Can you get help with school uniform costs?
Parents typically need to find at least £39 per week for a child’s secondary school education and £19 for a primary-aged child, research for Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) finds.
Although education is free at the point of access, in reality, the cost of uniforms, learning materials, school trips, packed lunch and transport sets most parents back at least £39.01 per week, per secondary school child and £18.69 per primary child. Excluding before and after-school childcare and household costs like printers, the research found the annual price tag for going to secondary school is £1,755.97 per child and £864.87 for a primary school child. That’s £18,345.85 for children to go through all 14 years of school.
Can schools force you into buying uniform?
According to a dedicated government website for the Department Of Education, school uniforms can create a sense of identity and community for a school and its pupils, reduce peer pressure for the latest clothes and help children feel settled and prepared for lessons, but they can be costly for parents.
It will inevitably vary, but fundamentally the costs of school uniform should not be so expensive that it leaves pupils or their families feeling unable to apply to, or attend, a school of their choice, or type of school, due to the high costs of new school uniforms.
Legally binding guidance on the cost of school uniforms was announced in 2021, by the Department Of Education, which schools must take into account when developing and implementing their own uniform policy. This is expected to be implemented by this Summer by all UK schools unless they are tied into a contract with a uniform company.
Schools should prioritise thinking about how much it will cost parents and carers when deciding on a uniform policy. This includes the cost of providing extra clothing that pupils will need to wear outside the classroom, such as a PE kit.
Keep branded items to a minimum and be limited to low-cost or long-lasting items
Prioritise considering cost and value for money in their supply arrangements
Make second-hand uniforms available and accessible for parents and carers
Publish their uniform policy on their website and ensure it is easily understood
Engage with parents and pupils on cost issues when they are developing their uniform policy
Can I get financial help with school uniforms?
If you are on a low income and are finding yourself struggling with the cost of school uniform and are worrying about the cost of new school uniform for later in the year, then you may want to look into your eligibility for school uniform grants from your local council.
Firstly it's important to mention that not all councils offer a school uniform grant, most don't, but you may be lucky and live in an area where you can get some financial assistance. Under the Education Act 1990, local authorities do have the power to provide financial help to parents on low incomes to assist them with buying school clothing for their children; however, the councils in England are not actually required to do this, and with councils having budgets slashed, and ever-increasing costs such as energy bills, most councils simply don't have the funds to help. Still, some do, so it's worth investigating!
How much is the school uniform grant worth?
Eligible families may be able to claim up to around £150 - £200 as a grant, which doesn't need to be repaid if your household has an annual income of less than £16,190 per year. The eligibility criteria for this financial support is that you must be receiving a qualifying benefit such as:
Child tax credit
Income-based jobseeker's allowance
Income-related employment and support allowance
Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
The guaranteed element of pension credit
Working tax credit run-on – paid for four weeks after you stop qualifying for working tax credit
You may find councils requiring additional criteria for receiving a grant, such as your child moving from one school to another and needing a whole new uniform, rather than the child simply outgrowing their current uniform. You must also prove that you are legally responsible for the child by sending the school admissions and benefits team a recent copy of your bank statement confirming the payment of child benefit to your account and proof of address.
The grants are a postcode lottery, unfortunately, but it's easy enough to check if your council are offering extra assistance by using the government's postcode checking tool, which covers the whole of the UK and will confirm if your local authority is offering the grant. The majority of councils aren't offering these a grant to help with school uniform costs due to current funding issues, but some still do, so it's definitely worth checking!
You need to apply as soon as possible for the school clothing grant once the claim season opens, as limited resources are available, as you can imagine. Usually, claims can be made from July through March, depending on any individual country or council's policy.
Now, again it's worth mentioning that most people won't be able to get the grant, but if not, it's worth speaking to your Child's school to see if they have any extra uniform available or if perhaps the school are going to be having a uniform sale, which many do, to help raise funds for the school through the sale of excess/donated uniform, or even lost property. Information on how to buy second-hand uniforms should be published on the school website.
If you cannot afford the uniform or the PE kit, you should contact the headteacher to check what support is available, as they may have some additional help for exceptional circumstances.
Alternatively, have a browse through Facebook Marketplace to see if anyone has a uniform for sale or if your child's school has a Facebook page, ask on there if anyone has any old uniforms they are looking to sell/giveaway, or put a request on local social media sites, asking if anybody has any as well, many people often don't think to list old uniform, and so seeing someone asking on Facebook etc., may well result in them offering up uniform to you, I've seen it happen frequently.
You may find selling sites such as Vinted and Ebay are well worth a look as well.
Also, check on Olio, the food waste app, and although this isn't food waste, there is a non-food section, and you may find uniforms listed, or you can make a request for anyone with any spare uniform.
Avoid buying non-branded uniforms direct from the main uniform suppliers; it goes without saying that plain white t-shirts, plain jumpers, socks, coats etc., can be bought from the discount retailers such as Primark and the supermarkets, and this will save you a fortune, and let's face it, a white t-shirt is likely to be far from white, after a being worn a few times, so no point spending a fortune on something that's going to be ruined in no time!
Most supermarkets will have special offers on back-to-school wear. Even the traditionally more expensive retailers, such as M&S, come up with some cracking deals to keep the kids clothed on a budget, so it's well worth looking around and also searching for terms such as 'cheap school uniform' on Facebook and Instagram, as people will often shout out about uniform bargains they have found one social media, and this may help you find the better deal!