payment - if you can't afford to pay, they can't stop your child from attending. But the school can cancel the activity if they don't get enough money to pay for it.
Apply for help with transport to and from school
If your child is aged 5 to 16, your local council might help with free or lower-cost transport if you don't live near school or your child's unable to walk there.
If your child is older and in a sixth form or is an apprentice, what help they can get depends on where you live.
You'll need to ask your local council if they can help. Find your local council on GOV.UK.
If there's a school nearby that your child could get to more easily, your local council doesn't have to pay for travel to and from their school.
If you think your child should get free travel but your local council refuses, you can appeal. Get help with your appeal on the Child Law Advice website.
If your child can't walk to school
If your child can't walk to school because of their special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), they should be entitled to free school transport.
You might also get help if your child can't walk to school because it's dangerous - for example, because they need to cross major roads.
If you don't live near the school
If you're on a low income, your child might get free travel if they go to:
a primary school more than 2 miles away
a secondary school between 2 and 15 miles away
If you're not on a low income, your child might get free travel if they're:
under 8 and their school's more than 2 miles away
between 8 and 16 and their school's more than 3 miles away
Getting help from the PTA or charities
Ask the parent teacher association (PTA) at your child's school if they help parents with money. You can usually find the PTA's contact details on your school's website or ask in the school office.
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Page last reviewed on 08 September 2023