Help with education costs

5 mins read

On this page, you’ll find information about free school meals, help with uniform costs, school transport, EMA and the 16-19 bursary, and the Disabled Students’ Allowance.

In this article

Free school meals

If your child is registered at a maintained school, your local education authority must provide a free midday meal if you claim certain benefits. These include Income Support, income-based Job Seekers Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credit (guarantee credit) and child tax credit (and you are not eligible for working tax credit) with a taxable income below £16,190 (£16,105 in Scotland).

In Scotland and Northern Ireland you also qualify if you get working tax credit – but only so long as your taxable income is less than £6,420 in Scotland or £16,190 in Northern Ireland.

If you get Universal Credit, your entitlement to free school meals will depend on your earnings and where in the UK you live. If you are part of a couple then joint earnings are counted.

Even if you do not receive any of the benefits mentioned above, you are still entitled to free school meals for any child who:

Contact your local authority for more information about free school meals.

If your child receives Universal Credit in their own right they may also qualify for free lunches while at school or college. In England a young person in non advanced education who gets Universal Credit is entitled to free lunches up until the age of 25, so long as they have an Education, Health and Care Plan.

School uniforms

Local authorities have discretion to help with the cost of school clothing for pupils in maintained schools. The rules vary from area to area so you’ll need to ask for education authority about the help available in your area.

In Wales, a grant for uniforms is available to pupils who are eligible for free school meals or who are looked after by their local authority and who are either:

School transport

Local authorities may provide transport or help with the costs for eligible children and young people. Find out more about school transport.

Visiting a child at a special school

Education authorities have discretion to pay some or all of the fares of parents visiting children at a special school a long way from home.

Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) – Wales and Scotland

A weekly payment for 16-18 year olds (and some 19 year olds) who stay on at school/college or who undertake certain types of unwaged training.

The amount awarded depends on parental income.

16-19 bursary – England only

There are two types of bursary. The first is a discretionary bursary for which any young person can apply. However, whether you receive a payment is at the discretion of your school or college.

Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) – England only

Students with higher needs may qualify for a Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) to fund specific study-related support, such as note takers, sign language interpreters, computer equipment or additional travel expenses.

Who is eligible?

Undergraduates and postgraduate students in England can apply for DSA if they have a disability or health condition that affects their study.

This includes a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia; a neurodevelopmental condition, such as autism or ADHD; a mental health condition, such as depression; a physical or sensory disability; or a long-term health condition, such as cancer.

There is no requirement to have had an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan while at school, but the student will need to provide evidence of their disability.

Eligible students must qualify for student finance from Student Finance England, and their course must last at least one year.

How much is Disabled Students’ Allowance?

If your child is eligible for DSA, Student Finance England will invite them to book a needs assessment to determine how much help is needed. This can take some time, so it is important to apply early.

In the 2022-2023 academic year, students can get up to £25,575 a year in DSA.

How to apply

Students apply to DSA either via their Student Finance England account or using an application form, if they don’t need student finance or they study part-time.

Applicants will find out whether they’re eligible for DSA within six weeks.

Your child can talk to student support services at their college or university to get help with their application.

Find out more

For full eligibility criteria, including qualifying courses, and links to apply for DSA, visit

For more support for disabled students in England, Disability Rights UK has a specialist student helpline as well as detailed factsheets on funding for higher education.

And visit our preparing for adult life webpages for more on support for your children as they get older.