Can I get a refund on private school fees during coronavirus? Who qualifies and how do you apply?

Schools mull refunds on non-tuition costs, such as meals, and fee freezes now children are learning from home

Parents who spend tens of thousands of pounds a year on private school fees could get some of their money back after schools were shut to prevent the spread of coronavirus

A number of fee-paying schools are considering discounts as well as fee freezes in the next academic year as well as more funding for bursaries following the nationwide Covid-19 lockdownTelegraph Money understands.

Can I get a refund on private school fees during coronavirus?

Whether or not parents get any money back depends on the individual institution. 

Schools are trying to strike a balance between keeping parents onside and keeping the schools afloat. Some are unlikely to offer any discount on fees at all, while others may offer refunds on services they are no longer providing such as meals or coaches. They may also provide discounts in the form of credit that could be deducted from next year's costs. 

In all cases the core cost of tuition is highly unlikely to be refunded, as most schools are teaching pupils via online classes.

Do I qualify for a refund?

A representative for Hollygirt School, a small independent school of around 200 pupils and 60 staff in Nottingham, said it is considering refunding parents the cost of catering and transport to sports facilities and fixtures. It could also freeze fees for the first term of the new academic year starting in September.

The school's headmistress, Pam Hutley, said she was trying to take into consideration the financial situation of parents while preserving the school's finances and keeping her teachers on the payroll. 

"There is a popular myth that if you send your children to a fee-paying school you are extraordinarily rich, but most of our parents are normal, Middle England, working people, several of whom are currently working in the NHS, and they are already struggling to afford fees," she said. 

"These are uncertain times and we want to help our parents. Without them we would have no business and the school would cease to exist. On the other hand, if we don't have money coming in we can't carry on either. I also have my staff to think about and I am hoping we can save some costs, some of which may be passed back to parents, by using some of the support schemes the Government has put in place." 

The headmaster of another small private school in Bedfordshire, who asked not to be named, said the larger schools in London and the South East, which tend to serve very wealthy families, were unlikely to offer any kind of discount as parents were already well off. 

"It's the smaller independents like us who don't want to have parents and pupils leave us because of all this economic uncertainty that will be trying to change things, " he said.

He said he was considering implementing a credit system at the school, where additional costs for services no longer being used, such as school dinners, could be deducted from the overall bill next term. 

How to apply for a refund

Parents are advised to speak to their children's school to find out what fee breaks are on offer. Parents struggling to pay should also inquire about bursaries. Many schools have switched from scholarships to bursaries in recent years to provide places for pupils who otherwise would not be able to afford the cost. 

The Independent Schools Association, a trade body, said its member schools were considering what they could to help.

"If schools can rebate, for example, the costs of school lunches or extra-curricular activities that children are missing out on, then that will be seen as a positive move. Not all schools will be in a position to do this, as many are small with high fixed overheads," a spokesman said.

"But some will seriously consider whether they can hold back any intended fee increases for the summer term, or offer extended payment periods for parents who need more time to pay than might normally be the case. It’s always a case of parents approaching their schools and making sure there’s a strong relationship and being willing to share any difficulties they face."

Julie Robinson of the Independent Schools Council, another trade body, said: “Schools are under immense pressures and this is one of the issues that will be dealt with at school level, depending on their individual policies and contracts with parents. At the moment they are focusing on the welfare of their school communities and ensuring continuation of teaching and learning.

“Independent schools are fortunate to have access to effective online learning resources. There is still the option to continue education remotely using online solutions.

"Our schools continue to monitor the advice and guidance being issued by the relevant authorities very closely,” she said.

Read more: Parents still need to pay for the summer term, say headteachers of private schools