Reduce the cost of paying for private school fees

At an average price of £4541 per term, for many parents the option to send their children to a fee paying school is not an option. However if you wish to consider sending them, what is the best way to save and how can these costs be reduced?

Are private school fees tax deductible?

We are often asked if parents can claim any tax relief on school fees. Funding private school feels can be a challenge, but there are ways to ensure that challenge is do-able.

Are private school fees tax deductible? The short answer is no, but there are several ways to pay less tax and pay less in private school fees at the same time.

How to Afford Private School Tuition

The FT estimates the average annual cost of sending a child to Private school at £4,800 per term — up 25 per cent since 2012. Depending on when you start sending your child to private school, these costs can be met through income or from savings or both.

You may not be able to get tax relief on school fees in the UK, but how can you reduce the costs of paying for private school fees? Here are our top 8 tips:

  1. Set up a family business

This is best done when the business is established. It involves you setting up a family business and then naming the children as shareholders. The private school fees are then paid by paying out dividends to the children. This is tax free for the children because so long as the children don’t have any other earnings or income, they can use their personal tax allowance. For the 2020/21 tax year that is £12,500 p.a.

You put income-generating assets in the family business, such as property or investments. It is also important that the grandparents create the business and not the parents.  Parents cannot gift to children without incurring a tax charge. Otherwise it is seen as a gain for the benefits on you as the parent.

This is a great way of paying for private school fees if the grandparents would prefer to help the grandchild during their lifetime rather than leaving their wealth as an inheritance. However specialist tax advice would be required and there would be expenses to set the business up.


  1. Don’t just use ISAs, start investing into an offshore investment bond

Most people are aware of the benefits of investing into ISAs. However many overlook the benefits of using offshore investment bonds to pay for private school fees.

Many are put off by even the word “offshore” investing. Fear not, it is really just the tax wrapper that we are referring too and does not mean that you are investing into some dodgy tax avoidance scheme.

You can invest a lump sum into an investment bond, name the parents as the trustees and the children as the beneficiaries.

  • The bond is then split into a number of policy segments (normally a few 100)
  • Each individual policy segment would then be encashed to pay for the school fees each year/term
  • You can invest over the years into an investment bond (a minimum of five years is needed for stock market investments)
  • When the child reaches private school age, they can assign the policy segments to the child
  • Assuming that you have invested wisely into the stock market and reviewed it regularly, any gain made on the bond is taxed on the CHILD and not the parent.

The parent can be in total control of the investment until they chose to assign it to the child.  Long term investments can also benefit from stock-market related growth.

  1. Take money from your pension

Under the new pension rules, at the age of 55, you can take 25% of your pension pot as a tax-free lump sum. This could be used to pay for the private school fees. If you are a higher or additional rate taxpayer, taking it as a lump sum is tax efficient as you will not have any additional tax to pay. You could leave the rest of the pension invested for your income in retirement.

This may impact on your income in retirement and could affect the amount of money you could contribute to a pension.


  1. Offer to pay the private school fees upfront

Some private schools offer the option to pay in advance as a lump sum, known as ‘advance funding.’ This could protect you from hefty inflation rises on fees in the future. Private school inflation rises are often far greater than your loaf of bread rises.

Another option that some schools offer is an investment scheme. You pay a lump sum in advance, then the school will invest the lump sum in low-risk investments. The returns on the investment are tax free for most schools, so long as they have charitable status.

if you made the same investments as a parent, you would get much smaller returns because it’s more than likely you are higher rate taxpayers, and would therefore have to pay 40-50 per cent tax on any investment returns, or capital gains tax.

But the fees in advance scheme means you pay nothing and you, your child, and the school then share the benefit.

In return for paying upfront the parents are given what the schools class as a discount. And the school keeps whatever is remaining of the returns once they have offered the discount to the parents.

  1. Start financial planning right now.

Ideally, financial planning for private school fees starts from day dot.

A combination of making the most of your own ISA allowances, (£20,000 for the 2020/21 tax year) and alternative investments can help to plan early. The benefit of starting early is you benefit from ‘compound interest.’ You can smooth out the rocky ride of the stock market by drip feeding money in each month.

Think of it like buying clothes. Some months you buy them at full price, other times in the sale. The same applies to the stock market. Of course, if we knew when that would be we would all be rich! So by buying into the market each month, some months you’ll be buying high and some low. It spreads out the highs and the lows, reducing the overall risk.

It could even be as simple as creating a ‘School Fees’ pot within your bank account and setting up regular amounts to be shimmied into the pot.

  1. Tap up Grandma and Grandad

A mini “starting fund” could be created with grandparents contributing as and when they wish.

If you die with an estate valued at more than the ‘Nil rate band’ the beneficiaries inheriting the money will pay 40% tax on the excess. You have annual exemptions which is an amount of money that can be given without any tax implications. For grandparents, they can make an annual gift of £3,000 per year. This is per grandparent- so £3,000 from Grandma and £3,000 from Granddad. It will not be taxed under the Inheritance tax rules. That is £6,000 per year that they could gift towards school fees. They can also go back a year and use last year’s £3,000 if this was not used. So that is £12,000 for this year.

Using their annual gift exemption and adding this to the starting fund would aid their own tax issues and also help future generation planning.

If the grandparents do this – get them to just write down on a piece of paper the date and amount it was given and keep it with their Will.

  1. Timing of the private school fees

Consider when to send them. Switching to private school at the age of 8 could save you a third off fees. So think carefully about whether private school is needed from day dot.

Alternatively, consider grammar schools – Using private tuition to get your child into a grammar school could be far more cost effective for you

Private schools are not right for every child. Take time to consider both the personality and academic abilities of your child before making a big financial commitment. Once you commit to paying, it’s hard to go back.

  1. Probably the best one for most parents… Haggle

A third of pupils at independent schools are receiving some sort of reduction in fees.

Many schools will not publicise this so if you have a bright child but money is tight, consider a bursary or scholarship. Around one third of students receive some kind of scholarship.

You may also receive sibling discounts if more than one child attends the same school.