Help with education costs

7 mins read

This advice applies across the UK.

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 not older than 16 and registered at a maintained school, academy or free school, the school’s governing body must provide a free midday meal if you claim certain benefits.

Eligible benefit claimants

These benefits include:

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 £7,920 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. Joint earnings are counted if you are part of a couple.

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 (EHC) plan.

Who else is eligible?

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

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

Unable to access your child’s free school meal?

Many disabled children are entitled to free school meals, but struggle to access their entitlement to them
because of their disability or medical condition.

Schools have a legal duty to make “reasonable adjustments” to the way they deliver free school lunches. Use our legal guide and these template letters to ask your school for a food voucher. This includes if your child is in receipt of an EOTAS package.

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. You’ll need to ask your education authority about the help available in your area.

In Wales, a grant for uniforms is available to pupils 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

A young person aged 16-19 could receive a bursary to help with education-related costs if they:

There are two types of bursary.

1. Bursary for students in vulnerable groups

Your child may be able to a get bursary if at least one of the following applies to them:

The amount they may get depends on their costs and what they need for their course. This might include money for books, equipment or travel costs to school or college.

2. Discretionary bursary

Young people can apply for a discretionary bursary if they need financial help, but do not meet the requirements above for a bursary for students in vulnerable groups.

The school, college or training provider will make the decision to award the bursary. They will set their own criteria for discretionary bursaries and may look at your child’s individual circumstances, including household income.

Your child can apply for a discretionary bursary if they are aged 19 and over and either:

See more information on bursaries on and read the statutory guidance, which explains eligibility criteria in full.

Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) – England only

Students with higher needs may qualify for a Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) to fund specific study-related support. This might be 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 £26,948 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.