Money Wellness
image of school children in school uniform
category iconcost of living
calendar icon27 Jun 2023

Parents still forking out £100s for school uniform despite government rules

Parents are still having to spend money they can’t afford on school uniform, despite rules meant to lower the cost.

In a study published today, the Children’s Society found parents spent on average £287 a year on primary uniforms and £422 on secondary.

It says the cost remains stubbornly high as some schools still have rules forcing parents to buy more costly branded items. It pointed out it wasn’t just a one-off annual cost either, with many parents having to replace lost or damaged items throughout the year.

What are the rules when it comes to uniform?

Schools are required to make sure school uniforms are affordable. Cost shouldn’t be a barrier to families and pupils applying for and attending a school.

Schools are supposed to:

  • limit the number of branded items in their uniform
  • make sure second-hand uniforms are available to all – with information on where to buy them included on their website

What if I can’t afford the uniform?

You may be able to get help with school uniform costs. The support available varies between local councils, with some providing up to £200 in the form or a non-repayable grant.

To find out how much you can get, contact your local council.

Am I eligible for a school uniform grant?

Eligibility criteria are set by your local council. Generally, the minimum requirement is that your child qualifies for free school meals (whether you claim them or not). To be eligible for free school meals, you’ll need to be receiving at least one of the following 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’ for four weeks after you stop qualifying for working tax credit


How do I apply for a school uniform grant?

If a grant is available to you, you should apply through your local council.

You’ll need proof:

  • of address
  • of guardianship
  • that you get one of the qualifying means-tested benefits

Schools Guide has a list of all local councils.


When should I apply for a school uniform grant?

Application dates vary depending on your local council. Most open for applications at the end of June and stay open until at least the end of September. Applications must be made for the current school year and can’t be backdated.


When is the school uniform grant paid?

School uniform grants are usually paid out within two weeks of you making an application. The grant is a one-off payment. You’ll have to make a new application each year.

Grants are usually paid into your bank account, although some councils will refund payments you’ve already made directly to suppliers.


How much is a school unform grant?

The amount varies on your local council and where you live in the UK.

In England, some local councils give uniform grants of up to £200. However, some don’t offer anything at all. Sometimes support is also only offered at certain times, such as when a child starts school or transfers 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 councils offer more.


Are there any other ways to get help with school uniform?

If you can’t get help from your local council, you can speak to your child’s headteacher. In some cases, schools can use pupil premium grant money to help with uniform costs. Some schools will offer vouchers towards uniforms and all schools should be able to direct you towards providers of second-hand uniform. It’s a legal requirement for information on where to get second-hand uniform to be listed on a school’s website.

School parent groups often run second-hand uniform sales or have a dedicated Facebook marketplace page. Freecycle and other neighbourhood groups can also be a good source of second-hand uniforms.

For branded school uniform, some schools will provide the badges separately. These can then be sewn onto cheaper non branded sweatshirts and blazers.


Do you pay VAT on school uniforms?

This is very frustrating for parents, particularly if your children are taller or bigger than average for their age.

Clothes and shoes for younger children are not subject to VAT. However, clothes size 14 years and above are subject to the full standard rate of 20%.

Avatar of Caroline Chell

Caroline Chell

Caroline has worked in financial communications for more than 10 years, writing content on subjects such as pensions, mortgages, loans and credit cards, as well as stockbroking and investment advice.

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