Going to school is an essential part of developing the minds of young South Africans so that they can prosper in the future and help the country evolve. Unfortunately, education isn’t free in South Africa (yet), and the truth of the matter is that not everyone can afford to pay school fees and send their children to school. Parents often don’t know that they potentially don’t have to pay school fees at all and could lessen financial burdens by applying for school fees exemption.
That doesn’t mean parents can stop paying. According to the law, parents are liable to pay school fees, until they are officially exempted. What’s more, if parents default on payments regularly, the school is obligated to investigate and present exemption as a possible solution. If there aren’t any grounds for exemption, parents could face legal action.
Applying for school fees exemption
Over the years, the application process has somewhat been simplified, which means if you hit a few bumps in the road on previous attempts, it is undoubtedly worth a parent’s while to try again. The Department of Education supports families that can’t pay fees for their children to attend fee-paying schools through the Fee Exemption Regulations.
The Department is adamant about the fact that learning institutions are not allowed to exclude pupils purely based on their parents’ inability to pay fees. Exemptions and subsidies are applied for through your school bursar with applications due in January each year. Unfortunately, schools are only able to claim back minor portions of exempted fees from the Department, so it is important to contribute where you can.
A step-by-step guide to applying for school fees exemption:
Step 1: Next time you drop your child off at school, pop into the administration office and ask the secretary for the necessary documents. The principal or any other staff member should be able to talk you through the process if you need extra clarification. ?
Step 2: Fill in the applications form carefully and in your own time. Make sure you include all the required information. Should you forget to include something, it is not a train smash; the application cannot be rejected because of the missing information. But it is best to be thorough.
Step 3: Visit your nearest SAPS to make an affidavit. This statement sets out your position, as well as the reasons why you believe you qualify for an exemption.
Step 4: Make copies of any supporting documents that may be handed in, for example, bank statements, a statement from a social worker or a court order.
Step 5: Submit the application forms and any supporting documents at the school offices. The principal will sign and file the forms. A copy will also be handed to the head of the department.
Step 6: Make sure you also receive a copy. If the original forms disappear, it is your only proof that you have applied!
The info in the application is confidential, and a parent must give consent for the school to disclose this.
The governing body of the school will meet and decide within 30 days of receiving the application. After they make a decision, they will give written communication on the outcome as well as reasons.
Do note: Parents need to apply every year for exemption, it does not automatically carry over from the previous year.
Who qualifies to apply for school fees exemption?
There is a specific formula used to determine who qualifies for exemption, and it looks like this: To determine the school fees as a portion of the entire family income, the annual school fees plus any additional payments demanded by the school will be divided by the gross income of the parents, and then multiplied by 100 to arrive at a percentage. That percentage will then determine the type of exemption parents qualify for.
The types of exemptions:
- Automatic Exemption:
The following children qualify automatically for fee exemption:
- Orphans in an orphanage and child-headed households
- Pupils with foster parents
- Pupils placed in youth care centres or the care of a family member
- Pupils whose parents receive a social grant in their name. For example, a Child Support Grant.
2. Full Exemption:
If the school fees (of any one child or several children together) are 10% or more of the total income, you will be entitled to a full exemption and will NOT have to pay school fees. This includes other expenses such as security guard fees, matric dance fees etc.
3. Partial Exemption:
If the school fees are between 3,5% and 10% of total income, you qualify for a partial exemption, whether you have one child or more enrolled in no-fees public schools.
4. Conditional Exemption:
This takes into consideration that some circumstances are beyond a parent’s control, and due to extreme personal issues, they cannot pay fees. It applies to parents who qualify for a partial exemption. However, if a parent is not eligible for an exemption, but presents suffice evidence of circumstances that render them unable to pay fees, a conditional exemption will be considered.
5. No Exemption:
Where the combined annual gross income of both parents is more than 30 times the yearly school fees per learner, the child doesn’t qualify for any exemptions.
What about single parents/legal guardians?
A 2018 ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal provided relief for single parents across South Africa. The SCA has overturned a judgement by the Western Cape High Court that stipulated single parents must obtain the financial details of their former partners/spouses when applying for school fees exemption.
So, whether separated or divorced, single parents’ fee exemption applications will now be processed in relation to their individual circumstances.
What happens if parents default on school fees payments?
If a parent falls into arrears for 1 or 2 months, the School Governing Body must investigate the case and determine whether or not he or she qualifies for some form of exemption.
If the governing body can prove that the parents are not entitled to exemption in any form, then they can take legal action. However, legal action is not an option for the school if the parent is working with any institutions that are set up under the National Credit Act
After 3 months of arrears, the governing body must first issue a Letter of Demand, which warns the parents and indicates a date by which they must respond. Only then can a court order be obtained.
If the parent does not respond, a summons will be served to call them to the Magistrate’s Court. The parent will then have the opportunity to put his/her side of the story before the Magistrates Court. In the event that the summons is ignored and the parent is a no-show in court, the Magistrate can give a default judgement in the parent’s absence. If the parent does not comply with the Magistrates orders, the Sheriff of the Court can attach possessions and sell them to pay off the debt.
Important: A pupil may not be excluded from any school or extramural activities due to non-payment of school fees by the parents. What’s more, the school also cannot withhold a School Report or Transfer Certificate.
Education is key and is particularly empowering in South Africa- a country in desperate need of economic transformation, so be sure to exhaust all options when it comes to sending your children to school.