When the school costs start to stack up

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A local expert from Citizen’s Advice provides timely tips on consumer issues. In the postbag this month:

Q: ‘My children are starting new schools in September, one in primary and the other secondary. Between uniforms, PE kit and catching the bus each day, the costs are adding up and I’m not sure how to cover it all. Is there any help I can get?’

A: The new school year puts pressure on budgets for many families – and yes, there is help available.
A good place to start is the Citizens Advice website. There you’ll find lots of useful information on the support you might be entitled to for school-related costs.
The help you can get to cover school lunches will vary, depending on how old your children are and whether you claim benefits. Children in Reception, Year 1 and 2 automatically get free school meals.
You can also apply for free school meals for older children if you claim certain types of benefits, including Universal Credit, Child Tax Credit and Income Support.

Transport
If your child can’t walk to school because of special educational needs or disabilities they should get free school transport.
If your children can’t walk because it’s dangerous or too far, you may also be able to get help with transport costs from your Local Education Authority (LEA).
Your LEA is the part of your local council that deals with education in your area. Contact it directly to find out exactly what support it offers.

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Uniform options
If you’re on a low income, your LEA may also be able to help with activity and school uniform costs. You’re likely to be considered to be on a low income if you get means-tested benefits like Universal Credit or Housing Benefit. There may also be a local charitable scheme that can help (for example, the community-run Boutique in Sturminster Newton collects and distributes free secondhand unforms for the local schools).
A good place to find out about this is the school itself or the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) – both will know if these kinds of schemes exist locally.

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