Circular 2013/06 Payments by parents of students

Payments by parents of students in state and state-integrated schools.

Date 13 June 2013 | Circular 2013/06 | Category Finance Governance 

This circular is about requests for payments in schools.

This circular replaces Circular 1998/25 issued June 1998

The action needed is to ensure that current practice is consistent with the advice provided in this circular.

It is intended for Boards of Trustees and Principals of all state and state integrated schools, and Proprietors of all state-integrated schools.

For more information about this circular, direct any inquiries to the National Office of the Ministry of Education or your local Ministry of Education Senior Financial Advisor.


This circular provides advice on the rights of Boards of Trustees, Proprietors, parents, and students in respect of requests for donations1 and other forms of payment in schools. The advice includes information about:

  • section 3 of the Education Act 1989 relating to the right to free enrolment and free education
  • attendance dues and donations paid to Proprietors at state-integrated schools
  • the provision of information for parents

The previous circular on payments by parents (Circular 1998/25) has been refreshed, and includes reference to examples of a more contemporary nature. The substance of the advice contained in the previous circular has not changed – because the relevant law has not changed.


This circular covers the three basic types of payments by parents2 to schools:

  1. attendance dues - parents have no choice at all but to pay (state-integrated schools only). This is the only instance of a compulsory payment in schools.
  2. charges – payment must be made for the purchase of goods or services, but only after a parent has freely chosen to make the purchase. Examples include food from the canteen, and a stationery pack bought from the school rather than from a downtown retailer.
  3. donations – payment is entirely voluntary. Donations fall into two categories – general (for any unspecified purpose) and specified (for a particular purpose, such as library books or sports equipment).


No payments are compulsory except for attendance dues, charges for voluntary purchases of goods and services.  

School payment requests may vary from school to school. There is no charge for education at state and state-integrated schools for students aged 5-19 years who are domestic students3.

In state and state-integrated schools charges can apply where a student has chosen to buy and take home an item or chosen to participate in an activity additional to the delivery of the curriculum. As with the supply of any good or service, prior agreement is needed before any charge can be made. Boards of Trustees may also ask for, but cannot insist on, payment in advance for various goods or services it knows are likely to be provided during the year.

Proprietors of state-integrated schools may charge a compulsory levy called “attendance dues”. The level of attendance dues must not be greater than the amount approved by the Minister of Education and published in the New Zealand Gazette. There can be no interest charged for unpaid dues. Proprietors are also able to seek donations.

Other than attendance dues in state-integrated schools and charges for goods or services, all other requests for payment should indicate clearly that they are a request for a donation and accordingly are voluntary in nature. Boards of Trustees and Proprietors are able to request donations, and may suggest an amount for a general or specified donation. Where a donation is requested, payment can neither be insisted on nor enforced and interest should not be charged.

In prospectuses, website information, and notices to parents, Boards of Trustees must clearly distinguish between charges and donations. Further, in state-integrated schools, it must be made clear which payments are being sought by the Board of Trustees and which are being sought by the Proprietor.

Boards can demand payment only when there has been clear agreement to accept the good or service. Where there has been no acceptance, any demand for payment is unlawful. Unless parents agree to purchase goods and services they will not be liable for any payment.

Boards of Trustees may:

  • ask for donations (either general or specified)
  • sell goods or services to students or families.

Boards of Trustees should:

  • clearly indicate to parents that payment of any requested donation is voluntary in nature
  • ensure that prior agreement is sought before any charges are made for supplying goods or services
  • inform parents that they may qualify for an income tax credit from Inland Revenue in relation to donations made to the school.

Boards of Trustees should not:

  • describe voluntary contributions or donations as “fees”, “charges”, or “levies”
  • charge parents for information about enrolment at the school
  • demand any form of payment to confirm enrolment at the school
  • demand payment of any bonds, insurance, membership fees or levies
  • demand a fee to cover the cost of either tuition or materials used in the provision of the curriculum
  • levy parents for any operational costs like heat, light and water charges
  • exclude students from trips or activities that are part of curriculum delivery because of their parents’ inability or unwillingness to pay a requested donation
  • charge parents for tuition costs. The notion of the "take-home component" (something the student or family can choose to purchase for their own use) remains the test as to whether charges can be made for materials
  • charge for tertiary-level courses that are purchased by the school and then offered as part of the school programme for senior students
  • mislead parents in any way as to the nature of amounts included in invoices or reminder notices
  • invoice parents for donations in such a way that they appear to be owed
  • withhold information or privileges because a parent has not paid a donation
  • alienate students because parents have not paid a donation
  • pressure parents into making a voluntary purchase or donation.

