Circular 2018/01 — Payments by parents of students in schools

Date 22 June 2018 | Circular 2018/01 | Category Financial Governance

This circular is about Requests for payments by schools.

This circular replaces Circular 2013/06 issued July 2013.

The action needed is Ensure current practice is consistent with advice provided in this circular.

It is intended for Parents of students in schools, boards of trustees and principals of schools, proprietors of state-integrated schools, sponsors of partnership schools kura hourua.

For more information about this circular Direct any inquiries about this circular to the national office of the Ministry of Education or your local Ministry of Education school finance advisor.


This circular provides advice on the rights of parents, students, boards of trustees, proprietors, and sponsors about requests for donations and other forms of payment in schools.

The previous circular on payments by parents (Circular 2013/06) has been refreshed, and this version includes a summary chart with examples. The substance of the advice in the previous circular has not changed – because the law has not changed. There is one exception related to enrolment costs in schools with enrolment schemes (see ‘Enrolment’ under ‘Item categories’ in the appendix).


In this circular:

  • curriculum means The National Curriculum composed of The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa. In the case of a partnership school kura hourua, it means the curriculum agreed to in the contract between the Crown and the sponsor
  • parent includes guardian or caregiver
  • schools mean state schools (integrated or non-integrated) and partnership schools kura hourua, or their boards of trustees, sponsors, or proprietors – as the context requires.

Structure of this Circular

This circular has key information for parents and schools, including an appendix with further information, as well as a summary chart with examples of different types of payments.

Key information for parents and schools


Schools may:

  • ask for donations (for either general or specified purposes).

Parents may:

  • pay donations in full, in part, or not at all. Paying donations is a choice.

Schools must:

  • clearly indicate to parents that payment of any requested donation is voluntary 
  • inform parents that they may claim an income tax credit from Inland Revenue in relation to donations made to the school.

Schools cannot:

  • describe voluntary contributions or donations as “fees”, “charges”, or “levies”
  • make a request for donations in a form or manner that implies an obligation to pay
  • apply interest charges to unpaid donations 
  • offer a discount on early payment of donations, as a discount implies the payment is a compulsory charge.


Schools cannot:

  • charge parents for information about enrolment 
  • demand any form of payment to confirm enrolment
  • include donations as part of a checklist of enrolment forms or show them as a step in the enrolment process.

Goods and services

Schools may:

  • sell goods or services to students or families.

Schools must:

  • ensure that prior agreement is received before any charges are made for supplying goods or services.

Parents must:

  • pay for goods and services they have agreed to purchase/sign up for.

Schools cannot:

  • demand payment of any bonds, insurance, membership fees or levies
  • levy parents for any operational costs like heat, light and water charges
  • compel parents to buy items from the school.


Schools cannot:

  • charge a fee to cover the cost of either tuition or materials used in the provision of the curriculum 
  • exclude students from trips or activities that are part of curriculum delivery because of their parents’ inability or unwillingness to pay a requested donation 
  • compel students to take part in fundraising for curriculum-related matters
  • charge for tertiary-level courses that are purchased by the school and then offered as part of the school programme for senior students.

Enforcing payments

Schools may:

  • remind parents (particularly at the end of a year) of amounts of any debt owed or a donation the school would like to receive. Schools 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.

Schools cannot:

  • 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
  • mislead parents in any way as to the nature of payments included in payment or reminder notices
  • use debt collection methods to attempt to compel the payment of donations, such as issuing “late payment” notices, or other forms of communication warning of any adverse consequences of non-payment.

Parents and schools should also note that:

  • students, or their families, should never be pressured or otherwise made to feel 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 enforced if unpaid
  • the public identification in any way of parents who have or have not made a donation is improper and likely to breach the Privacy Act 1993. Similarly, any debt owed should be treated as a private and confidential matter between the school and the family concerned
  • 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 (the Act)
  • linking the provision of certain items or activities such as the school magazine, student identity cards, free registration on Mathletics, or subsidised travel for sports teams directly to the payment of the donation may affect the tax treatment of the payment. It could indicate that the school donation is not a gift made to benefit the school, but instead is a payment for goods and services. This could mean that donation tax credits cannot be claimed and the school must pay GST
  • 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
  • schools cannot withhold information1 or items such as reports or certificates to encourage parents to pay a donation or to resolve unpaid debts. Schools 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
  • proprietors of state-integrated schools can charge attendance dues. This is the only compulsory payment in the school system.

Further advice and guidance


If parents have concerns regarding payments sought by schools, the first approach should be to the principal, then to the board of trustees, proprietor, or sponsor (as the case may be).

Parents can also seek advice from the Student Rights Service (formerly the Parents Legal Information Line) on 0800 499 488. The Student Rights Service is a national, free phone service for parents and students wanting information and assistance on issues for children and young people at school.


Principals and boards of trustees can contact the New Zealand School Trustees Association, or their local Ministry of Education School Finance Advisor.

Information from Inland Revenue

Inland Revenue has reissued its Public Ruling on GST in schools(external link).  

Inland Revenue has developed advice and guidance about tax credits for donations made to schools - guidance for state non-integrated schools and the guidance for state-integrated school(external link)s.  

Issued by

Katrina Casey,
Deputy Secretary,
Sector Enablement and Support
Ministry of Education, National Office, Mātauranga House, 33 Bowen Street,
P O Box 1666, Wellington, New Zealand. Phone 04-463 8000, Fax 04-463 8001


  1. In responding to requests under either the Official Information Act 1982 or the Privacy Act 1993 schools 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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