Dear Dominic, I’ve been reading about a Government scheme to offer free laptops to low-income families. Can you tell me more about the scheme and how to apply?
Stan, via email
Our expert says...
An estimated 1.4 million children in England still do not have the internet at home, putting many at a disadvantage when it comes to schoolwork and studying at home.
The benefits of home internet access are huge, and Niel McLean, executive director, Schools and Families, at the government agency Becta, said: "Recent evidence suggests that young people with a computer at home could get a B, rather than a D, at GCSE."
This is why the Government launched its Home Access scheme, which goes live across England next week, to provide low-income families with grants to purchase a computer, get at least a year's home broadband, or both.
A pilot scheme was launched at the beginning of 2009 in Oldham and Suffolk, offering grants to thousands of families.
The scheme itself is part of a £300m investment to get every child in England online at home.
Who is eligible
Families receiving income support or unemployment benefits will be able to apply for a Home Access grant which they can use to purchase a computer or broadband package from an approved supplier.
Most people who meet the criteria for free school meals will be eligible to apply.
At launch, children aged 7-14, in school years 3-9, will be eligible, but the programme is aiming to work towards universal home access for all school age children by 2011.
How to apply
Funding is available for around 270,000 households and you can apply by calling 0333 200 1004 for an application form.
If your application is approved, you will receive a prepaid Barclaycard, which is valid for three months, and which you can use at approved retailers.
Free laptop broadband packages
If you're not eligible for a free laptop as part of the Home Access scheme, you could still sign up to a mobile broadband package to receive a "free laptop". While the laptops aren't strictly free - you will end up paying for your computer over the course of your contract - these deals do help to spread the cost of buying a new PC outright.