Legislative context

The right to free enrolment and free education

Section 3 of the Education Act 1989 states that every domestic student is entitled to free enrolment and free education at a state school from the person's 5th birthday until 1 January following the person's 19th birthday4. The right to free enrolment and free education means that Boards of Trustees may not charge a fee for enrolment or attendance of domestic students. The only exception to this rule is the provision for Proprietors of state-integrated schools to charge attendance dues.

Roles and responsibilities of Boards of Trustees

National Administration Guideline 4 (NAG 4) requires a Board of Trustees to:

  • allocate funds to reflect the school’s priorities as stated in its Charter
  • monitor and control school expenditure
  • ensure that annual accounts are prepared and audited as required by the Public Finance Act 1989 and the Education Act 1989.

A Board of Trustees may delegate its day-to-day financial management responsibilities to the Principal.

Proprietors of state-integrated schools

Section 36 of the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975 enables Proprietors to collect attendance dues once those dues have been approved by the Minister of Education and notified in the New Zealand Gazette. The attendance dues are compulsory. Non-payment may result in Court action, and the Principal of the school may suspend a student and remove that student’s name from the school register if the dues are not paid.

Section 36 also requires Proprietors to provide audited annual accounts of attendance dues income and expenditure to the Secretary for Education.

Section 37 makes provision for Proprietors to seek contributions (donations) for any purpose. Those contributions must be voluntary. Proprietors must make audited accounts of those contributions available on request to parents and to other contributors.


School fees or activity fees

The right to free education guaranteed by Section 3 of the Education Act 1989 means that there should be no charges associated with the delivery of the curriculum. There are no school fees or levies in state or state-integrated schools and the terms should not be used in communication to parents. The terms “fees” and “levies” should not be used to describe donations.


Many Boards of Trustees (and Proprietors) will ask parents to pay a specified sum of money to support the provision of additional services which benefit students. It is lawful to seek such donations (general or specified) – but they are voluntary. Parents have the right to pay donations in full, in part, or not at all.

Charges for Goods or Services

Schools do offer consumables (such as items from the canteen), take-home items (such as items made during technology classes), stationery, clothing, and activities (such as extra lunch time sports tuition, a trip to the theatre) that enhance but are not part of the delivery of the curriculum. Schools should provide students and parents with information on any charges before they agree to receive goods or services.

School policies and processes

Boards of Trustees should have policies and processes covering requests for and collection of payments, and should ensure that teachers and parents are aware of these policies.

Teachers in all subject areas use various materials to assist them deliver the curriculum. Some schools seek to recover the cost of these by attempting to charge parents for them. Only where there is a very clear take-home component (an item the student or family chooses to buy and take home) would a Board be able to charge for materials. A student is never obliged to buy any item produced at school.

Fundraising by Proprietors

Under the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975, Proprietors may fundraise. This means Proprietors of state-integrated schools may request donations. Parents cannot be compelled, however, to pay donations or to become involved in fundraising activities.

Financial management of payments

Requests for payment must make a clear distinction between attendance dues, charges, and donations - and between Board of Trustees’ and Proprietors’ items.

Ideally, invoices should specify attendance dues (for state-integrated schools) and charges for agreed optional goods or services only. Strictly speaking, Boards of Trustees and Proprietors cannot “invoice” donations as non-payment of donations does not give rise to a debt that is owed. On the other hand, it can make practical sense to list all requests for payments in a single document. In such cases, it must be made very clear which payments are voluntary and which are not. It is misleading to include a donation within a total which is described as “owed” by a family.

Schools should not record unpaid donations in accounts receivable.

Attendance dues and donations to a Proprietor must be accounted for separately from Board of Trustees items, since they are the income of the Proprietor, and not of the Board. In particular, there must be no suggestion that attendance dues and donations are one and the same thing.

Notices or reminders which are poorly set out or where items are not correctly described can cause confusion. The terms “fee” and “levy” should not be used in relation to donations.

Donations become part of Board of Trustees’ funds once given to the school, and thus must be accounted for and spent by the Board in accordance with the Board's normal legal responsibilities.

Payroll giving

State and state-integrated schools or their Boards of Trustees automatically have approved Inland Revenue donee organisation status and so are eligible for payroll giving5.

