School fees and the law

School fees and the law
What you need to know as a parent

Although the value of education is priceless, the actual price tag on schooling can be a heavy burden on parents. Understand your rights when it comes to the paying of school fees and other related costs.

Chantel Cronje
Chantel Cronje - Head of Legal, Risk, and Compliance
17 February 2019 | 3 minute read
School Kids

Our legal expert, Chantel Cronje, guides you through some of your rights when it comes to the paying of school fees and other related costs in public schools. The information provided herein does not apply to private schools or colleges.

School fees exemptions

According to South Africa’s constitution, every child has the right to schooling. Unfortunately though, education is not free and for most it does not come cheap. There is however some financial relief for parents who can apply for total or partial exemption from paying public school fees.

An exemption is when you are no longer expected to pay either a portion or the complete amount of the school fees being charged.

“No fee” schools

If your school is declared a “no fee” school by the minister of education due to it being located in a poor community, you do not have to pay school fees, including any activity or extra mural fees.

Full exemption

If the school fees are 10% or more of your total income, you will then be entitled to a full exemption. This means you will not have to pay any school fees. Remember that this is not an automatic right and you will have to enquire with the school about the application process.

Partial exemption

If the school fees are between 3,5% and 10% of your total income you qualify for a partial exemption. This means you will only have to pay a certain portion of the full fee. Remember that this is not an automatic right and you will have to enquire with the school about the application process.

Conditional exemption

If the school fees are between 2% and 3% of your income, an exemption will depend on the number of children you have currently enrolled at no-fees public schools.

If the school fees are less than 2% of your salary, you don’t qualify for any exemption.

Automatic exemption

It is illegal to charge any school fees for:

How to apply for an exemption

Forms to apply for school fee exemptions should be available at your local school.

Find out more about the school fee exemption process from the department of basic education's website:

How not paying school fees can affect your child and you

It is also important to know that a learner cannot be disciplined or excluded from participation in any official school programmes due to non-payment of school fees by the parent. A school is also not allowed to refuse to give out a learner’s report because the parent cannot afford to pay the school’s fees. However a school does have the right to sue the parents who are legally responsible to pay and who do not qualify for any exemptions.

Changes to the law

The law has changed when it comes to divorced parents and exemptions for school fees. Previously the law only looked at the joint gross (total) income of their parents and held them jointly legally responsible for their children’s fees.

However, the supreme court of appeal ruled that single parents may have their application for exemption of school fees assessed according to their own financial means and not on a combined income. This means a school can claim a portion of the fees from each parent and parents cannot separately be held liable for the full amount where an exemption has been applied for.

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