Welcome to our monthly advice column from Citizens Advice Bury and Bolton. Each month, we’ll be tackling an advice query about a specific issue, sharing information and letting you know where to go for support. Remember, if you need any advice you can contact our team: freephone 0808 278 7804 or visit www.cabb.org.uk to find out more about our advice by video service or to self-refer.

My oldest child is starting school this month and, with uniforms and PE kits, the costs are already mounting. The school we got into isn’t within walking distance so I now need to budget for bus money five days a week too. We’re already pretty stretched, so I’m not sure how to cover these new costs. Is there any extra help I can get? 

The start of a school year can be tough for many people’s budgets, so you’re not alone in your worries. It’s important that you do not panic as there is help available out there.

Children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 automatically receive free school meals. For older children you can apply for free school meals if you claim certain types of benefits like Universal Credit or any of the following: Child Tax Credit; Working Tax Credit run-on; Income Support; Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; income-related Employment and Support Allowance; or Guarantee Credit (part of Pension Credit). You can find more details on the Citizen’s Advice website on free school meal eligibility and how to apply.

You also may be able to access help with transport costs. If your child is aged 5 to 16, your local education authority (LEA) might be able to offer free or discounted transport if you’re not able to walk to the school. You’ll need to apply for this directly with your LEA, which you can find on the government website.

Your local education authority might help you with activity and school uniform costs if you’re on a low income. You’re probably considered to be on a low income if you get means tested benefits like Universal Credit or Housing Benefit. Again, you’ll need to ask your LEA what help they can give you.

There are also some local charitable schemes that can help – check with your school, as they will usually know if these kinds of schemes are in your area. Schools can sometimes also advise on finding cheap or free second hand uniforms. 

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.

We know this is an extremely worrying time and everyone’s situation is different. You don’t have to struggle alone. If you need further support, contact us via Adviceline on 0808 278 7804, or visit cabb.org.uk for more ways to access advice.

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