The city council has been inundated with requests from cash-strapped parents for free school meals and clothing grants after receiving 31 per cent more applications than last year.
More staff members have been drafted in to help the “extremely busy” team process the appeals, with the council expecting to provide for up to 6,400 pupils this year.
This figure represents a 31 per cent rise in applications from 2017/18, which saw the council pay for 4,900 clothing grants.
Children returned to school today following the summer break, with some parents not able to fork out for uniforms costing around £80 to £100 for a primary school child and upwards of £120 for a secondary pupil. Some children will not have their uniform in time for the start of the new school year with the council currently processing late claims received in the last week.
In the meantime, parents are able to explore other options including using swap shops – where uniform items no longer needed are swapped for required uniform – or wearing their own clothes, as uniform is not compulsory.
Around 24 primary and secondary schools are offering the swap shops and gently-used uniform sales to provide some financial aid to parents.
Fiona Shapcott, who runs charity Kids Love Clothes that provides uniforms to families in areas not served by low-cost uniform drives, said: “No child should go to school feeling any different from another and no parent should feel shame standing at the school gates.”
The school clothing grant was raised from £43 for primary children and £50 for secondary to £100 each in February to combat uniform price hikes.
A total of 4,010 grants have been awarded so far, with council staff working to ensure applications are dealt with promptly. This is a drastic rise when only 2,667 grants had been processed at this point last year.
Cllr Marion Donaldson, vice finance convenor, said: “Following our budget commitment to increase school uniform grants we also decided to increase the eligibility criteria to align it with free school meals so the benefits were taken up by as many families as possible.
“We carried out a number of initiatives to achieve this including holding briefings with schools and checking eligibility using existing housing benefit and council tax reduction records.
“In anticipation of the projected increase we ensured 2,800 awards were processed automatically by 30 June based on information from the previous year and increased the number of staff working on our team. We want to reassure people their claim will be processed and all payments are being prioritised.
“We also ask any future applicants to ensure all relevant supporting evidence is accurately submitted to prevent delays.”