With the school holidays underway, it's a good time to start thinking about next term's start-up costs. Educating your kids can be an expensive business, right from the start. On average, the first year at primary school costs over £2,700 in the UK. Once they get to secondary school age, those costs ramp up almost £6,800. All that's assuming you're only looking at a state school, of course. Private school costs are a whole other story.

Of course, there are always things you can do to help lighten the load of sending the kids to school. From getting them there to getting them through the day, every step of the process has a few tricks to bring the costs down. Even after-school care doesn't have to break the bank, if you know what help you qualify for. Here's a quick run-down.

Travel costs

If you've ever claimed a tax refund, then you already know how much your travel costs can stack up.

For the school run, it's possible you might get a helping hand from the local authority. If your kids are under 8, anything over a 2-mile journey can mean you qualify for free transport. Older children only get this if the trip is over 3 miles, though.Not all local authorities offer the same terms, so make sure you check what yours can do for you by putting your postcode into the Home to School Transport checker tool on the Government website.

If you've got any particular challenges or circumstances to deal with, you might be able to get some extra help, too. Children with special needs or journeys that aren't safe to walk can sometimes qualify you for free transport, for instance. You can find out more and apply through the government website.

School meals

Hungry kids have a tough time concentrating at school, but keeping them properly nourished can be a strain on your day-to-day finances. Depending on your circumstances, your children might qualify for a free school lunch if you get any of the following:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • the guaranteed element of Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit (provided you’re not also entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual gross income of no more than £16,190)
  • Working Tax Credit run-on - paid for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit

Again, though, you have to check what's on offer from your local authority.

Children who get paid these benefits directly, instead of through a parent or guardian, can also get free school meals.

Your child might also get free school meals if you get any of these benefits and your child is both younger than the compulsory age for starting school and in full-time education

Your child will be able to get free school meals if you live in England and they’re in:

  • reception class
  • year 1
  • year 2

Tell your local authority if you also get any of the above benefits. Your child’s school can get extra funding if you do.

Uniform costs

School uniforms are another area where you might be able to get some support. Some local councils are willing to help out, as are some school governing bodies, parents groups and charities.

Some local education authorities restrict help to school uniform only, some pay a one-off grant when the pupil starts school while others pay regular grants as the pupil grows and needs new clothing. Some local education authorities give the help as cash grants, while others give vouchers to be used at local shops and others give actual items of clothing.

The rules are slightly different for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but if you need more local advice on how to get help, or how to challenge a decision, then the Citizens Advice Bureau offers free and impartial advice.

Shopping around for the best deals is a pretty obvious option. The supermarkets know that you'll probably be doing this, and they're all eager to stand out. This can often lead to a bit of a price war between them, which is good news for the wise shopper. Even department stores like Debenhams and M&S tend to get in on the act, with pretty hefty discounts and offers to compare.


Working parents know all too well how complicated it can be to organise an entire family around school hours. Thankfully, if your kids are under 12 and you make under £100,000, you could apply for the government's Tax Free Childcare Scheme.

This new system came into force in April, and can bag you a 20% tax cut on your out-of-school-hours childcare costs. The nice thing about this scheme is that it even covers you if you're self-employed, working part-time or on maternity/paternity leave.

Of course, our top tip on keeping your back-to-school costs under control is to make sure you're not missing out on your tax refunds. At this time of year, most families would welcome a healthy fistful of cash back from HMRC, so call or email RIFT and let's teach the taxman a lesson together.

RIFT is the UK's leading tax rebate and tax return experts.