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Help with school costs

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

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 Universal Credit. If you're not sure, you can ask staff at the education authority for your area.

You can find your local education authority on nidirect.

Getting free school meals

You can apply for free school lunches if you're on a low income and get any of these benefits:

  • Child Tax Credit - but you can't apply for free meals if you're also entitled to Working Tax Credit and your yearly income is £16,190 or more before tax
  • Working Tax Credit run-on - you might get this for 4 weeks if you're no longer eligible for Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit and you don't earn more than £14,000 a year after tax
  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Guarantee Credit (part of Pension Credit)

If you've asked for asylum and you're getting asylum support while you wait for a decision, you can also apply for free school lunches.

Apply for free school meals from your local education authority. You can find your local education authority on nidirect.

Getting help to pay for activities and uniforms

If you're on a low income, your education authority might help you with some costs. For example, they might help with the cost of uniforms or learning a musical instrument.

You need to ask your education authority what help they can give you. You can find your local education authority on nidirect.

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.

Applying for help with transport to and from school

If your child is 19 or under and in full-time education, your education authority might help with free or lower cost transport if you don't live near school or your child's unable to walk there.

You'll need to apply to your education authority. You can find your local education authority on nidirect.

If there's a school nearby that your child could get to more easily, your local education authority doesn't have to pay for travel to and from their school.

If you think your child should get free travel but your local education authority refuses, you can appeal.

You can find out more about appealing on the Education Authority website.

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 of exceptional circumstances - for example they're being severely and persistently bullied. You can find out more about help with travel in exceptional circumstances on the Education Authority website.

You don't live near the school

Your child might get free travel if they're:

  • under 11 and their school's more than 2 miles away
  • 11 or over and their school's more than 3 miles away

Getting advice

You can find information and advice about free school transport on the Education Authority website.

Getting financial help for 16- to 18-year-olds

f you're on a low income and your child is 16 to 18, they might get an education maintenance allowance (EMA) so that they can study. Find out about the EMA on the nidirect website.

Getting help from the PTA or charities

Ask your school's parent teacher association (PTA) if they help parents financially. You'll usually get their contact details from the school office or on the school website.

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