Board action in cases of non-payment

At no time should students, or their families, be placed in a position to be embarrassed over non-payment of either a debt or a requested donation.

Where a family has agreed to buy a good or service then a normal debt has been incurred and may be collected if unpaid.

The public identification in any way, by inclusion or omission, of parents who have or have not made a donation is inappropriate and likely to breach the Privacy Act 1993. Similarly, any debt owed is a matter strictly between the school and the family concerned.

In encouraging payment of donations Boards of Trustees should remember that payment is a choice rather than an obligation.

Where parents are unable to meet the request for donations, pressure to make financial arrangements for payments should not be placed on the parents. No student should be harassed, or denied information or privileges because a parent has not paid a donation. Any action designed to pressure parents into making a donation could be seen as a contravention of the Education Act 1989.

Linking the provision of certain items or activities such as the school magazine, student identity cards, or subsidised travel for sports teams directly to the payment of the donation may affect the tax treatment of the payment. It indicates that the school donation is not a voluntary donation but is a payment for goods and services. This may mean that parents would be ineligible for an income tax credit, and that the Board would have to pay GST on the payment it receives.

Withholding an item can have other consequences – for example, if the student ID card is used as a swipe card to enable students to borrow library books, to withhold the card from students whose parents have not paid the school donation would have the effect of denying the student a privilege that is available to other students. It is also worth remembering that the library building will have been provided by the Government (or Proprietor) and most of the books will have been purchased with operational funding.

Boards should not withhold information6 or items such as reports or certificates to encourage parents to pay a donation or to resolve unpaid debts. Boards are required by the National Education Guidelines to report on student progress and students have a right to access personal information held by the school without charge.

It is acceptable for Boards to remind parents (particularly at the end of a year) of amounts of any debt owed or a donation the board would like to receive. Boards should take care to differentiate between repeated requests for a donation and actual debts relating to items or activities for which a student or family agreed to pay or the non-payment of attendance dues.

There should be no attempts by Principals or Boards to use debt collection methods to attempt to receive donations. There should be no communication with students and/or their families suggesting there are consequences for non-payment of donations.

Provision of information for parents

All parents should be given clear information showing which payments are enforceable and which are voluntary. At the beginning of the school year, or on a student’s enrolment, parents should be made aware of the school’s policy regarding the request for donations and other forms of payment.

When referring to donations in the school prospectus and notices to parents, Boards of Trustees should not use the words “fee” or “levy” or any other term which implies that payment is compulsory. Similarly, Boards should not indicate that it is mandatory to buy goods and services.

When specifying and collecting donations, Boards of Trustees may find it useful to take the following steps:

  • specify the amount of a donation in the school prospectus or in an information letter to parents
  • state that the donation is voluntary
  • describe the uses to which the donation(s) will be put
  • state how and to whom payment is to be made
  • state how and when a receipt will be provided
  • advise how parents can pay for donations and charges – whether by cash, cheque, credit card, automatic payment, internet banking or eftpos; in lump sum or monthly, fortnightly or weekly payments, or via payroll giving.

Parents should be advised that donations may qualify for a tax credit.

Specific issues relating to payments in schools

Boards cannot charge for the following:


Curriculum delivery

English for Speakers of Other Languages

Programmes provided within school time may not be charged for. Catering for a student’s specific learning needs is an expectation.

Boards of Trustees receive additional resources to deliver English for Speakers of Other Language programmes.

Boards of Trustees may charge for optional programmes during school breaks or outside school hours. Parents cannot be required to enrol their children in such optional programmes.
Delivery of special education

Catering for a student’s specific learning needs is an expectation.
Such provision is not a choice for families.

Funding for students with a high or very high ongoing need for special education is provided through:

  • Ongoing Resourcing Scheme
  • Specialist Education Services for identified students with speech-language difficulties and for students with severe behaviour difficulties.
Photocopying costs

Photocopying is a cost to Boards of Trustees of delivering the curriculum.

Although there may be exceptional cases, such as when students produce and then choose to buy their own magazine, photocopying should be seen as part of the normal business of curriculum delivery and may not be charged for.

Charge in relation to STAR courses The Ministry of Education has funded Boards of Trustees to deliver Secondary Tertiary Alignment Resource (STAR) courses. STAR courses should not be treated differently from any other aspect of the curriculum.
School activities such as geography and biology and outdoor education programmes

Activities provided as part of curriculum delivery may not be charged for.

