Struggling to afford school fees? Here's how to apply for school-fee exemption


With the cost of living rising daily, petrol prices soaring and an uncertain rand, paying school fees is a challenge. Although there’s no excuse for putting school fees at the bottom of your priority list, for some parents fees that seemed reasonable last year are now a real stretch.

Our law allows for parents who are in real financial need to apply for total or partial exemption from public school fees, but for many of us the prospect of applying seems daunting. It’s worth it, though, as simply not paying can land you in even more embarrassing situations and potentially even in legal trouble.

This process has been streamlined and standardised in recent years, so if you previously had a bad experience asking for exemption, it may be worth trying again. If you fill in the form correctly and give all your details honestly and accurately, you should not have a problem getting some relief on your school fees; assuming you genuinely qualify. Be aware that you need to apply every year for exemption, it does not automatically carry over from the previous year.

So who qualifies for exemption?

Exemptions only apply to public schools which have not been declared no-fee schools. Exemptions are based only on the joint gross income of the parents – whether or not you are married – not on what other expenses you have.

If the school fees (of any one child or several children together) are 10% or more of your total income, you will be entitled to a full exemption and will NOT have to pay school fees. This includes other fees such as security guard fees, matric dance fees etc.

  • If the school fees are between 3,5% and 10% of your total income you qualify for a partial exemption, whether you have one child or more enrolled in no-fees public schools.
  • If they are between 2% and 3% of your income, whether or not you get an exemption depends on the number of children you have currently enrolled at no-fees public schools. Ask your school bursar for help with this.
  • If the school fees are less than 2% of your salary, you don’t qualify for any exemption.

Check for yourself

To calculate the percentage, fill in the following values:

E = 100 (F+A / C)

E = School fees as a proportion % of the family income.
F = Annual school fees, for one child. (Note: If a parent has more than one child at the same school and the fees are not the same for all of them, the highest fees must be used in the calculation.) 
A = Additional monetary contributions demanded by the school. This includes such costs as sports uniforms but not transport or core uniform.
C = Combined gross income of parents (gross means before deductions) per year.
Multiply by 100 = This converts your answer into a %.

Now refer to our School-Fee Exemption calculator page, and go to Step B.

  • Refer to the table's first column on the left and find your %.
  • Now move across to the column that corresponds to the amount of children you are paying school fees for, and you'll find the percentage of discount you may receive.

Who is given automatic exemption?

It is ILLEGAL to charge any school fees for a learner:

  • Who is an orphan, in an orphanage.
  • Who has a foster parent.
  • Who has been placed in a youth care centre or a place of safety.
  • Who has been placed in the care of a family member (“kinship caregiver”).
  • Who is a child who heads a household or is part of a child-headed household.
  • Whose parent receives a social grant on behalf of the same learner (child support grant).

Exemption checklist

Has the process been followed correctly? You should be able to answer yes to all these questions.

1. Has the principal informed you about the amount of the annual school fees to be paid?
2. Has the principal informed you that you are liable to pay school fees unless you are totally exempted from paying school fees?
3. Has the principal informed you about your right to apply for exemption from paying school fees?
4. Do you wish to apply for such an exemption?
5. Do you wish to be assisted in such an application?
6. Has the principal provided you with the form for application for exemption?
7. Has the principal signed this particular form?
8. Have you signed this particular form?
9. Has the principal handed over the signed copy of this form to you?

Section27 published a very helpful guide on school fees in South Africa.

Find out more about school fee exemption process from the Department of Basic Education's website.

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