Parents spend an average of £315 per year for primary school uniform per child and £337 for secondary, according to a recent report by The Children’s Society. This is three times more than most parents think school uniform should cost. The recent cost of living crisis has made things even harder for families and some are having to cut back on essentials to afford school uniforms for their children.
If you are on a low income and struggling with the costs of school uniform you may be entitled to a school uniform grant, also known as a school clothing grant in Scotland.
The exact criteria varies depending on your Local Authority but generally the minimum requirement is to qualify for, but not necessarily get, free school meals. To qualify for free school meals you need to be getting at least one of these means tested benefits:
• Child tax credit
• Income support
• Income-based job seekers allowance
• Income-related employment and support allowance
• Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
• The guaranteed element of pension credit
• Universal credit
• Working tax credit ‘run-on’ paid for four weeks after you stop qualifying for working tax credit
Grants should be applied for through your Local Authority. You will have to provide the relevant documentation including proof of address, guardianship and receipt of the relevant means tested benefit.
School Guide has a list of all the Local Authority websites.
Application dates vary depending on your Local Authority. Most open for applications at the end of June and stay open until at least the end of September, often longer. Applications have to be made for the current school year, grants can’t be backdated.
School uniform grants are usually paid out within two weeks of you making the application. The grant is a one off payment. If you need a grant another year you will have to reapply. Grants will usually be paid into your bank account, although some local authorities will reimburse payments made to approved retailers.
The amount and availability varies a lot depending on where you live in the UK and on your Local Authority.
In England, whether grants are available or not is a postcode lottery. Some Local Authorities give uniform grants of up to £150. However, many do not offer them as they aren’t required to. Estimates suggest that less than a fifth of Local Authorities in England offer any support. Where they do offer uniform grants, the amounts are often a lot less than £150 and support is sometimes only given at certain times, for example when children start school or transfer to secondary school.
In Scotland the grant is known as a school clothing grant and is at least £120 for a primary school child and £150 for a secondary school child. Some Local Authorities offer larger amounts.
In Wales, the pupil development grant is £125 for Reception, Years 1,3,5,8, 9 and 10 pupils and £200 for Year 7 pupils, to reflect the costs of the transition to secondary school.
In Northern Ireland the uniform grant is £43 for primary school pupils and up to £68 for secondary pupils depending on age. Extra money is also given for PE kit.
If you can’t get help from your Local Authority you can approach your child’s school directly. In some cases schools can use pupil premium grant money to help with school uniform costs. Some schools will offer vouchers towards uniforms and all schools should be able to direct you towards providers of second hand uniform. There should always be information on where to get second hand uniform on the school website as well.
School PTAs often run second hand uniform sales or have a dedicated site on Facebook marketplace or similar sites. Freecycle and similar neighbour groups can also be a good source of second hand uniforms.
For branded school uniform items some schools will provide the badges separately. These can then be sewn on to cheaper non branded sweatshirts or blazers.
A recent survey by YouGov, found that 66% of people thought that schools should help with school uniform costs when necessary.
Individual schools can set their own policy on school uniform. The majority of schools do have a uniform. The Department of Education recommends them as they believe that “uniforms provide a sense of belonging for students. They are helpful in creating a good learning environment and can promote the ethos of the school.”
The Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniform) Act 2021 was introduced to try and reduce the costs of school uniform. It required schools to review their policies on school uniforms and take measures to make them more affordable. The main things schools should be doing are:
• Keeping branded clothing items to a minimum and limiting them to low cost items or long lasting items. Cost and value for money must be considered if schools decide to appoint specialist suppliers for branded items.
• Prioritising cost and value for money when deciding where uniform can be bought from. Schools are being encouraged to have all or most of their uniform available from lower cost suppliers such as supermarkets rather than more expensive specialist school uniform suppliers.
• Making second hand uniforms available and accessible for parents and carers. Schools should either direct parents to an established scheme or set up their own provision.
• Publishing school uniform policies on school websites alongside information on how to get second hand uniforms. These should be available to current and prospective pupils.
• Engaging with parents and pupils on cost issues when developing or making changes to their school uniform policy. Schools should consider the cost of the whole uniform including PE kit.
• Ensuring that, where uniform requirements are different for boys and girls, there isn’t a significant difference in price.
The new DofE guidelines aim to ensure that “The cost (of uniform) should never be a barrier to families and pupils applying for and attending a school.” Mark Russell, chief executive of the Children’s Society welcomed these changes saying: “For too many years the cost of school uniform has been a heavy financial burden on many families… so these new guidelines to make sure school uniforms are affordable are extremely welcome.”
All state funded schools should have been compliant with most of the guidelines from September 2022. They should be fully compliant by September 2023. Some flexibility will be allowed in cases where schools are tied into contracts with uniform providers.
If you think that your child’s school isn’t following the guidelines you should first raise the issue with the school through their complaints procedure. If your complaint isn’t addressed you can raise it further with your Local Authority or the Department of Education.
This is a very frustrating issue for parents, particularly those whose children are taller or bigger than average for their age. Clothes and shoes for young children are not subject to VAT. However, clothes size 14 years and above are subject to the full standard rate of 20% VAT. There is increasing pressure to change this. One suggestion is that VAT be removed from branded school uniform items.