It is reasonable to request parents to pay a donation towards the travel costs which are connected with such activities as geography and biology and outdoor education programmes, provided that staff have made every effort to minimise costs by ensuring that the activities are held as close to the school as possible.

Students may not be excluded from entry into a subject or participation in trips that are part of the curriculum delivery because of an inability or unwillingness to pay.

To avoid misunderstanding which may lead to problems with payment, Boards of Trustees should ensure that parents are made aware of the potential requests for payments for planned school activities at the beginning of the year. Parents should be informed where students are likely to have the choice of participating in a trip or activity so that they have advance notice of this choice and the likely cost.
Attendance at school camps

Parents should not be charged for outdoor education camps if attendance at the camp is a compulsory part of the school's total curriculum or part of the content of a particular course at the school.

Many Boards of Trustees have adopted a policy of including an outdoor education camp as part of the curriculum for students at the school, and outdoor education experiences may form part of certain subjects at secondary schools in particular. It is reasonable for parents to be asked to contribute towards the cost of food and towards the costs which are involved in travel to and from the camp. Such a request is a request for a donation.

Students may not be excluded from attending a camp that is part of curriculum delivery because of an inability or unwillingness to pay.

To avoid any misunderstanding which may lead to later problems with payment, Boards of Trustees should ensure that parents are made aware of the potential requests for donations or payments for planned camps at the beginning of the year. Parents should be informed where students are likely to have the choice of participating in a camp so that they have advance notice of this choice and the likely cost.

Payments should not be requested to meet the cost of relief teachers during a school camp.
Tuition from Itinerant Teachers of Music

Programmes provided within school time may not be charged for. Itinerant Teachers of Music (ITMs) are paid for by the Ministry, and this tuition is part of the school curriculum. Students who are taught by ITMs may not be charged tuition fees.

It is reasonable for parents to be charged for the hire of musical instruments owned by the school and used by students outside the delivery of the music curriculum.
Optional Activities
(such as visiting drama and music groups, lunch-time swimming tuition, lunch time use of a portable climbing wall)
Parents are sometimes asked to pay for students to attend in-school activities such as performances by visiting drama groups or lunch-time sports or EOTC activities. It should be made clear that attendance at such activities is voluntary, and that attendance incurs a charge.
Levy a charge on parents for the use of computer facilities at the school

Information and communication technologies in schools (ICT) are a cost of delivering the curriculum.

Boards of Trustees should not levy a charge on families for the use of information technology.

The most a Board could do is ask for a donation in the same way as it does for a general donation.

Once information technology has been installed, students cannot be barred from using school computers if their parents have not contributed to the purchase and/or maintenance of the computers, nor can enrolment in a computer studies course be made conditional on parental contributions.

It is reasonable for Boards of Trustees to charge for additional printing or web usage costs (for example, personal use such as “surfing” of the web).
Delivery of a Reading Recovery programme in the school

Reading Recovery is like any other curriculum programme. There should be no charge to cover the cost of tuition.

Reading Recovery is paid for either directly through a Ministry allocation or indirectly through a number of resources over which the Board can make priority decisions. Such resources are the 1:23 staffing entitlement which applies during the first three years of teaching, supplementary funding such as Targeted Funding for Educational Achievement (TFEA) and Special Education Grant (SEG), and operational funding.
Purchase of a workbook in some subjects

Workbooks lie somewhere between textbooks, which are provided free to students, and stationery, which students are expected to provide for themselves. On the one hand, it is not absolutely necessary to write answers in the workbook itself; they could be written in an exercise book so that the workbook could then be used by other students in subsequent years. On the other hand, workbooks can have ongoing usefulness to students.

Because of the cost factor that is normally involved, it is not appropriate to expect students to purchase workbooks. If a workbook is made compulsory then a Board of Trustees may only ask for a donation towards the costs.

Boards of Trustees may also sell workbooks, but purchase cannot be compelled. Once a parent has opted to purchase, the cost becomes an enforceable charge.
Purchase of items such as tablet computers or smartphones for e-learning

Some curriculum courses may have components related to e-learning.

Because of the cost factor that is normally involved, it is not appropriate to require students to purchase items such as tablet or netbook computers or smartphones.

Students should not be excluded from participating in courses if they are unable to provide their own items such as a tablet or netbook computer.


