Help with back to school costs

While we are still enjoying the summer holidays, parents are already planning for back to school, including buying new school uniforms and other supplies. It can be an expensive time, but there may be help available for some families with back to school costs.

There are grants available for eligible families to cover the cost of free school meals and a contribution towards the cost of school uniforms. Applications for these grants can take four weeks to assess, so we are encouraging eligible parents to submit their application online before the end of July, to ensure that grants can be in place before the start of the new school year.

Further information is available below.

Help with school meals

The Education Authority oversees the free school meals scheme for primary and secondary schools, providing eligible pupils with school meals during term time. Note, families who received free school meals during the school year 2021/22 are also entitled to a Summer Food Payment during July and August. Families who receive the Summer Food Payment still need to apply for Free School Meals for the new academic year, beginning in September 2022.

Parents can apply for free school meals if:

  1. Your child is in full time education and you are in receipt of one of the following benefits:
  • Universal Credit – and your net household earnings aren’t over £14,000 a year
  • Child Tax Credit or Working Tax Credit – with an annual household taxable income of £16,190 or less
  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • the Guarantee element of State Pension Credit.
  1. You are an Asylum Seeker supported by the Home Office Asylum Support Assessment Team
  1. Your child has a statement of special educational needs and is designated to need a special diet.

Pupils who are receiving one of the benefits listed above in their own name, and who are in full time education, can also meet the eligibility criteria.

 Help with school uniform costs

The Education Authority also oversees the school uniform grant for pupils in primary, post-primary and special schools. Eligibility criteria is similar to the free school meals scheme, and households are entitled to one clothing allowance, per school-aged pupil, per academic year.

In June, the Education Minister announced that the school uniform grant has been increased by 20% for the academic year 2022/23, reflecting the growing financial pressure on families. The new rates are set out in the table below:

Total Uniform PE
Primary school pupil £42.90 £42.90 N/A
Secondary school and special school pupils: under age 15 on 1 August 2022 £87.60 £61.20 £26.40
Secondary school and special school pupils: 15 years of age or over on 1 August 2022 £93.60 £67.20 £26.40

Transport costs to school

The Education Authority is required to provide transport to and from school for any pupils who meet specific criteria. Support is made available where there is no suitable school within a legal walking or qualifying distance from the pupil’s home, or where the pupil has not secured a place in an appropriate school within that distance. In addition to this, a child with additional educational needs or disabilities may also receive assistance with transport.

The Education Authority website provides an online Eligibility Checker to help parents find out if their child will qualify, prior to completing the formal application, available here:

How to apply for Free School Meals, Uniform Grant and help with school transport costs

Free school meals and school uniform grant applications can be made online. Parents can upload information regarding their benefit entitlement to prove eligibility. Once submitted, the application can take around four weeks to process so we are encouraging eligible parents to submit their application online before the end of July, to ensure that grants can be in place before the start of the new school year.

Note, if you are not currently eligible, but your circumstances change, applications can be made at any time during the academic year where the change of circumstances results in the household meeting the eligibility criteria.

Home to school transport assistance applications can also be made online, for both primary and post primary school pupils.

For further information on free school meals, school uniform grants and home to school transport, including how to apply, visit the Education Authority website.

You can also read more in the information factsheet available on our website.

Personalised advice and guidance

Employers For Childcare’s Family Benefits Advice Service provides free, impartial and confidential advice to parents on the financial support their family is entitled to and can help families work out if they are eligible for support with back to school costs, as well as the cost of registered childcare.

Our team is here to help, and our dedicated advisors can be contacted on Freephone 0800 028 3008 or email