One of the most frequently asked questions during lockdown has been around the payment of school fees.
Must I still pay school fees even if my child is not attending school?
Very few households in South Africa (and even around the world) remain financially unaffected by the Covid-19 lockdown.
Companies have closed, retrenchments have taken place, salaries have been cut and many are struggling to simply survive.
This situation has made people question whether they should be paying school fees as schools have been closed for nearly two months.
There is however, online learning taking place in many instances.
It seems parents who are questioning the payment of fees are not doing so because they don’t want to pay fees.
They are asking because they literally can no longer afford to pay school fees.
Yet, not paying school fees has a disastrous ripple effect, which in South Africa’s case could end up seeing over 100 000 people in governing body posts lose their jobs.
Teachers employed by the Department of Education are being paid in full during lockdown, but school fees are used to pay SGB teachers and support personnel.
Like with everything financial right now, the very best thing to do when your financial circumstances have changed is to communicate about it.
In terms of Section 40 of the School’s Act, parents of pupils in fee-paying public schools are liable for school fees, but are eligible for exemption of payment if they are unable to pay.
Sadly, many people are not even aware that they can apply for an exemption.
The exemption may be full or partial, depending on whether the parent has had a reduction in salary, or lost their jobs.
The school cannot refuse your request for an application form for exemption of school fees.
With regards to the national Coronavirus lockdown, Brian Schreuder, from the Western Cape Education Department, said in a statement: “We are aware that many families will suffer income losses during this period and remind them that there is an option to apply for fee exemption when schools return.”
So if you need to apply for an exemption (full, partial or conditional) get an application form from your child’s school as soon as it opens, or download and print from the WCED website.
All application forms for school fee exemptions, as well as any supporting documents must be submitted at the school offices.
Always make a second copy of the entire application and ensure that it is date stamped/ signed on the day you hand in your original form.
If anything happens to the original forms, you will have proof that you have applied.
It is important to note, that in terms of Section 41 of the Schools Act, a pupil cannot be excluded from participation in any official school programmes due to non-payment of school fees by the parent.
A school may not withhold a pupil's report or transfer certificate because the parent cannot afford to pay school fees.
However, schools can take legal action against the parents who owe school fees and who do not qualify for an exemption.
The above applies to public schools.
Parents who have children registered at private schools have different contracts and payment schedules with those schools.
These parents who are struggling are encouraged to approach the school, and the school can look at it on a case-by-case basis.
Personally, I encourage all parents who can pay school fees to do so.
It could mean someone in an SGB position gets to feed their family.
ADVICE: Brian Schreuder, WCED
Single parents and school fees
In a Supreme Court of Appeal Court case, the Western Cape Education Department and another versus the Women’s Legal Centre representing Amicus Curiae in December 2017, it was found that a single parent could and should be given a school fee exemption.
Single parents will no longer need their ex-spouses to qualify for a school fees exemption for children who they have custody of.
This relates to a case whereby a Western Cape mother had applied for a school fees exemption.
The school her child attended then wanted both her and her estranged husband to fill in the application form for exemption, because they constituted a “family unit” even though the mother had custody of the daughter.
The Supreme Court of Appeal judgement made it clear that in circumstances where one parent has refused or failed to provide their income details, public schools shall grant a conditional fee exemption to the parent who has custody of the child.
This will then take that parent’s income into regard.
Different types of school fee exemptions explained
1. Automatic 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.
3. Partial Exemption:
Parents can apply for partial exemption if the fees represent between 2% and 10% of their annual salary depending on the number of children they have at a fee-paying, public school.
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 enough 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 exemption.