Are School Fees A Claimable Expense At SARS?

By Tevait Feanle •  Updated: 01/23/24 •  5 min read

We all love our little ones dearly, but let’s be honest- children cost a lot of money! If there is some way to claim any portion of those expenses on your tax return to SARS every year, you’re definitely going to want to use it. We see many families just like yours asking if school fees are a claimable expense at SARS. Today, we’re here with all the answers! Keep reading for some fascinating facts about school fees, expenses, and SARS. 

Are School Fees A Claimable Expense At SARS?

Sorry if we got your hopes up there, but for most families, school fees are not a tax-deductible expense. And if you’ve heard that famous ‘friend of a friend’ tell you you can get around this by claiming them as a donation? No, you can’t- and SARS are very aware of this piece of bad tax advice. You will get caught sooner rather than later. 

There is only one legitimate circumstance in which school fees for minors can be claimed as a tax-deductible expense. That is when the child in question is your child (biological or adopted officially) and has a recognized and legitimate disability you have proved to SARS. Remember, a disability must be a ‘moderate to severe limitation’ of their ability to function and undertake daily activities, and claiming any of the disability-related tax deductions will be subject to a rigorous examination before approval. The prognosis must last over a year, so temporary disabilities don’t count, and you will need a formal diagnosis from a registered medical practitioner.  

If you happen to be the parent of a child with a disability, however, you can claim the following:

And yes, a portion of their school fees. But even in this case, you can’t claim the ‘normal’ school fees any child would require. If they attend a special school focusing on assisting children with their disabilities, you can claim any amount over the standard fees of your closest fee-paying public school. Or, if they attend a school that does not specialize in learners with additional needs, you can claim any additional expenses related to the disability.

How Does School Fee Exemption Work?

If you’ve heard that you can get a school fees exemption (and it wasn’t from that trickster ‘friend of a friend’ trying to push you into tax evasion), it was likely referring to a government initiative to help ensure children remain in school even when their parents have income struggles. Despite the appearance it sometimes gives us, the government is very keen on ensuring every child has easy access to a basic education.  

Of course, you can’t simply decide to not pay school fees! You need to apply for an official exemption from the Department of Education if you are battling to pay your child or children’s school fees.

If you are confident your annual school fees (for all little ones) and additional payments the school demands are more than 10% of your total household gross income, you might qualify for an exemption from school fees. If it is between 3.5% and 10% of your total household gross income, you can get a partial reduction.

There is a caveat, however. If that combined annual gross income is more than 30 times the annual school fees per learner, you can’t apply.

Are Private Schools Exempt From Tax in South Africa?

Curious to know if that fancy private school you’ve chosen is paying taxes? Most likely they are not. Not only are educational services exempt from VAT in South Africa, but all registered and acknowledged schools are exempt from paying income tax as normal businesses are. 

Are School Fees Taxable in South Africa?

If you can’t leverage school fees as a SARS deduction, do you have to pay tax on them? You will be glad to know that school fees are not taxable in South Africa! The tax you might have paid would be VAT on the fee amount, and all educational services are, fortunately, VAT-exempt. 

What Is The Exemption For School Fees in South Africa?

We have looked at the exemption for school fees in a little more detail above. However, if your child or children’s school fees are more than 10% of your combined annual gross income across both parents, you might qualify to be exempt from paying school fees. That is as long as your total gross income isn’t 30 times larger than the annual school fees per learner. 

Additionally, some children automatically qualify for the exemption from school fees. This includes orphans in child-headed households or orphanages, children living with foster parents or placed in care with a family member/youth care center, and pupils who receive SASSA social grants in their name. Most commonly, that’s the child support grant.

While you can’t claim your child’s school fees on your income tax return as a deduction, there is some support to help you ensure your children get a solid childhood education. So don’t be afraid to explore these options if you are struggling to keep your little ones in school.

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