HARD-UP parents may be able to claim up to £150 to help cover the cost of school uniforms as pupils return to the classroom today.
The support is typically available to households on benefits, but the amount on offer varies wildly depending on where you live.
A uniform costs £101.19 per child in secondary school on average, according to a retailer survey by The Schoolwear Association.
The cost means a million kids' families have to cut back on food and other essentials to pay for it, a report by the The Children's Society has found.
The charity is backing the School Uniform Bill, which is calling for schools to add a value for money criteria to their uniform policies.
The bill is set to be back before MPs this week, and it would mean schools can't expect parents to buy uniforms from one expensive supplier.
In the meantime, struggling families can also get grants to help with the costs. Below we explain all you need to know.
What is a school clothing grant?
Under the Education Act 1990, local authorities have the power to provide financial help to parents on low incomes to assist them with buying school clothing for their children.
But this is not a statutory duty in England.
Sadly, this means parents face a postcode lottery – as each council chooses whether to offer support, who is eligible and what items they will pay for.
The system is different in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where councils are required to offer assistance.
Who is eligible for financial help?
The grants are typically available for people on benefits such as Universal Credit, Jobseeker's allowance and child tax credits.
Children who qualify for free school meals will usually also qualify for uniform help – as long as it’s offered by your council.
In some cases, financial help will be dependent on your children’s age or what type of school they are attending.
Who is eligible for financial help with school uniforms?
RULES vary but generally you will qualify for a school uniform grant in England if you receive one of the following:
- Income support
- Jobseeker's allowance (income based)
- Child tax credit – provided you are not entitled to working tax credit
- Employment support allowance (ESA)
- State pension – this benefit must be your sole source of income
- Support under Part IV of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
- Universal Credit
You may also be able to apply if your annual household income is less than £16,190.
You are likely to be asked to prove that you are legally responsible for the child by providing a recent copy of your bank statement confirming the payment of child benefit to your account.
How much can I claim?
The amount parents can claim in one-off school clothing grants varies hugely across the UK, as councils don't have to provide it.
Payments can vary from £20 up to £150 per child based on where they live, according to FOI data collected by The Sun from 51 councils in England.
Families in London boroughs such as Islington and Hackney can get £150 and £100 respectively.
At the bottom of the scale are those in the West Midlands, with Sandwell council giving out £20 for a child in primary school or £25 for secondary year pupils in years 7 to 11.
Others have been forced to scrap the grants completely or reduce the value due to wider funding cuts, while some have never offered the support.
Of the 51 councils, which are spread across each local region in England, only 12 currently offer a school uniform grant.
Azmina Siddique, policy manager at The Children’s Society, told The Sun: "It’s disappointing that so few areas are offering these grants.
"They help struggling parents forced to make impossible choices between kitting out their children and essentials like food and heating.
"But in addition to nationally accessible and funded grants, what we need now is to make uniforms affordable in the first place."
Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said funding pressures on council budgets are making it "increasingly difficult" for them to continue the grants.
She added: "We would like to see the Department for Education publish guidance on school uniforms to help disadvantaged families, including having uniform items that are widely available on the high street."
The Sun has contacted DoE for comment.
What about in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales?
If you live in Wales, all councils will provide a grant of £125 which can be used to buy school uniform, equipment, sports kit, and kit for activities outside of school.
The amount is set centrally by the Welsh government.
And in Scotland, councils are required to provide grants of at least £100 to cover the costs of school uniform, and in some cases offer higher amounts.
In fact, the FOI data found that the amounts have been hiked by up to 123% to £134 for Scottish councils since 2010.
In Northern Ireland, primary-age pupils can receive £35.75 towards uniforms and PE kit, secondary school kids under 15 can get £73, and kids in school over 15 can get £78.
This is administered by the Northern Irish government, rather than by individual councils, so you will need to apply there instead.
How can I find out if my council offers help?
You can use this government website to work out which local authority you fall under.
Then, to find out whether your local authority offers school uniform grants, the first step is to visit your council's website.
Click on the education tab or search for "uniform grant".
There should be a section that tells you whether help is on offer, how much you might get, the criteria, and what you need to do to apply.
The deadline for applications varies from council to councils, it's worth contacting yours directly.
If your council doesn't offer help, you can try to speak to the school instead.
Do I have any other options?
Yes. Some charities give grants to help with the costs of education.
But bear in mind they often have a limited amount of money to give and usually have specific criteria which must be met in order to get a grant.
For example, members of union Unison can access grants of between £50 and £150 if they meet other income criteria.
And struggling parents who work in supermarkets can apply for a new £150 grant to help with the cost of school uniforms.
Alternatively, Turn2Us has a free grants search tool so you can find out what help is available to you.
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