Answer to a question from a reader

What can I do if I was exempted from paying full school fees but don't have enough money to pay the outstanding amount?

The short answer

You can approach the School Governing Body and negotiate a revised repayment plan.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

I am a single parent under debt review. I applied for school fee exemption last year because I was unable to pay the required amount every month. I told them I would pay the school fees in December after I got my annual bonus. 

I was exempted R1,200 for my two children from R17,300 each in school fees. Unfortunately my bonus could not cover the total outstanding amount.

I appealed to the school to grant me a better exemption percentage but they said the percentage granted was the legally correct one. 


The long answer

The means test for exemptions from school fees works as follows: 

  • If the parent’s income is less than 10 times the annual school fees per learner, the parent qualifies for full exemption. 

  • Partial exemptions are given for those whose income is more than 10 times but less than 30 times the annual fees.

  • Conditional exemption will differ for each parent based on their financial and personal circumstances. You may be exempted to pay fees or part thereof for a certain period or on certain conditions.

I don’t know whether the exemption you were granted was a partial or conditional exemption, but if it was a partial exemption, it may be possible to ask the School Governing Body to consider a conditional exemption.

As you are in debt counselling, I would think that your debt counsellor should have taken your school fees debt into account when looking into your income and expenses, and prepared a repayment plan for you that included school fees. Your debt counsellor must be available and capable of assisting you with questions or issues that arise at any time during your period of debt counselling.

A debt counsellor approaches your creditors and makes payment arrangements on your behalf through a registered Payment Distribution Agent (PDA), which should reduce your payments to a manageable monthly amount. 

If this has not been the case, you should ask your debt counsellor to include the school fees debt in your repayment plan. It may be possible for you (and perhaps your debt counsellor too) to request a meeting with the School Governing Body (SGB) and negotiate a repayment plan that you can manage. Once the school accepts the revised repayment plan, it cannot take legal action against you concerning your debts under review.

Remember that the South African Schools Act says that no learner may be deprived of their right to “participate in all aspects of the programme of a public school despite non-payment of school fees.”

Wishing you the best,

Answered on April 5, 2024, 2:53 p.m.

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