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 staff at your local authority.
Getting free school meals
Currently, if your child is in reception, year 1 or year 2 they’ll get free school meals - this is called the ‘Universal Primary Free School Meals’ scheme.
Your child’s school will tell you when your child’s school year is included in this scheme. They might ask you to register your child for free school meals. If your child’s in year 3 or above they might get free school meals - it depends on your local authority.
By September 2024, all children in primary school will get free school meals. Your child might get free school meals sooner depending on what year they’re in. You can check when your child is likely to get free school meals on the Welsh government website.
If your child’s school doesn’t offer free school meals for all students
If your child is in year 3 or above, you can apply for free school meals if you get certain benefits or 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.
If you get Universal Credit
You can apply for free school meals if you either:
started your claim for Universal Credit before 1 April 2019
earn less than £7,400 a year, not including benefits
You’ll remain eligible for free school meals until 31 December 2023, even if your earnings increase or you stop meeting the eligibility criteria. If your child is getting free school meals on 31 December 2023, they’ll continue to get them until they finish their stage of education, for example primary or secondary.
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)
If you're not allowed to claim benefits because of your immigration status
You might be able to get free school meals. Free school meals aren't public funds - applying for them won’t affect your immigration status.
If you don’t get asylum support, contact your local authority for information about how to apply for free school meals. You can find your local authority on the Welsh Government website.
If the local authority rejects your application for free school meals, talk to an adviser.
Applying for free school meals
You can apply for free school meals through your local authority. Find your local authority on the Welsh Government website.
Getting free breakfasts
Your child can get free breakfasts if they're at a primary school that's funded by the local authority. Ask your child's school if they run a breakfast club.
If your child’s school doesn’t have a breakfast club, ask them to apply to the local authority for a free breakfast service.
Get help paying for uniforms and activities
If you're on a low income, your local authority 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 authority what help they can give you. Find your local authority on the Welsh Government website.
If your child is at a maintained special school, ask your local authority if they can help pay travel costs so you can visit.
If you’re on a low income and get certain benefits, you might be able to get a School Essentials Grant of £125, or £200 if your child is going into year 7. The grant is for buying things like school uniforms, school bags and stationery. You can apply for the grant through your local authority. Find your local authority on the Welsh Government website.
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 authority 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 authority if they can help. Find your local authority on the Welsh Government website.
If there's a school nearby that your child could get to more easily, your local 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 authority 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:
go to a primary school more than 2 miles away
are under 17 and go to a secondary school more than 3 miles away
If you're on a low income and your child is 16 to 18
Your child might get an education maintenance allowance (EMA) so that they can study. Find out about the EMA on the Student Finance Wales website.
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.
Page last reviewed on 08 September 2023