Fees from parents for interviews when they seek to enrol their children at school Interviewing parents of prospective students is a part of the normal activity of school staff.

Bond or Payments at the time of enrolment

Boards of Trustees cannot charge an enrolment application fee.

A bond or payment cannot be made as a condition of enrolment.

Boards cannot demand any payment in advance to confirm enrolment at school.

Boards should never suggest that payment of any kind, be it to set up a student account or join any group, is necessary to confirm enrolment.


Penalty for late payment of a donation Boards of Trustees cannot impose a penalty for late payment of voluntary contributions.

Boards can legally charge for:


Curriculum Delivery

Items made by students which they or their family choose to purchase

In technology subjects with a practical component that involves students working with materials such as food or textiles, Boards of Trustees may charge for materials where students or parents have agreed to purchase the end product.

This could include projects from technology related courses such as electronics, horticulture, clothing or woodwork technology. If the student or parent agrees to take ownership of the finished project then it can be expected that the costs involved in bringing the project to fruition are met.

Boards of Trustees cannot insist that students take a finished project home and thus trigger the payment of a charge. Teachers should be wary of setting projects with a high-cost involvement, unless an alternative is also available to all students to ensure they receive the same tuition.

Parents should be informed where students are given the choice to purchase the result of a project so that they have notice of this choice and the likely cost.


Payment in advance for various activities which the school knows are likely to occur during the course of the year.

A Board of Trustees can request, but not insist on, payment in advance for various items or activities.

Some Boards of Trustees adopt a policy of seeking a “once only” payment from parents at the start of the year to avoid the inconvenience of seeking continued sums of money from parents throughout the year.

Such a payment may cover items or activities such as stationery purchased from the school, weekend sports costs, or after school sports tuition.
Invoice parents for charges owed to the schools

Boards of Trustees can invoice parents for charges, but only if parents have given their prior agreement to pay for the items or activities.

Donations should not be included on the invoice as a debt - they should be very clearly marked as voluntary. It is misleading to include a donation within a total which is described as “owed” by a family.

Invoices or reminders which are poorly set out or where items are not correctly described can cause confusion. The term “fee” or “levy” should not be used by Boards of Trustees or Proprietors in relation to donations.

Tertiary-level provision

Boards need to ensure that a very clear distinction is made between the two types of tertiary-level provision and that students understand the basis on which they are being enrolled in tertiary courses.

Boards can charge for:

enrolment in a tertiary course In cases where the school facilitates enrolment in a tertiary course for a student, meaning that the student is effectively enrolled only part time at the school, the student will be subject to whatever fees are associated with the tertiary course.

Boards cannot charge for:

Tertiary-level courses offered as part of the school programme In cases where schools purchase tertiary-level courses that they then offer as part of the school programme for senior students, parents and students should not be charged for these courses.

Further advice and guidance

If parents have concerns regarding payments sought by schools, the first approach should be to the Board of Trustees (and/or the Proprietor if in relation to attendance dues and donations sought by the Proprietor), as it is the governing body of the school and responsible for governance and management.

Parents can also seek advice from the Parent Legal Information Line on 0800 499 488. The Parent Legal Information Line is a free nationwide service that offers callers legal information and assistance on a wide range of issues including school payments.

Principals and Boards of Trustees can contact the New Zealand Schools Trustees Association helpdesk free of charge on 0800 stahelp, or their Ministry of Education Regional Senior Financial Advisor.

If it is brought to the attention of the Ministry of Education that a Board of Trustees or Proprietor may be acting unlawfully in respect of matters covered by this circular, the Ministry will seek compliance with legislation.

Issued by

Marilyn Scott, Group Manager, Education, Curriculum and Performance
Ministry of Education, National Office, 45 – 47 Pipitea Street, Thorndon, P O Box 1666, Wellington, New Zealand
Phone 04 463 8000, Fax 04 463 81001


1Please note that in this circular the guidance on donations for Boards of Trustees applies equally to Proprietors of state-integrated schools.
2Please note that in this circular, “parent” includes guardian or caregiver.
3Circular 2012/01 – Eligibility to enrol in New Zealand Schools.
4Students with a relevant Section 9 Agreement including those in the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) can stay at school to the age of 21. (external link)
6In responding to requests under either the Official Information Act 1982 or the Privacy Act 1993 Boards should be aware that non-payment of a debt or a donation would not be regarded as sufficient reason to withhold information from a requester.

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