It is illegal to withhold reports for unpaid school fees

by | Dec 14, 2021 | Personal Finance

It is illegal to withhold reports for unpaid school fees. This applies to both public and independent schools from Grade R to Grade 12.

WCED spokesperson Millicent Merton recently said : “Principals are reminded that it is unlawful to withhold report cards or transfer certificates because parents are unable to pay school fees”

The payment of school fees is between the school governing body and the parent. Teachers and school staff should not be speaking to pupils about outstanding  school fees. This can be seen as victimisation and it can be reported to the nearest school district office.

Khalid Sayed – ANC Spokesperson on Education in the Western Cape Legislature has said  “Any public school, including former model C schools  responsible for withholding report from learners due to unpaid fees, must be reported immediately the provincial education department and to any public representative, including myself. Children can’t blamed for what parents ought to be doing. We will name and shame these schools and the officials who allow this practice. Having said this, it is incumbent on parents to pay school fees  if they can afford to,  and if they cannot  – then they must make the necessary applications for exemption of fees”

You can apply for an exemption from school fees at any time of the year when your circumstances qualify you to do so.


What is a fees exemption?

According to Section 40 of the South African Schools Act, a parent is liable to pay school fees unless he or she has been exempted. Exempted parents do not have to pay any fees or can pay less, depending on their personal and financial circumstances.


How to apply for a school fees exemption

If you need to apply for an exemption, get an application form from your child’s school as soon as it opens. The school cannot refuse your request for an application form, whatever your circumstances.

Note: You can also download the form from your provincial Department of Education’s website.

All application forms for fee exemptions, and the supporting documents required, must be submitted at the school offices.

The School Governing Body then has to review and approve or reject each application. If the school is unable to assist you, you can apply at your provincial education department.

Tip: Always make a second copy of the entire application and ensure that it is date stamped and/or signed on the day you hand in your original form. This way, if anything happens to the original forms, you will have proof that you have applied.


Different types of school fee exemptions

1) Automatic Exemption

Some pupils are automatically exempt from paying. These include:

  • Orphans in an orphanage or child-headed household
  • Pupils with foster parents
  • Pupils in youth care centres
  • Pupils in the care of a family member
  • Pupils whose parents receive a social grant in their name, such as a child support grant.


2) Full Exemption

You will also be entitled to a full exemption and will NOT have to pay school fees, if the fees of any one child or all of your children together is 10% or more of your total income.


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

Some circumstances are simply beyond a parent’s control. If you cannot pay fees due to extreme personal reasons, you could qualify for a conditional exemption. This applies particularly to parents who qualify for a partial exemption.

However, if a parent is not eligible for an exemption, but has enough evidence that their current financial circumstances have rendered them unable to pay school fees, a conditional exemption will be considered.


5) No Exemption

Unfortunately, not everyone who applies will get an exemption. Where the combined annual gross income of both parents is more than 30 times the yearly school fees per pupil, the child will not qualify for any exemption.


Single parents and school fees

Single parents no longer need their ex-spouses to qualify for a school fees exemption for children who they have custody of. Only the income of the parent who applies will be taken into regard.


Legal action

Schools (even public schools)  are allowed to take legal action against the parents who owe school fees and who do not qualify for an exemption. Most attorneys who handle these matters on behalf of the school are open to payment arrangements on outstanding school fees, but it would be best to avoid all the legal and admin costs and not let it get to this point.

If you are truly struggling to pay your child’s school fees – go speak to the school, sooner rather than later. However , the rule stands – no school may withhold report cards  or transfer certificates because of unpaid fees.

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