The financial impact of term-time holidays
Many parents will just have come back from their annual summer trip and will still be wincing at the cost of going away in the school holidays. You’re now fined for taking your children out of school in term time, but could it still pay to take a holiday once everyone else has gone back?
Soaring prices in the school holidays are a pure case of supply and demand, with more families wanting to travel in July and August, meaning flight and accommodation prices shoot up.
There are lots of things to consider when deciding whether to take your child out of school, and some parents with kids in crucial exam years wouldn’t even consider it. But here we look at just the financial implications and the information you need to know if you’re considering it.
WHAT ARE THE FINES?
In England you can be fined £60 per child for any absence, and in some cases both parents are fined, although this varies by local authority. This fine doubles to £120 if you don’t pay within 21 days, and if you take longer than 28 days to pay you can end up being taken to court, where the fine will escalate and you could even get a jail sentence of up to three months.
If you decided to take a child out of school during term time you wouldn’t be alone, with almost 223,000 fines issued in 2017-18 for unauthorised absences, according to figures from the Department for Education. This was a massive leap on the previous year when 107,000 fines were issued – perhaps because local authorities are now stricter on issuing the penalties.
You might pay nothing though, as you won’t be fined for any absence approved in advance by the headteacher – but usually this would only be for exceptional circumstances, rather than the annual family holiday.
DOES IT PAY?
Assuming you have two children that you take out of school, your total fine is likely to be £120, or £240 if you’re in an area where both parents are issued with fines. Anyone who has faced peak summer holiday prices to fly abroad will assume that amount could easily be saved on flight and accommodation costs, but does it add up?
Someone booking a trip to Longleat Centerparcs for a seven-night stay in early August next year, for two adults and two children, will pay £2,048 for a two-bed lodge. If that same family visited in the second week of September, for the same seven-night stay in the same accommodation, they would pay just £1,018. Even if you assume the maximum penalty of £240 for two children, you’d still save almost £800.
However, it doesn’t always pay. Those aiming for a cheaper break away and getting the ferry to France could still see savings, but not enough to cancel out the fine.
Getting a return ferry ticket from Dover to Calais, returning after a week, for a car, two adults and two children would cost £160 in August next year, while in September it would cost £110 – only saving £50.
Camping fees on some campsites don’t vary between August and September, meaning that you wouldn’t save enough to compensate for even one child being out of school for the week.
WHAT ABOUT GOING FURTHER AFIELD?
That same family travelling to the Algarve in Portugal from Manchester in August next year for a week’s holiday would pay £2,435 in self-catering accommodation on a package holiday with TUI, including flights. If they booked to go a month later, and so missed the first week of school, they’d pay £1,772. That’s a £550 saving if you get fined £120, or more than £400 saving if you get fined the full £240.
The same family of four going on a seven night Disney cruise from Florida around the Caribbean departing in August would pay £7,000 for an Oceanview cabin. The same cruise in the same cabin a month later would cost £5,500 – saving more than £1,500. And that’s before you pay for the flights to America.
If you stay closer to home and go to Disneyland Paris for a week you can still save cash. Staying in the Disneyland Hotel and getting access to the park every day would cost £5,600 in mid-August, compared to £3,800 in September, saving £1,800 before travel costs.
Ultimately the bigger the holiday the bigger the potential saving, meaning if you’re planning that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Disney in Florida you’re likely to be able to save hundreds of pounds, while if you’re going for a lower cost camping trip in France you probably won’t save enough to pay the fines.